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Scoop: Chris Smith's cobalt conundrum

Cobalt mine in Congo

A cobalt mine in the South Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo: Augustin Wamenya/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Rep. Chris Smith's bill addressing children mining in Africa currently has a muddled path.

Why it matters: You'd think Republicans would jump at the chance to pass legislation addressing the dark humanitarian situation in the Congo because it calls into question whether EVs are truly "clean" cars.

  • Yet even with a GOP-controlled House, Smith will need Democratic support and complicated legislative jujitsu to get his bill into law.

Driving the news: The New Jersey Republican told Axios he's drafting a new version of his bill to limit imports of cobalt and cobalt-based products with suspected ties to child labor in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

  • Smith's changing the legislation to put the onus on China, where most cobalt mined in the DRC is processed.
  • He wants it to be similar to the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which assumes products from the Xinjiang province of China may be made with forced labor. That law has impacted solar and EV imports.

What's next: Smith will oversee a hearing Tuesday on the global cobalt trade in the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, an intergovernmental and bicameral panel focused on U.S. competition with the Asian country.

Yes, but: Smith's bill is far from moving through Congress any time soon despite getting plaudits from some in the human rights advocacy space, including "Cobalt Red" author Siddharth Kara.

  • He'll need bipartisan support to get it scheduled for a markup in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which has primary jurisdiction over the matter, a GOP committee spokesperson told Axios.
  • Smith acknowledged he has "not yet" gotten word the bill can get a markup from Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul.

One logical Democratic partner would be Sen. Jeff Merkley, who is co-chair of the China commission holding Tuesday's hearing.

  • Merkley's position is unknown. When asked Wednesday about the bill, the Oregon Democrat said to ask him after the hearing next week.

Of note: The original bill was also referred to Judiciary and Ways and Means, presenting an even more complicated legislative path.

  • Smith says he's spoken to Chairs Jim Jordan and Jason Smith and is optimistic they won't stand in the way of the bill.

What we're watching: Swiss commodities giant Glencore — the largest cobalt mining company in the DRC that is not Chinese — opened an in-house lobbying shop in Washington.

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