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Sen. Chris Coons. Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The Jan. 6 insurrection was a "shock to the system," propelling members of Congress toward the goal of shoring up America's ability to compete with China, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) told Axios during an interview Thursday.

Why it matters: Competition between China's authoritarian model and the West's liberal democratic one is likely to define the 21st century. A bipartisan response would help the U.S. present a united front.

Driving the news: Three major bipartisan bills targeting China's influence and strengthening America's response are now working their way through Congress and expected to pass.

  • The Strategic Competition Act would allocate hundreds of millions of dollars to a raft of new initiatives aimed at helping the U.S. succeed in long-term ideological, military, economic and technological competition with China. It was passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday and now heads to the Senate floor.
  • The Endless Frontier Act calls for $100 billion in funding for technology research to boost U.S. innovation, as China aims to become the world leader in emerging technologies.
  • Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have reintroduced a bill to study the United States’ "overreliance on foreign countries and the impact of foreign direct investment on the U.S. pharmaceutical industry and DNA analysis industries" — with a special eye on China.

What they're saying: “The harrowing experience of Jan. 6, the sharp divisions we saw in our election last year, and the rise of a more aggressive and assertive China and Russia, has really helped focus our country in the urgency in coming together and working to make a difference," Coons said.

  • The Capitol siege on Jan. 6 was a "shock to the system that both hurt our reputation around the world as a functional democracy and made many of us here in Congress reflect on ways that we demonstrate we can legislate in ways that can solve people's problems."
  • The Strategic Competition Act passed committee with a final vote of 21-1, which Coons said was "as robust and bipartisan an endorsement of a bill as I’ve ever seen here."

Background: While in office, President Trump made countering China a big part of his agenda. And while there was bipartisan agreement Beijing was a growing problem, that didn't result in major legislation because there was so much tension between the two parties.

  • "President Trump took bold and aggressive steps to confront China’s economic and intellectual theft of our innovation ... but he did so in ways that genuinely divided us from our allies," Coons said.
  • He said President Biden's approach focuses instead on bipartisanship and working with allies.

The bottom line: "The first order of business for us is to invest in our own country and in strengthening our own democracy," Coons said.

What to watch: The Strategic Competition Act codifies a bipartisan U.S. position on a range of China-related issues and telegraphs to U.S. allies the federal government is unified.

  • Lawmakers agree that the two bills are only a start and that more action will be needed.

Go deeper

Updated Jul 29, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Congress passes $2.1B Capitol security funding bill

U.S. Capitol police officers testify during a House select committee hearing on the Jan. 6 Capitol riot on July 27. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool via Xinhua

A $2.1 billion Capitol security funding bill is heading to President Biden for his signature after the House and Senate passed the legislation on Thursday.

Why it matters: The legislation provides funding for the Capitol Police, the National Guard and other agencies to cover the costs incurred during the Jan. 6 riot.

Jul 29, 2021 - Politics & Policy

First look: Biden adviser Donilon touts infrastructure deal

Mike Donilon. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

One of President Biden’s closest advisers, Mike Donilon, believes swing voters want Congress to pass the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal, and embrace solutions where the two parties "meet in the middle,” according to a memo first reported by Axios.

Why it matters: While Biden has faced doubters — especially in his own party — about his ability to work with Republicans, a core group of advisers, including Donilon, is convinced the president’s political fortunes rest on his ability to transcend partisanship.

Jul 29, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Infrastructure bills face House chaos

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries arrives for a House vote last month. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

The infrastructure agreement cinched Wednesday by senators faces several changes in the House before it — and a companion reconciliation bill — have any chance of becoming law.

Why it matters: The myopic focus on the bipartisan group of Senate negotiators overlooks House progressives and others ready to pounce. They have the ability to quash any deal, given the narrow Democratic margins not only in the Senate but also the House.