Republicans Say Pelosi Holding Up Uyghur Anti-Slavery Bill

Dems stall anti-China bill over climate change negotiations, GOP alleges

Chinese labor camp, Xinjiang / Getty Images
December 10, 2021

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) is holding up a Uyghur anti-slavery bill that passed the chamber on Wednesday from being sent to the Senate for final passage, Republican lawmakers said this week.

Pelosi on Wednesday brought the bill up for a House vote after a pressure campaign from Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), the act's sponsor in the Senate, who threatened to hold up the National Defense Authorization Act if the bill weren't included as an amendment.

"Yesterday the House passed their version of my bill to take on Uyghur slave labor in China 425 to 1," Rubio tweeted. "But now Pelosi is blocking it from being sent to the Senate."

The latest delay comes after weeks of legislative feuds over the Uyghur Anti-Forced Labor Act, which would prohibit imports that are connected to forced labor in China. Republicans say Democratic leadership has been stalling the bill for months due to the Biden administration's concerns that the import ban would undermine climate negotiations with China.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) in a Twitter post also accused Pelosi of "dragging her feet," noting that the House "passed 30+ bills yesterday. All but ONE were sent to the Senate for a vote. It's the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act—which cracks down on goods made with Chinese slave labor."

When asked why the bill has yet to be sent to the Senate for a vote, Pelosi deputy chief of staff Drew Hammill directed the Washington Free Beacon to his response on Twitter, which suggested the delay was due to procedural issues rather than intentional obstruction.

"The bill just passed yesterday but we appreciate the theatrics from the Senator [Rubio]," said Hammill. "What's important is that McGovern-Rubio convos continue to get a final compromise bill passed ASAP. Let's focus on the truly important if we're serious about getting a bill to the President's desk."

Rep. Jim McGovern (Mass.), the Democratic sponsor of the bill in the House, also chalked up the delay to the procedural process of reconciling the House and Senate versions.

"We're already working w/ Rubio's office to reconcile bills," he said on Twitter. "House bill has some stronger parts. We will get it to Biden's desk."

This is not the first time Republicans have accused Democratic leadership of obstructing the bill, which passed the Senate unanimously over the summer but languished in the House for months. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) last week removed the act from a list of amendments to the NDAA after Democratic lawmakers objected to its inclusion, the Free Beacon reported.

Congressional sources last month also told the Free Beacon that Biden climate envoy John Kerry and other State Department officials have been quietly lobbying members against the bill due to the impact it could have on climate negotiations with China. The legislation would ban imports from Xinjiang, the largest global producer of solar panel materials, where the forced labor operations are based.

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman in October allegedly reached out to the Senate bill's cosponsor, Jeff Merkley (D., Ore.), to ask him to water down the legislation, the Washington Post's Josh Rogin reported last week.

Rogin added on Thursday that the House vote was a face-saving maneuver and that the Biden administration has already told Democrats not to send the bill to the president's desk.

"There is no plan to reconcile it with the senate bill by Rubio and Merkley," Rogin wrote on Twitter. "It's just an alibi, unfortunately. Biden admin told dems not to send it to his desk. Sad."