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Rep. Mike Gallagher’s Plans for the Select Committee on China
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Rep. Mike Gallagher’s Plans for the Select Committee on China

Hearings, legislative priorities, and some outside-the-box ideas.

Rep. Mike Gallagher (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

When Republicans take control of the House in January, they’ll form a new select committee on China to focus on countering the Chinese government’s aggression and boosting America’s national security and economic security. If GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy is able to clinch the speakership, he has said he will elevate Wisconsin Rep. Mike Gallagher to chair the new panel.

Gallagher, a former Marine Corps intelligence officer, has been in Congress since 2017. He spoke with The Dispatch on Monday about his plans for the committee, hearings he wants to hold, and the challenges the panel could face. The transcript of our interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Haley: You have said the select committee will focus on decreasing America’s dependence on China for critical supply chains. In the past few years, those concerns have led a lot of Republicans to embrace industrial policies they might not have before, like the CHIPS Act. Why doesn’t Congress talk as much about revoking permanent normal trade relations with China as it did with Russia? That would raise tariffs on many Chinese products. The bill to do it has only three co-sponsors. Why isn’t that option discussed more often? And would you support doing that? 

Gallagher: Everyone’s waking up to what is now obvious, but wasn’t obvious for two decades, that China’s accession to the World Trade Organization was a mistake, or at a minimum did not achieve what it was intended to achieve. What we learned in the course of the Trump administration’s 301 investigation into China was more of what we had known for a while, which is that China never abided by the terms of that agreement. In terms of its intellectual property theft, its inability to play by the rules, there’s increasing consensus on that, but not consensus on what to do about it.

Absolutely, revoking permanent normal trade relations should be on the table. And part of the purpose of the select committee on China can be shining a light on those issues that haven’t gotten sufficient attention, fostering a productive debate on that. Before we’d want to rush to legislate, I think we’d want to have a hearing or two teasing out the complexities of the issue and understanding the other side. If we determine that this is something that the House Republican majority wants to throw its weight behind, figure out how we can get that co-sponsor list from three to 30 to a hundred, and make it bipartisan.

Wherever we’re getting near another committee’s jurisdiction—and in this case, I think it would be Ways and Means—we want to make sure we’re just working hand-in-glove with that committee, with the chairman. Maybe we can do joint hearings, things like that.

Part of the reason for the creation of the committee is so much China legislation falls victim to committee jurisdiction, overlapping jurisdiction. We don’t want that to happen, and I think we can play a useful role in coordinating among the committees and moving things forward.

What are your main priorities for hearings early on?

We can help shine a light on the fact that over $14 billion worth of arms sales to Taiwan have been approved but not delivered, and inject a sense of urgency into the executive branch to figure that out. And in a joint hearing with the Foreign Affairs Committee, elevate the discussion above, “OK, here’s what we are providing them,” and have a discussion on why Taiwan matters. Because it’s not clear to me that we’ve yet made that case sufficiently to the American people. And what is the CCP doing around the world via United Front work and ideological warfare in order to weaken support for Taiwan and prepare the battle space for an invasion, which in some meaningful sense has already begun. 

One hearing we want to have very early on is on how we got to this point. Why did the bipartisan bet that both parties made on China fail? What were the assumptions underlying it that were wrong? What did we misunderstand about the Chinese Communist Party that we need to understand in order to have a successful policy going forward?

In terms of field hearings, I’d love to do something up in New York and engage the Fed in conversation and have various financial actors tease out the financial and economic implications of a kinetic confrontation over Taiwan. Because oftentimes when I talk to major asset managers or people in the Wall Street world, what they’ll say to me is, “OK, I get it. You guys think that we’re going to fight over Taiwan. We really don’t see that. We think this is a distant tail risk at best.” Well, I think that ignores what Xi Jinping’s saying. I think that ignores a lot of what’s happening in China. But at a minimum, they should be pricing in the potential risk of that when they’re making investments in China.

And a field hearing in a state, for example, that has figured out or is at least trying to figure out what the right guardrails on university endowment investments in China are, such that they’re not subsidizing genocide or Chinese military modernization. The same is true for state and local pension funds.

Another issue that’s gotten a lot of attention is the way in which the CCP is building overseas police stations. We want to have a hearing on that. 

And then with our colleagues on the Agriculture Committee, we definitely want to have a hearing on Chinese purchases of agricultural land.

But, and I mean this sincerely, part of this being a bipartisan committee is that I want ideas from my Democratic colleagues when we get them on the committee, and we want these hearings to be interesting and useful to both sides. Speaker-elect McCarthy has said to the extent possible, he wants Congress to speak with a unified voice on this issue. I’ve reached out to some of my Democratic colleagues, he’s reached out to Leader Jeffries. We want serious, sober members to participate.

It’s hard to do this in the context of an official hearing, but I think we could actually bring the war gaming process to Congress. How it usually works, at least on the Armed Services Committee, is like a year after the fact we’ll get briefed on the results of a war game that they played at the National War College. And then the problem with these war games is that the Department of Defense does it, and they don’t really incorporate Treasury or Commerce. I actually think we could get creative with some of the best war gamers out there, in the think tank community, in the private sector, and have a series of unique war games related to China that are tailor-made for members of Congress to participate in. That could tease out some of the non-military aspects of this competition.

You mentioned field hearings. Are hearings overseas possible as well? Is a hearing from Taiwan on the table, for example?

That would be great, if we could do it.

Beyond Taiwan, I think overseas travel is going to be a big part of this committee, for sure. There’s lots of islands and compact states in the Indo-Pacific that rarely get enough attention from America. But if you show up with a bipartisan delegation to Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Palau—that has such a huge impact. And these compact states, for example, at least in the case of Palau, are eager to increase their ability to host U.S. forces and missiles.

Going to Japan, which is increasing its defense budget, and going to the Philippines and trying to figure out the state of relations there could be extremely productive. But again, this isn’t just the Indo-Pacific. It’s global. Creative foreign travel will be a huge part of the committee’s work.

Do you see the committee exercising oversight of the Biden administration’s China policies? Do you expect to call Biden administration officials to testify? That aspect may not be as bipartisan as some of the national security priorities you’ve been talking about.

It’s part of our constitutional duty. And I really think at the level of grand strategy, our committee can play a unique role in doing oversight of the Biden administration, teasing out some of the implications of its national security strategy, digging into what I perceive to be some of the contradictions in the national security strategy surrounding the relative prioritization of climate change and China.

There’s tension in the administration, and there was tension in the Trump administration. The fundamental tension is between the Treasury Department and the more hawkish Defense Department. I think we can help productively resolve that tension. I don’t think that should poison the well as far as bipartisanship. On the Armed Services Committee, for example, we have at times very contentious hearings with Biden administration officials that are chaired by my Democratic colleagues.

Are there specific Biden administration officials you want to bring forward to testify?

I’m not at a point right now where I’ll release names of certain officials, but I think we’ll cast a wide net in terms of the State Department, Defense Department. The National Security Council is a little trickier just given its legal status. But we hope that the administration views this as a useful thing to participate in. At the end of the day—maybe this sounds Pollyannish—we should all want the same thing, which is for the United States to win this long-term competition and to prevent World War III in the short term.

Do you plan to bring in witnesses from the business community to talk about operations in China? Are there specific companies you want to hear from?

Definitely. Some that come to mind—I think the NBA has gotten a lot of scrutiny in recent years for its posture on China. There could be a productive hearing or two in the committee on that. Hollywood, similarly. Americans have concerns about this sort of self-censorship because of a desire for access to Chinese markets. I think that would be another fruitful line of inquiry.

The biggest issue is Wall Street. But we’d want to work with our colleagues on the Financial Services Committee to ensure that we aren’t stepping on their territory and we’re not duplicating efforts.

How are you going to avoid those committee jurisdictional issues limiting your work?

Well, I’m a human intelligence officer by trade, so if I have any expertise, it’s dealing with human beings. I’m lucky that I have a great working relationship with the relevant committee chairs. I intend to maintain that relationship and just involve them in the process from the start, and make sure they’re aware of the hearings we’re having. We’ve also talked about making certain members ex officio members of the select committee. We’re still kind of working through that from a rules perspective. Everyone is on board with the overall effort. Republicans, at least, are pretty united on the idea that the Chinese Communisty Party is our biggest threat, and we need to be working harder to confront it. So I’m pretty confident we won’t let individual food fights or turf battles get in the way of doing what’s right for the country.

Earlier you mentioned the backlog in arms sales to Taiwan. There were several provisions in the annual defense authorization bill (NDAA), like multi-year contract authority and assistance to Taiwan, to try to put a dent in that. But it’s not clear it will be enough, soon enough. What else needs to be done to resolve that backlog?

Part of the issue is where you rank Taiwan or where you put them in the line, right? And at least for certain weapon systems like Harpoon missiles, the Saudis are ahead of Taiwan in the line, which makes no sense to me. So that’s going to involve some multilateral diplomacy in order to resolve that. The other part of it is the limits of the defense industrial base and the munitions industrial base, which we’re quickly reaching because of our commitment to Ukraine. You mentioned one of the solutions, which is multi-year authority for munitions production. That was in the NDAA, but it needs to actually be funded. We’ll see how that happens. The biggest divide in Congress in some meaningful ways is not necessarily between Democrats and Republicans, it’s between authorizers and appropriators. 

The other thing we’ve realized is that the things that make our weapons systems go, and go boom, so-called energetics. The propellants, explosives, and pyrotechnics, they’re generations out of date. We’re falling behind the Chinese, and we’re also dependent on the Chinese in a lot of cases for those things. Think about how crazy that is, right? The things our weapons need for a future conflict are often made in China, or they’re single-sourced domestically. There’s a lot of things we can do, and I know the Armed Services Committee wants to dig into this, to revitalize our energetics production domestically.

Will the committee do any work related to the genocide in Xinjiang? Do you see the panel more focused on national security concerns, or will you focus on human rights as well?

They’re one and the same in this instance, right? The three pillars of any coherent grand strategy vis-a-vis the CCP have to be, one: hard power and conventional deterrence. Two: economic statecraft and selective economic, financial, and data decoupling. And the third is human rights/ideological warfare. And we neglect the third.

There are instances where we often have to make tough choices between our immediate security concerns and our human rights concerns, particularly when dealing with non-democratic allies. But this is not an instance where we have to make that tradeoff. And shining a light on the genocide in Xinjiang, I believe, bolsters our conventional deterrence.

Shining a light on the way in which this regime is using technology to perfect an Orwellian techno-totalitarian surveillance state enhances our deterrence, if for no other reason than it gives the American people a sense of who we’re dealing with.

My hope is that over time, we’ll discover that in this existential competition—despite the recent trend of, you know, self-flagellation in America—we will discover that we are indeed the good guys, and we deserve to win. And that will be a bipartisan sentiment.

You’ve emphasized the need for the committee’s work to be bipartisan. You’ve also said you see the Chinese Communist Party as an enemy of the United States, but you don’t see the Chinese people on the whole that way. Can you talk about those two lines you want to draw?

The only way for us to win the ideological competition is to make that distinction between the CCP and the Chinese people. And there we draw upon the Reagan playbook, and how he kind of perfected the art of ideological competition and took advantage of every opportunity to speak to the Russian people. And this probably was best expressed in his speech at Moscow State University toward the end of his presidency, where he drew upon Russian literature and history. There are ways we can do this effectively and take some of the examples we have from the old Cold War and apply it to the new, if for no other reason than the Chinese people are the primary victim of the Chinese Communist Party.

This is a system of total party control. Everything ultimately goes back to the party. So there’s just an important factual point bound up in that effort as well.

We want to avoid the worst excesses of the old Cold War. We wouldn’t want Chinese expatriates to be unfairly maligned because of the predations of Xi Jinping and the party. Joseph McCarthy is buried in my district. I have no desire to dig him up and engage in those excesses.

And the second part of your question was bipartisanship. To some extent, politics has never stopped at the water’s edge, but that is an ideal worth shooting for. As a practical matter, we’re entering two years of divided government. It just gives us a better chance of getting stuff done if our efforts are bipartisan. I just don’t want to waste the next two years, because we don’t have two years to waste, particularly when it comes to Taiwan.

On the Floor

Lawmakers are expected to consider a sweeping omnibus spending package this week to fund the government through September.

Key Hearings

It’s a light schedule this week.

  • The House Ways and Means Committee will meet behind closed doors this afternoon to decide whether or not to release data from former President Donald Trump’s recent tax returns.
  • The Senate Rules and Administration Committee held an oversight hearing for the U.S. Capitol Police yesterday afternoon. Information and video here.
  • The committee tasked with investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol held its last meeting yesterday. Information and video here.

Of Note

Haley Wilt is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.