Legislating the New Cold War
A Deep Dive into Congress' New Counter-CCP Committee
Schoolhouse Rock lied to you. There’s a whole lot more to creating good legislation than just calling your representative and them tapping away at a typewriter as they translate your idea into legislative language. There are lobbyists, legions of staffers, the social media and cable news cycle, messaging bills, appropriations and authorizations, corruption, and undue foreign influence. For every hundred bills there’s maybe one diamond in the rough that survives committee and makes it to the floor. Not all legislation is created equal, some have unfixable leaps of logic, loopholes, and just ill-informed processes. Doing China policy is hard enough, navigating all of those competing interests and radical politics while trying to shape a potentially decades-long competition in the midst of news cycles that can last minutes is incredibly difficult.
For all the headlines about a broken Congress, there are some rays of hope for bipartisanship and China policy. In the last few years, a few members in the House and Senate have stepped up and created legislation from FIRRMA and the CHIPS Act to dozens of hard-hitting NDAA items that hit back at the one-sided competition that CCP has been running for years. At the forefront of that legislative push is a former Marine intelligence officer, Georgetown PhD, navalist, and UAP-watcher named Mike Gallagher from Green Bay, WI. In the 118th Congress, Rep. Gallagher and his staff will no longer be working ad-hoc on China policy. In late 2022, Speaker McCarthy appointed him in charge of the “Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party.” It’s a long name, so for the sake of this week’s article we’ll just refer to it as the Counter-CCP committee. To put it simply, this committee won’t be like the others and you should expect great things. This week, I’ll be breaking down the mission, membership, expectations, and challenges of the Counter-CCP committee. Let’s get to it.
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The mission of the Counter-CCP committee is to essentially streamline the production and direction of China policy legislation across the various permanent committees in the House of Representatives. You’ll often hear that competing with the CCP is a whole-of-government effort; and that starts with Congress. The sexy stuff might fall to the foreign policy committees like HASC and HFAC, but just as important to long-term competition and readiness are things like industrial and education policy that sit with the domestic committees. As I often say when it comes to China policy: if you want to win, you don’t get to focus just on the things you like. Everyone remembers the arms and space races of the Cold War, fewer remember the education reforms spurred by the launch of Sputnik that drove US innovation and growth throughout the second-half of the 20th Century. And this is where the Counter-CCP committee comes in: bring the best of the best in to talk about and develop those bills on capitol hill, coordinated and cosponsored by members of the committees that own those issues. The end-state: a bipartisan, smartly written, and smooth (by Congressional standards) pipeline of purposeful China policy.
If you want a bill to pass from committee to the floor, you need buy-in from that committee. A member of HASC might have a great idea for industrial policy, but if they can’t get buy-in from members and leadership of that committee(s) that own that portfolio, it’s dead in the water. It’s important to note that the Counter-CCP committee won’t create and process legislation like Armed Services does the NDAA or House Agriculture does the Farm bill, instead the committee will help its members create their own legislation for the various committees. In essence, the Counter-CCP committee seeks to ensure the shaping and hopeful passage of solid counter-CCP legislation by 1) being populated with members who belong to all of the relevant committees and 2) having the de facto endorsement of both majority and minority leadership given the bipartisan makeup of the committee and overwhelming bipartisan support for the resolution that created the committee. This doesn’t necessarily guarantee passage, turf battles and varying interests are sure to create hiccups, but it does give the bills endorsed or created by members of the China a leg up on the debate floor and committee rooms.
Card Carrying Members of the Anti-CCP
To call the Counter-CCP Committee a Republican committee would be a grievous error. It would be like calling the NDAA, a widely popular and bipartisan annual piece of defense legislation from HASC, a D or R bill depending on who’s in the majority. As the saying goes in DC, China policy is one of the few remaining areas of regular bipartisanship. If anything, the real divide in Washington is not between red and blue, but between the foreign policy establishment and a growing collection of radical isolationists and “restrainers” at the fringe of both parties. To contrast, the Counter-CCP committee is composed of a wide range of China hawks from both sides of the aisle. There’s a couple members on each side that I have my concerns about and will keep my eye on (readers of EX SUPRA and this substack are familiar with my loathing of political radicals and opportunists of all stripes). If I have any political concerns, they’re centered around 2024, as ambitious members may use the committee to advance their own agendas for Senate races, but overall I am impressed. I had concerns that the likes of Trumpist firebrand Jim Banks of Indiana would push the Dems to attach their own radicals to the committee but that’s not really the case. For the most part, the committee is composed of thoughtful members. You can find the full list of members here, today I want to highlight a few members, what they bring to the table, and how their political dynamics may influence the committee.
Leadership: Gallagher and Krishnamoorthi
I already talked a bit about Rep. Gallagher, a star of DC foreign policy circles and increasing national media attention from Middle America to coastal elites, and a possible contender for Secretary of Defense in future administrations. As far as China policy goes, he is the most thoughtful in Congress and has produced numerous long-form pieces on defense policy in the Western Pacific, as well as countless sections of the NDAA and standalone counter-CCP legislation ranging from the CHIPs Act to China-targeted sanctions bills. His Democratic counterpart is Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, an increasingly vocal but lesser-known China hawk who co-led with Rep. Gallagher a bill that would ban TikTok outright from the United States. Rep. Krishnamoorthi’s previous bipartisan cooperation with Rep. Gallagher is a mark of several Democratic members of the committee like Seth Moulton (MA), Ro Khanna (CA), Andy Kim (NJ), and Mikie Sherill (NJ). Rep. Gallagher has a reputation on Capitol Hill, even among firebrand progressives, of someone everyone can work with so long as you don’t work with the CCP. Of course, that’s the real challenge for the committee: convincing those not sold on competing with China to support the committee’s vision for long-term strategy and policy.
The R Lineup
On the republican side, most members would be considered run of the mill GOPers in 2023. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing, but with Speaker McCarthy’s endorsement of Rep. Gallagher (the committee is McCarthy’s baby), the other members will likely fall in line until politics trump those loyalties (we’ll talk about that in a bit). Gallagher’s chief ally on the Republican side will be fellow HASC member and navalist: Rep. Rob Wittman of Virginia. Between Wittman and Gallagher, expect the defense portion of the committee to run headfirst into the near and long-term challenges of Western Pacific conflict.
Meanwhile, Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana brings a voice from the hardline conservative wing of the GOP, which while it may pose challenges for bipartisanship down the line, will help bring hardlines conservatives in line with the committee’s recommendations at a time when isolationism is one the rise in the right and Speaker McCarthy’s majority is incredibly fragile. Rep. Darin LaHood of Illinois, a carryover from McCarthy’s Task Force, sits on the House Intel committee and the powerful Ways and Means Committee, a critical committee for regulating trade with China. He represents the qualities of most of the GOP members, conservative but not as nationally well known as someone like Banks or Gallagher. Finally, we have Rep. Michelle Steel of California, whose appointment drew some retorts from China watchers on both sides as her husband was allegedly involved with a Chinese pay-to-play influence operation during the Trump administration. It doesn’t seem anything came of those reports, the RNC seems to have cleaned it up, but they will undoubtedly dog the committee for a bit.
The D Lineup
As previously mentioned, several members of the Dem side of the committee have successfully worked with Rep. Gallagher in the past. Seth Moulton is a fellow Marine and leader on tech development in the national security space. If you’re looking for someone who knows who and what to invest in for tomorrow’s competition, Moulton’s a good choice. He worked with Rep. Banks on the Future of Defense Task Force. On the topic of tech, Ro Khanna co-led the House version of the Endless Frontier Act with Mike Gallagher. Ro is a die-hard progressive, and a member of HASC that frequently speaks out against increased defense spending. He represents Silicon Valley, a conflicting series of interests as far as China goes, and is also considering running for Senate in 2024. He will likely be the Dems’ progressive anchor and a link to moderating Progressive Caucus criticisms, but also key to massaging legislation that may run afoul of Silicon Valley’s wealthy interests. Finally, you have two of NJ’s finest: Andy Kim and Mikie Sherrill. Rep. Kim is a leading voice against anti-Asian hate, a rising star in NJ politics, and represents a district home to one of the most important military transportation hubs in the country: JBMDL. Rep. Sherrill, for her part, is a former naval officer, Hoya, and participated in NBC and CNAS’ televised Taiwan wargame in 2022 with Rep. Gallagher. She also covers two other critical committees: the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, and the House Education and Labor Committee. Cutting through the domestic partisanship on these committees, as opposed to the fairly bipartisan spirit of HASC, will be high priority for ensuring the Counter-CCP committee’s success.
Overall, what does the composition of the committee say about it? Well, that even with some partisans, I expect the committee to work quite well together among themselves. The vibe here will be more like the Armed Services committee, where bipartisanship is celebrated, as opposed to the more domestic committees whose sparring highlights you may see on cable news and viral tweets. Many of these members carry a great deal of influence within their committees, and as the committee fleshes itself out and grows its reputation, undoubtedly their influence will grow as well. Despite 2024 campaigns, past partisanship challenges, and a narrow margin in the House, the real challenge will simply be the battle between the isolationists and the hawks on both sides of the aisle.
The Counter-CCP committee will focus on four main themes of competition:
Restore supply chains and end critical economic dependencies on China,
Strengthen the military,
End the CCP’s theft of American personal data and intellectual property, and
Contrast the CCP’s techno-totalitarian state with the values of the Free World
What does any of that mean? Let’s start with decoupling. China hawks often talk about “selective decoupling” or removing elements of our supply chain and industrial base from or near China when not doing so would put our national security at risk. This is often, but not always, not in line with business interests. I’ve talked about economic security before, and I suspect a lot of the goals for the Counter-CCP will be similar to those that Gallagher and others have espoused previously: become independent of China on things like chips, critical minerals, green tech, and medical precursor chemicals, and remove US investment into Chinese high-profile industries like those that fall under dual-use regulations from flight systems to basic electronics. Rep. Gallagher and others did work on this previously with the HASC’s Supply Chain Task Force that was overshadowed by President Biden’s equivalent task force. Maybe we’ll even get a Department of Economic Warfare to consolidate the scattered tools of economic statecraft across the federal government.
As for strengthening the military, Rep. Gallagher and most members of the committee (really most of Congress) are increasingly concerned about near-term readiness in the Western Pacific. I wrote last week about not focusing on a singular timeline, but rather a two-track plan between ramping up conventional readiness to disrupt PLA planning for Taiwan while investing in systems that can ensure the US is ready to fight beyond 2030. Gallagher is perhaps the loudest about the Davidson Window, and wrote a whole, lengthy plan to prepare for short-term contingencies. With a whole committee and permanent staff at his disposal, the output of new ideas and detailed plans for everything from warfighting to sanctions will undoubtedly be high. Balancing between near and far term planning will be difficult, and with far-right conservatives threatening to run us off the fiscal cliff once again this year, passing a new DOD budget with any new spending, let-along on time, will be highly unlikely without significant, painful tradeoffs. It’ll be on the more conservative members of the committee to prevent a hijacking of the DOD budget against the committee’s recommendations. Other issues the committee will have to grapple with will include the growing need to modernize our nuclear systems as China grows their arsenal, reshaping combatant commands for the China threat, and deciding how to sustain the new industrial production emerging from the Ukraine war effort that would also be key to a future fight over Taiwan.
The personal data fight is one that the committee is already fighting in the form of TikTok. As mentioned above, the committee leadership is already trying to shut down TikTok and support is growing across DC to actually get it done. But there’s more to do from Chinese smart health products and overseas data storage to Chinese investment in the United States and outbound investment regulations. The TikTok fight may very well set the pace for how the committee can manage big money and influence battles. Rep. Gallagher has also been the leader on cyber issues and reforms for years, and I suspect this will only continue as new digital threats emerge as the competition grows.
Finally, there is the autocracy vs. democracy debate. There’s a string of academics who don’t like that framing, I don’t particularly care and neither does most of the committee. It’s a good framing for the domestic audience, you can be a little more nuanced abroad. And that’s always been the case. However, there’s no better contrast overseas however than Taiwan and the PRC. Taiwan is one of the most highly-rated democracies in the world, and certainly East Asia. The committee intends to hold a hearing on Taiwan, and I think it’s a great idea, hell do it from the western beaches. It absolutely infuriates Beijing that Taiwan exists as the shining example that those of Chinese heritage can thrive in a democracy. But that’s for another day. The committee will undoubtedly have to find ways to strengthen democracy at home while broadcasting the evils of the CCP around the world. That’s still a challenge at a time when a certain percentage of the electorate believes the 2020 elections were rigged and several members of the committee voted to overturn the 2020 election (Mr. Gallagher did not.) Moreover, a lot of these issues can quickly dive into culture war battles about minority rights and 1st amendment rights. But the farther we get from 2020, with every free and fair election in the United States, we remind the world of how incredible, if infuriating, the democratic process can be. We may disagree on many things, but our people are free to disagree. I will be very interested to see how this messaging translates into legislation.
The chief counterarguments from progressive “restrainers” comes with labels like “McCarthyist” and “warmongering” amidst a wave of anti-Asian sentiment in recent years. And I’m not going to deny the actual rise in hate towards innocents that always accompanies new national security threats, and it’s on all of us to fight those urges. But the CCP also loves to play up those accusations when it targets any counter-CCP policy. The CCP’s ideology, its growing military prowess, its global surveillance and rendition regime, its genocide of the Uyghurs, its threat to peace in the Western Pacific are the problems, not the people who are caught beneath Beijing’s boot. Rep. Gallagher has long been adamant about separating the people of China from the regime, keenly aware that his own district was once Sen. McCarthy’s of red scare infamy. It’s why the committee was renamed to message on the CCP, instead of China as a whole. Even Democrats on the committee have caveated their own endorsements of the committee’s mission with fears of a return to the bad old days. If Rep. Gallagher can keep those sentiments in check from GOP radicals, and I think he will be for the most part, then the committee will continue to function and remain bipartisan. If the Dems didn’t think productive work could come out of the committee under Rep. Gallagher, they would have sabotaged it with restrainers or simply not signed on.
Aside from the above critiques, the major challenge for the committee will be operating in a very complex and volatile legislative environment where the majority is already struggling to put its red meat bills on the floor. Now, this can change quickly, especially with how the chaos of the speaker elections slowed down the pace of the House, but right now, the big question is not whether the Counter-CCP Committee can create legislation worthy of passage, but whether the House can process that legislation in a reasonable and timely fashion without the chaos seen during the first week of January. In other words, the committee itself may function quite well, and will likely behave and work better together than most committees on the Hill, but because of those other actors, the committee’s work may very well be spoiled by other members and groups more interested in protecting Wall Street investment in China, anachronistic education programs, industrial policy, or parochial DoD programs. Such is the way of Congress.
At the end of the day, the counter-CCP committee will likely be more bipartisan, more collaborative, and more efficient than any other committee on the Hill. The only thing that can stop it from turning that efficiency into effective legislation is the rest of the House of Representatives…but the thing about existential foreign threats is that they have a way of unifying people, and if the committee can bring that message home, then they will likely bring bills to the Senate and the President’s desk. There may be two dozen members of varying prominence, but make no mistake, the Counter-CCP Committee is the Mike Gallagher show. It will live or die with his leadership and his ability to manage a House in chaos. Right now, I have confidence that it will thrive and I look forward to seeing what that team can do to fight the good fight in the spotlight. This is the war we must fight to get to the war.
If you enjoyed this article, check out my novel, EX SUPRA. It uses fictional vignettes and narrative to talk about many of the issues I cover in Breaking Beijing every week, and many of the issues the Counter-CCP committee will wrestle with going forward. Recently nominated for a Prometheus Award for best science fiction novel, it’s the story about the war after the next war. From the first combat jump on Mars to the climate change-ravaged jungles of Southeast Asia, EX SUPRA blends the bleeding edge of technology and the bloody reality of combat. In EX SUPRA, the super soldiers are only as strong as their own wills, reality is malleable, and hope only arrives with hellfire. Follow John Petrov, a refugee turned CIA paramilitary officer, Captain Jennifer Shaw, a Green Beret consumed by bloodlust, and many more, as they face off against Chinese warbots, Russian assassins, and their own demons in the war for the future of humanity.
And if you have any suggestions for topics for future articles, please send them my way on Twitter @Iron_Man_Actual.
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