Lawmakers pressure Biden to bar U.S. officials from attending Beijing Olympics

“I think it’s a very difficult subject and it would be difficult to solve that way,” House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) Said in a brief interview. “In general, I don’t think boycotting the Olympic Games is a good approach.”

“I don’t think we can do it,” added Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez (DN.J.), who supports a diplomatic boycott. His GOP colleague on the panel, Senator Jim Risch from Idaho, gave a similar assessment: “I don’t think there is any consensus right now in one direction or the other.”

Biden is expected to heed a recommendation from his advisors to ban US government-sponsored travel to China for the Olympics, according to a Washington Post report on Tuesday. The Biden government has declined to comment on this report.

“If the president does this, it will eliminate the need for legislation,” said Senate Armed Forces Chairman Jack Reed (DR.I.). “But it could be something that shows up.”

The legislature has already been pressed for time on the National Defense Authorization Act, the annual draft law on defense policy that both chambers passed with bipartisan majorities for 60 years in a row. And with several key issues still to be resolved, top lawmakers are not interested in using the Defense Act to make a bold statement about the Olympics – despite widespread support.

The Senate will start a debate on the NDAA this week, which will outline military policy and approve a $ 25 billion increase in Biden’s Pentagon budget proposal, including more money to counter China. But the debate, which is likely to stretch beyond Thanksgiving, is months too late, and negotiators will only have weeks to work out compromise laws that will be hard to sell on sensitive proposals like an Olympic boycott.

That dynamic likely leaves the final decision on the Olympics to the Biden administration, not Congress – though lawmakers say it would strengthen its hand if it had explicit support from Congress. Announcing a diplomatic boycott could help Biden appease domestic critics who say the president has struggled to make progress on key issues in the complicated US-China relationship.

Biden virtually met with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Monday evening, but a senior administrative official said the Olympics did not come up during the hour-long discussion. (Earlier reports indicated that Xi was ready to officially invite Biden to the games.)

The idea of ​​a diplomatic boycott has widespread support in Congress, from Republican China hawks to Liberals like Spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi.

In the House of Lords, a group of ideologically diverse senators proposed an amendment to the Defense Act that would impose such a boycott by refusing to fund US officials to attend the Games. The change is being led by GOP Sens. Mitt Romney and Todd Young and Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine and Ed Markey. However, changing it allows the Foreign Minister to waive the ban if he finds that this is “in the national interest”.

Curbing US official participation in the Olympics is one of a series of proposals Democrats and Republicans are considering to punish and confront Beijing for its human rights abuses, modernization of the military, and the possibility of invading Taiwan.

However, some lawmakers questioned the effectiveness of such a proposal.

“I think we need to be fairly nimble in our approach to a worsening human rights situation in China,” said Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “I am certainly open to a diplomatic boycott. I’m not sure how effective that would be. They don’t really want our diplomats, they want our athletes. “

However, a full boycott of the Olympics has never found much favor on Capitol Hill as lawmakers are cautious about denying American athletes the opportunity to attend events for which they have trained for years. Romney, who presided over the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, backs a diplomatic boycott and said anything else would “put an enormous burden on the athletes as expected.”

“I think athletes should compete,” Romney told reporters. “I would love to see the US national anthem play in Beijing.”

The US has long fought to work with Beijing to make progress in the treatment of Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region – which the Biden government has labeled genocide – and in its abuses in Hong Kong and Tibet.

“Perceptions are very important to the Chinese Communist Party,” said Young. “You have tried to create the wrong perception that you are a responsible global actor. … I think if you have the floor it would be hard to vote against. “

Washington has mainly resorted to economic sanctions in these matters without having to show it. At the very least, a diplomatic boycott could prevent Beijing from winning a propaganda victory.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is also pushing for US-Chinese competition laws to be incorporated into the broader defense law to break a blockade in the House of Representatives.

But even without a diplomatic boycott, a definitive defense law can send a shot across the bow to China at the Winter Games.

A competing bill passed by the House of Representatives in September contains a provision banning defense funding for travel by US officials to the Beijing Olympics or Paralympic Games. The measure, which was passed by the House Armed Services Committee during its deliberations on the bill, was sponsored by Florida GOP Rep. Michael Waltz.

The US and most other countries traditionally send a delegation of senior officials to attend the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games. They also present a potential opportunity for diplomacy – or inconvenient photo ops.

At the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Vice President Mike Pence represented the USA and sat right in front of Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, at the opening ceremony. The couple did not interact.

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