Senate Dems Blocking Measure To Prohibit Imports Made With Chinese Slave Labor

Biden admin lobbied against bill, fearing it would torpedo climate negotiations with China

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) / Getty Images
December 2, 2021

Senate Democrats are blocking legislation that would prohibit imports from China made with Uyghur slave labor, in response to pressure from Biden administration officials who fear the bill would torpedo climate negotiations with the Chinese government, congressional sources told the Washington Free Beacon.

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, a bill sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) that has long been circulating in Congress and is backed by the human rights community and opponents of China's forced labor camps, was included in a package of 25 amendments to the annual defense authorization bill, according to a list distributed by Senate leadership on Wednesday.

But Democrats excluded the amendment from a vote late Wednesday night, after members of the party privately objected to it, sources told the Free Beacon. Earlier in the evening, Democrats tried to use a procedural mechanism that would have allowed a vote on the act but stripped it from the final authorization bill, according to a hotline memo from Senate leadership.

The pushback from Senate Democrats comes amid efforts by senior Biden administration officials to quietly kill the bill over concerns it will hinder the White House's climate agenda and limit solar panel imports from China. Presidential climate envoy John Kerry, among others, has been lobbying House members against the bill, the Free Beacon reported last month. The bill is widely backed by the human rights community and easily attracted Republican support in the narrowly Democrat-controlled Senate. Congressional officials tell the Free Beacon that the new opposition to the measure among Democrats is a product of the Biden administration's lobbying efforts.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer offered conflicting explanations for the holdup on Wednesday, with his office initially suggesting to the Free Beacon that Republicans were blocking a vote on the amendment.

The anti-slavery act has "been on the list of amendments Senate Democrats proposed the Senate to vote on that the Republicans have been objecting to … so you should ask the Senate Republicans why they're blocking the vote," Schumer spokesman Justin Goodman told the Free Beacon.

But in a floor speech later Wednesday night, Schumer claimed that the anti-slavery amendment was a "poison pill" that couldn't be included in the authorization bill because of arcane procedural requirements.

"If [Rubio's] amendment were on the bill, it would automatically kill the bill, because it would be what's called 'blue-slipped' in the House, which means any bill that produces revenue must start in the House," Schumer said. "The Rubio amendment is a poison pill in the sense that it blows up the bill."

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act passed the Senate unanimously in July but has stalled in the House. Rubio reintroduced the bill as an amendment to the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act, in an attempt to force the House to finally vote on it.

Democrats blocking a Senate vote on the anti-slavery act "avoids the House having to touch this issue," a senior aide to Rubio told the Free Beacon.

"[House Democratic leadership has] sat on this bill since July anyway, so clearly they don't want to touch it. And this would avoid them having to strip it out … or voting to approve it, which they clearly don't want to do," said the aide.

Rubio said on Wednesday that he would oppose voting on other amendments to the NDAA unless his is included. The amendments package will need unanimous consent to move forward. The NDAA must be passed by the end of the year to avoid a lapse in defense funding.

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act would prohibit imports from the Xinjiang region of China, where Uyghurs have been subjected to forced labor, mass surveillance, and detention camps. The region is also the world's largest producer of solar panel components, an industry that human rights groups say is rife with Uyghur slave labor.

Michael Sobolik, a fellow in Indo-Pacific studies at the American Foreign Policy Council, said the Senate Democratic opposition to the amendment was the "latest episode in a series of concessions to the Chinese Communist Party."

"With their words, the administration and its congressional allies insist that America can simultaneously cooperate and compete with Beijing," said Sobolik. "By their actions, they are dismissing potential complicity in an ongoing genocide to pocket dubious climate concessions from a regime with a track record of lying and breaking promises. That's the opposite of 'responsible competition.'"

Adam Kredo and Joseph Simonson contributed to this report.

Published under: China