Opinion McCarthy names a strong leader for vital new House committee on China
A top priority for the new Republican majority will be a Select Committee on China, if Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is elected House speaker, as I expect he will be. This is the most important work the new Congress can do.
Jake Sherman of Punchbowl News reported on Monday that Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) was McCarthy’s choice to chair the new committee, and McCarthy confirmed that on Thursday. Gallagher is a good fit for this huge job. An active-duty Marine for seven years — including two tours in Iraq — Gallagher is a serious student of security studies and international relations with a PhD from Georgetown University. As a Senate staffer, he worked for the Foreign Relations Committee, and now serves on both the House Armed Services Committee and Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
At just 38, Gallagher is married with two children and still lives in his native Green Bay. Being a Packers fan — and fan of the Bucks, Brewers and University of Wisconsin Badgers — comes with the territory, but he saves his partisan passions for sports. As a public servant, he is a breath of fresh air, ready to work with anyone, red or blue, to advance Team America against a deadly serious rival.
As the leader of a committee likely to include 10 Republicans and seven Democrats, Gallagher will need to waken Americans to the new Cold War that China has launched over the past 20 years while we dozed complacently. Former president Donald Trump, with his love of tariffs, gave battle in the trade arena. Despite the turmoil of frequently changing personnel, Trump’s second secretary of state (and first CIA director) Mike Pompeo, and like-minded “China hands” in the former administration, succeeded getting a good part of the Foggy Bottom foreign policy apparatus to focus on the dictatorial power and overweaning ambitions of China’s all-but-in-name emperor Xi Jinping.
I am confident that Speaker McCarthy will appoint GOP members to the new committee who are true national security experts, skilled in communicating with the public and in working across the aisle. Incoming Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) should do the same with his choices. When I asked him about the Democrats he hoped would be on the committee, Gallagher mentioned California’s Ro Khanna and Virginia’s Abigail Spanberger. Other serious national security Democrats (yes, they exist) include Reps. Jared Golden (Maine) and Seth Moulton (Mass.).
I could tell that Gallagher did not want to get too far ahead of McCarthy in discussing the committee. That’s wise, because the likely future speaker has some delicate diplomacy to do in assuring incoming chairs of standing committees that the new select committee will not threaten their turf. It is a delicate bit of surgery to carve out this mission, but McCarthy knows — and often speaks about — the existential threat to U.S. interests that the Chinese Communist Party poses. Despite President Biden’s expressed hope to avoid a “new Cold War,” we are already in one.
So what will the new committee do?
More specifics of the committee’s membership and goals are likely to emerge next week. But the Select Committee on China should start by asking C-SPAN to cover every hearing gavel to gavel. These hearings should be held in the evening so Americans can easily watch them. Gallagher need not descend to the narrative excesses of the Jan. 6 committee. Serious, sustained questioning of key experts will suffice to illuminate the many ways in which China threatens our national security — underseas warfare, cybersecurity, espionage and more.
The venerable China hand Michael Pillsbury of the Hudson Institute calls this competition “The Hundred-Year Marathon,” and while it has been underway for decades, the race has reached a critical moment.
Retired Adm. James Stavridis, a former supreme allied commander of NATO, has pledged to provide a reading list for committee members and staff to address the yawning gap in strategic thinking separating American from Chinese leadership.
The stakes could not be higher.
In his 1984 reelection campaign, President Ronald Reagan famously warned of a Soviet “bear in the woods.” A successful Select Committee on China will alert Americans to the “dragon in the sky.” Much of that success depends on Democrats’ willingness to work with Gallagher in common cause. Jeffries can make that happen with the right appointments. I pray that he does.