A top State Department official urged a key senator earlier this year to tamp down the language in a bill meant to prevent the importation of goods from China that are made using Uyghur forced labor, according to a new report.
The Washington Post, citing Biden administration officials, reported Thursday that Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) — a co-sponsor of the bill — in October that the White House wanted lawmakers to take “a more targeted and deliberative approach” to determining which items would be barred from the US.
Versions of the bill, known as the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, passed the House of Representatives in September 2020 and the Senate by a unanimous vote in July this year. The House is expected to vote on its version of the bill again sometime next week.
The measure includes a provision requiring importers to prove that goods originating in the Chinese province of Xinjiang were not manufactured using forced labor. The Washington Post reported that Sherman objected to that provision, which has also been criticized by major corporations.
“It isn’t partisan or in any way controversial for the US to be unequivocally, resoundingly opposed to genocide and slave labor,” Merkley told the Washington Post. “The Senate passed this legislation in July, and it’s time to get it over the finish line.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) reintroduced the Senate’s version of the bill this week and has attempted to attach it to the annual defense bill — a must-pass item.
However, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has tried to remove Rubio’s amendment from the defense bill — arguing that because it raises revenue, it must originate in the House.
“The Rubio amendment is a poison pill in the sense that it blows up the bill,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Wednesday, according to the Washington Free Beacon.
Rubio didn’t buy Schumer’s claim, arguing that Democrats wanted the amendment removed because they “don’t want this bill to pass over in the House.”
“The Biden Administration is actively working to stop passage of an anti-slavery bill targeting #China’s genocide,” Rubio tweeted Friday. “That is why they don’t want my amendment on this to get on the defense bill.”
In a separate tweet Thursday, Rubio claimed his amendment was being blocked by Democrats “because major American corporations benefit from factories that use slave labor.“
“To be clear, the Department of State is not opposing this amendment,” a spokesman told the Washington Post. “We share the Congress’ concerns about forced labor in Xinjiang.”
Even if the House version of the bill passes next week, lawmakers must still hammer out differences between that version and the Senate version to craft a final piece of legislation, which must be voted on by the House and Senate once again before being sent to President Biden’s desk.