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GOP senator miffed over busted deal seeks to block China bill

The Hill logo The Hill 5/26/2021 Alexander Bolton
a man wearing a suit and tie: Sen. Mike Carpo (R-Idaho) © Greg Nash Sen. Mike Carpo (R-Idaho)

Sen. Mike Crapo (Idaho), the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, is rallying colleagues to block Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer's (D-N.Y.) China bill because Schumer quashed a deal Crapo crafted in the Finance Committee to extend key trade provisions.

It appeared earlier Wednesday that Republicans were backing down from their threat to prevent the bill, which has been rechristened the Innovation and Competition Act, from advancing to a final up-or-down vote.

But Crapo urged his GOP colleagues at a lunch meeting Wednesday to hold up the bill, which is intended to improve U.S. competitiveness with China, until he gets a vote on an amendment that would extend trade preferences and tariff relief.

Some Republicans now say Schumer won't get the 60 votes he needs to advance the bill unless he relents and allows a vote on the trade deal that Crapo put together with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

One GOP senator said after the lunch "it would be hard to imagine" the China bill getting 10 Republican votes to advance until Schumer backs down and allows a vote on the Wyden-Crapo deal to update and reauthorize expired trade programs.

"Our caucus really believes Mike has a good point," the lawmaker said after Crapo laid out his case for stopping the bill to the rest of the conference.

Republicans know that Wyden is a tough negotiator and so many of them think it's unfair for Schumer to block what they see as a germane, bipartisan provision from a bill that may be the last vehicle to pass trade-related legislation for months.

"I have not been given a vote on that yet and I will be voting against cloture," Crapo said Tuesday afternoon.

"If there is such a rigid refusal to let what should be and have been very bipartisan provisions, why would I think there would be a willingness to let them move in the future?" Crapo said. "If it wouldn't be allowed in this bill where it's so relevant, then it's hard to understand what would cause it to be allowed in some other vehicle."

That deal to extend the Generalized System of Preferences and Miscellaneous Tariff Bill was supposed to be the Finance Committee's component in the Innovation and Competition Act - formerly known as the Endless Frontier Act. But Schumer blocked it from being added to the substitute amendment that includes contributions from several committees.

Democratic aides told The Hill last week that a package of tariff-relief measures had no place in a bill designed to bolster U.S. manufacturing.

One provision of the draft agreement between Wyden and Crapo would have lifted tariffs on personal protective equipment (PPE) imports from China, which would have undercut the goal of limiting U.S. reliance on Chinese manufacturing, aides said.

Senate Republicans on Wednesday afternoon argued that Schumer shouldn't pick and choose what amendments are allowed on the bill, especially when GOP senators believe the trade amendment being blocked is highly relevant.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Schumer's ability to move the China bill to a final vote will depend on him allowing a vote on key Republican amendments.

"It depends whether there's an opportunity for an open amendment process. That's what Sen. Schumer promised. So far, they haven't delivered. There have been some amendments but they're also handpicking which ones they want to allow and refusing others that are perhaps less convenient," Cornyn told reporters after the GOP lunch.

"I think there's a general sense that we're going to stick together and demand an open process like Sen. Schumer promised," he added.

If Republicans defeat a motion Thursday to end debate and proceed to a final up-or-down vote, that means Democrats will be stuck on the China bill and it may not pass until after the Memorial Day recess - unless Schumer takes the drastic step of keeping the chamber in session over the weekend and next week.

That could also delay Schumer's plans to vote Thursday to proceed to a House-passed bill to set up a bipartisan Jan. 6 commission.

Republicans predict the China bill will probably pass eventually but they won't let it advance Thursday unless Crapo gets a chance to revive his deal with Wyden.

Schumer on Tuesday said Republicans are trying to tack on amendments "that are totally unrelated to the bill."

Republicans on Wednesday morning seemed more amenable to letting the bill pass Thursday.

"I think if we get another half a dozen amendments today at some point our folks will have sufficiently scratched the itch when it comes to getting amendment votes," said Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.).

But that was before Crapo vented to colleagues about Schumer wrecking his deal with Wyden on reauthorizing expired trade provisions.

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