Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are on edge after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan this week — and some say they’re frustrated by what they describe as a lackluster response from the White House.
The Department of Defense and the State Department gave a classified briefing to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday night and, according to the recollection of Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), senators from both parties expressed concern that the Biden administration did not was more complete -Support Pelosi from the heart when China started issuing threats.
“Members have been very clear — on both sides — with the White House and the administration about our thoughts on the wisdom of Speaker Pelosi’s trip,” Barrasso told the Daily Beast. “The White House should have supported the Speaker of the House when the threats were made against the Speaker of the House. I thought the White House showed considerable weakness in saying, well, we don’t know, as opposed to saying this is the Speaker of the United States House who will go if she decides to go.”
Before the trip, the White House had made it abundantly clear that Pelosi’s visit could lead to a flare-up of tensions — so much so that President Joe Biden himself said it was “not a good idea.”
Biden has tried to distance himself from the visit and warned Chinese President Xi Jinping in a phone call last week that Pelosi, not Biden, would make the decision about the trip, according to White House National Security Council coordinator John Kirby.
But as to whether Xi understands that Biden can’t tell Pelosi what to do, Sen. Angus King (I-ME), a member of the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services Committees, said he wasn’t so sure. .
“President Biden cannot tell the Speaker of the House what to do. I bet he wishes he could sometimes,” King said.
Many lawmakers were also less than thrilled with the President’s travel plans.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) said Tuesday he doesn’t think Pelosi’s trip was a good idea, adding that the focus should be on Ukraine issues right now.
“I think her travel is ill-advised,” Romney said.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said he had concerns that China might escalate in response to the trip.
“I am always concerned about the escalation of the Chinese Communists against us. It’s a bad regime,” said Cruz, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Some Democrats, too, including Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, were concerned about Pelosi’s trip and a potentially dangerous response from China.
“I have concerns that China will use this as an opportunity to actually escalate tensions there,” Duckworth told The Daily Beast. “And I hope they don’t.”
“I’m concerned about what Xi’s intentions are,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), a member of both the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees.
China announced military exercises and threatened a forceful response as soon as rumors of Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, which China claims as its territory, first surfaced. The United States recognizes China’s position, but does not recognize China’s claim.
And while members of Congress have been visiting Taiwan for decades, hostile rhetoric coming from Beijing does not sit well on Capitol Hill. China was raging about Pelosi before she even arrived. Upon landing in Taiwan, China’s Foreign Ministry said the visit “seriously violates China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
“Those who play with fire will perish from it,” the ministry said. “China will definitely take all necessary measures to resolutely safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity in response to the US president’s visit.”
Pelosi’s fellow lawmakers aren’t the only ones worried about China’s recent war warnings. The White House’s Kirby warned that the people of Taiwan could be at risk because of China’s threats.
“When you talk about or threaten these kinds of potential operations, military operations … and missile launches … what it does is it increases the risk of miscalculation … that could lead to unintended consequences,” Kirby told the reporters on Monday. “That’s where the danger comes in.”
Kirby did not specify what those consequences might be.
After Monday’s briefing from the Pentagon and the State Department, Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) told The Daily Beast that he believes Taiwan still needs a lot of help to successfully deter China from attacking.
“We have made significant commitments to the Taiwanese in terms of training their personnel and ensuring that they have the means to prevent [China],” Young, who serves on the Foreign Relations Committee, told The Daily Beast. “They must become hedgehogs.”
Senators are currently working to address concerns about whether Taiwan is capable of fending off a Chinese attack in the coming days. A proposal by Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) that would increase security assistance to Taiwan and expand access to weapons meant to deter China’s military is set to be considered Wednesday to the Committee on Foreign Relations.
This multi-billion dollar aid proposal could be key for Taiwan in the coming years. China’s response to Pelosi’s visit won’t be immediate, but rather could force China to escalate tensions in the long run, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told the Daily Beast.
“I think the main response you’re going to see from the Chinese is going to be for a long time after the visit,” Rubio told The Daily Beast. “I imagine they will increase.”
And although China’s rhetoric has escalated in recent days, any further military escalation by China in the meantime would be completely out of place given that the visit was fairly routine, according to Kaine.
“It would be completely unnecessary,” Kaine said. “It would be a real window into Chinese insecurity if they decide to do that.”