Feb 4, 2022 - Politics & Policy

White House faces House challenges to make China bill bipartisan

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo is seen speaking with Sen. Susan Collins.
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo (right) speaks with Republican Sen. Susan Collins on Tuesday. Photo: Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo has been laboring to get Republicans on board with the COMPETES Act but those efforts are meeting with resistance in the House.

Why it matters: The Republican opposition is forcing the White House to rely on Democrats in House, but officials are optimistic that bipartisanship will prevail in the Senate when two China competitiveness bills are merged.

  • “It’s disappointing,” Raimondo told Axios. “I hope there’s a few brave souls who do the right thing."
  • She’s continued all week to make appeals, including calls to House Republican members on Tuesday.
  • The Commerce secretary, a former Rhode Island governor and venture capitalist labeled a moderate technocrat, was the administration’s best bet to gain any Republicans support.

Once the House passes the COMPETES Act, the legislation will pass to a House-Senate conference, where changes will be made that members expect should deliver bicameral, bipartisan support.

  • Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), who expressed complaints about the process of the bill, plans to vote for the final bill and doesn't blame Raimondo.
  • ”It’s not her job to successfully negotiate this through the House and through the Senate,” she said. “I think she's done a phenomenal job of being available and forceful.”

The big picture: In the Senate, 19 Republicans voted in favor of the United States Innovation and Competition Act [USICA], their version of the bill, raising the prospect of an bipartisan victory for President Biden.

  • They argued it would help America become more competitive with China.
  • While some House Republicans initially supported certain aspects of the legislation, like the CHIPS Act focused on boosting the semiconductor industry, they now argue Democrats have filled it with unrelated provisions.

What they're saying: “There’s a lot of good provisions, but [House Democrats] also loaded the bill up with a lot of poison pills," said Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), a member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, which Raimondo met with this week.

  • "They knew Republicans wouldn't go for it, and then Raimondo was stuck trying to find some Republicans so they can call it bipartisan."

Republicans aren’t the only ones expressing their frustration.

  • Slotkin said she's "sick and tired" of Democrats turning bipartisan issues into partisan matters, and she blames her own party for delaying the legislation.
  • "We didn’t hear hardly a word about this bill for six months,” she told Axios of White House and congressional leader's inaction on the bill.
  • Now Democrats "have a bill that’s actually mostly bipartisan with no Republicans voting for it."

Go deeper: The bill has been the secretary’s cause.

  • She said she’s spent the last month and a half making “dozens” of phone calls to members.
  • She's also met in-person and virtually with Republicans, along with members of the New Democrat Coalition, Problem Solvers Caucus and Frontliners.

The intrigue: Raimondo has felt the sting of Republican recalcitrance up close.

  • Rep. Troy Balderson (R-Ohio) committed to voting "yes" on the CHIPS bill, now part of the COMPETES Act.
  • “And now he’s voting ‘no’ on the bill," Raimondo said.
  • “With all due respect, it wasn't the secretary that had to convince me," Balderson said. "It was my district that I'm representing. That is what it came down to for me.”
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