'Our largest threat to national security' - Republican US House will sharpen China focus, Ukraine

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  • Republicans have won the US House.
  • They will focus on China and Ukraine support.
  • There will also be hearings on the Afghanistan withdrawal.

Republicans will use their new majority in the US House of Representatives to intensify Washington's focus on China, and more closely monitor aid going to Ukraine, but they insist they have no plans to stop support for Kyiv in its fight with Russia.

Representative Michael McCaul, the Republican in line to head the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said his top priority will be competing with a rising China, including monitoring high-tech exports.

"We're in a great powers competition right now with Communist China. They are our number one competitor now and probably our largest threat to national security," McCaul told Reuters.

As the majority party, Republicans will decide what legislation is considered in the House and have a bigger role in setting spending policy and writing legislation. 

READ | 'Red Wave failed to materialise' as US Democrats maintain Senate majority

But their overall influence on foreign policy will be limited. To become law, any bills must be passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate and be signed by US President Joe Biden.

That leaves Republicans with the ability to conduct investigations and compel testimony from administration officials because - as the majority party - they will control House committees.

"The real impact is going to be on agenda-setting and oversight," said Scott Anderson, an expert on governance at the Brookings Institution.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) spea
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks during a news conference following a meeting with Senate Republicans.

House Republicans plan to focus on beefing up supply chains to support production of essential components like semiconductors in the US, as well as on export controls, with an eye toward ensuring that sensitive US technology does not find its way to the Chinese military.

"To me it's insane, we're basically arming our archenemy," McCaul said, adding that he thought Democrats and Republicans would work together on the issue.

McCaul said:

We have China hawks on both sides of the aisle.

McCaul and Representative Mike Rogers, a Republican who is in line to chair the Armed Services Committee, would work together to beef up the defence industrial supply line to make it easier to provide military equipment to Taiwan so it can ward off any potential attack from China.

Republicans have signalled that they will be more tight-fisted about the flow of US assistance for Ukraine but they are not expected to cut it off, despite all 57 House votes against a bill providing more than $40 billion for Ukraine in May coming from members of the party.

McCaul said he expected the aid to keep flowing, noting bipartisan support for the Kyiv government. 

He plans hearings to educate the public about the conflict, particularly alleged human rights violations since Russia invaded in February.

"I think it is 'America First' to help NATO and our allies. It's also 'America First' to help Ukraine so that we don't end up in there," he said.

He said:

What we're trying to do in Ukraine is avoid global conflict.

Biden said he expected aid to continue to Ukraine without interruption despite scepticism expressed by Republicans, while noting that his administration has "not given Ukraine a blank cheque", a rebuttal to Representative Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican candidate to become speaker of the House.

McCaul said Republicans wanted more "oversight and accountability" on foreign assistance, as well as participation by US allies, and that he would like to see new weapons, like longer-range artillery, sent to Ukraine.

"We are going to put conditions on aid. For instance, we will give you this assistance but we want our NATO partners to bear the burden of that, and not have just the United States being able to support that," McCaul said.

Congressional Republicans - and some Democrats - strongly opposed the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran reached under Democratic president Barack Obama. 

Biden's administration has tried to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement since he took office in 2021, but the two sides have been unable to strike a deal.

Tehran's crackdown this year on protesters demanding women's rights appears to have made it harder for the Iranian authorities to compromise and the US to reach an accord that would give Iran billions of dollars in oil revenues.

Republican former president Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the nuclear deal in 2018, leaving the other countries unsure about whether they could trust any future US government to honour any agreement reached by Biden.

Republicans have vowed to block any nuclear agreement.

Republicans plan to use their new-found power to dig into some of Biden's foreign policy decisions as well as the international business activities of his son Hunter Biden.

McCaul plans hearings on the messy US withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021 and events in the country since. 

"We never got a full accounting ... of what happened, why it happened the way it did," he said.


The House Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees also plan a joint investigation of business dealings that Hunter Biden had with a Chinese energy firm in 2017.

Trump and many other members of his party have been drawing attention to the younger Biden's business dealings since his father emerged as the leading contender to defeat Trump in the November 2020 presidential election.

The Democratic-led House impeached Trump in 2019 on charges that he withheld military aid to Ukraine to put pressure on President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to launch an investigation of Hunter Biden.

The issue is expected to come up again, as the two parties position themselves for the 2024 presidential election, after Trump this week launching a third consecutive White House run.

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