PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — As the United States faces an array of foreign policy challenges across the globe, Republican members of Congress at their annual policy retreat rallied behind a "peace through strength" approach and blamed President Joe Biden's "weakness on the world stage" for emboldening foreign adversaries.
As House Republicans huddled Thursday afternoon to discuss their strategy to counter China, Biden delivered remarks at NATO headquarters in Brussels and stated publicly that he "made no threats" to Chinese president Xi Jinping in regards to Xi's support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The admission incensed House Republican Conference chairwoman Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), who told the Washington Free Beacon it was exactly the type of comment she'd expect from Biden.
"Xi knows he can eat Joe Biden's lunch because he is a weak president of the United States," Stefanik said. "A United States president should not be bragging, saying, ‘I didn't say anything tough to China.'"
Stefanik said global rivals are "taking advantage of this vacuum of leadership." The best way to stay out of foreign wars, she argued, was to "make sure our adversaries fear the United States of America."
"When we had President Trump, they were fearful of the United States of America—as they should be—and they knew there would be significant consequences," Stefanik said.
Stefanik's peace through strength message comes amid perceptions of a growing appetite for isolationism in the Republican Party. This was not evident at the House retreat, where over a Thursday lunch members heard from former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, who, according to several members in attendance, received a standing ovation for her criticism of Biden's weak posture.
Rice told members that Biden publicly taking military options off the table ahead of Putin's aggression emboldened the Russian president to take aggressive action in Ukraine without fear.
"I would never take options off the table and say what I wouldn't do, you always have to have a fear factor with your enemy" was Rice's message, members told the Free Beacon.
The call for a strong foreign policy was echoed by other members of Republican leadership. Rep. Mike Waltz (R., Fla.), a Green Beret and the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, argued that Biden's fear of escalation is driving Putin to take his action against Ukraine further.
"The more we let fear of escalation drive our policy, the more space you get Putin to escalate," Waltz told the Free Beacon. Biden's hesitancy to state clear redlines for the Russians, Waltz argued, is "actually a dangerous and escalatory position" for the United States.
Waltz said the perception that isolationism is gaining traction on the right is due to an "outsized voice" by a minority of the party. "Look at our votes, look at our statements, it's overwhelming," Waltz said. "It's peace through strength, American leadership, fight forward, if we don't lead who will?"
The lack of appetite for isolationism is also apparent in the Republican electorate—a Free Beacon poll of primary voters in Pennsylvania found that only 14 percent want the United States to do nothing to fight off Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Rep. Michael McCaul (Texas), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the chairman of the House Republican Conference's China Task Force, attributed Biden’s failure to accept basic tenets of foreign policy to a mixture of "stubbornness and stupidity."
"It's not rocket science," McCaul said. "You have to negotiate with strength and not weakness, and everything he's done is weakness."
A copy of McCaul's China Task Force briefing document for members, which was obtained by the Free Beacon, shows calls for increased military spending to prepare for the rising China threat, as well as "enhancing the military capabilities of U.S. allies, including Taiwan, to push back on [Chinese Communist Party] aggression."
Stefanik pointed to increased military spending under Republicans in her pushback on the contention that former president Donald Trump had an isolationist foreign policy.
"Increasing military readiness—that's not what an isolationist does," Stefanik said. "That's what a leader does, who believes in peace through strength."