Republicans have picked their new point man on Beijing.
On Thursday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. named Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis. chairman of a new select committee that will help coordinate the expansive anti-China agenda GOP leaders are planning for next year’s Congress.
Gallagher is an outspoken China hawk who has advocated for a ban on TikTok in the U.S. — last month he called the app “digital fentanyl” — and criticized President Biden’s recent meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping as a “missed opportunity” to confront the leader over Taiwan.
The congressman told Semafor that he wants the committee to serve a “public diplomacy function,” promising “a series of hearings that get people to understand the nature of what we’re dealing with in the Chinese Communist Party and the stakes.” The committee will aggressively advocate for security aid to Taiwan, for instance, he said.
Gallagher added that he wants the committee to help coordinate legislation related to China and oversight of the Biden administration’s policies toward the country. He plans to scrutinize issues like China’s United Front Work Department, which officials say is involved in overseas influence operations, and capital flows from the U.S. into China.
The lawmaker expressed optimism that Democrats would join the committee and said he would work alongside McCarthy to make sure the panel recruits “serious, sober members” from both sides of the aisle. Gallagher said he’d spoken to Democrats about serving, but declined to offer any names.
“I do think there’s interest in it,” he said, adding that he believes there’s a story to be told “about how the Biden administration has continued a lot of Trump-era China policies.”
It’s not inconceivable that Democrats would embrace Gallagher’s committee, given that hawkishness on China tends to span both parties in Washington more than ever.
Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif. told Semafor he thought Gallagher’s appointment signaled the committee would be a “serious effort.”
“I personally believe we need an economic patriotism to bring manufacturing jobs back here from China and would welcome the opportunity to serve on such a committee,” he said.
Gallagher said he didn’t see the committee taking the lead on investigations into COVID-19 origins or the revelations of Hunter Biden’s laptop — both of which are among the more partisan-tinged inquiries Republicans are planning in the new Congress.
“Putting the COVID origins investigation into geopolitical context is a role I could see us playing going forward,” he did note.
There’s also a separate question of whether McCarthy’s tumultuous quest for speaker might affect plans for the committee. If he doesn’t win, will the idea live on?
Asked whether additional committee members would be announced before or after the speaker’s election in January, a McCarthy spokesman said “stay tuned.”
Room for Disagreement
Some Democrats may view the committee warily given that it’s a priority of Republican leadership. No Democrats signed onto the China task force that McCarthy set up in 2020.
There are also members of the Democratic Party that view some of the anti-China rhetoric echoing around Washington as counterproductive. Matt Duss, a former foreign policy adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., told me earlier this year it could “close off” space for cooperation on issues like climate change.
And while there might be some bipartisan cooperation on China, the new Republican-controlled Congress will likely try to push confrontations with Beijing past the White House’s comfort zone. That could complicate efforts by Biden to better manage tensions and resume work on issues like climate after his meeting with Xi.
Kadia Goba contributed