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Lawmakers are divided on how to best handle ties with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as geopolitical tensions continue to escalate, leaving senators torn over President Biden’s pick to lead the government’s official export credit agency.
Reta Jo Lewis has been picked by the Biden administration to become the next president of the U.S. Export-Import Bank (EXIM), provided she makes it through the confirmation process in the Senate.
President Biden speaks during the U.S. Export-Import Bank annual conference. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Lewis survived a voice vote in the Senate Banking Committee last month with just Republican Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Bill Hagerty of Tennessee and Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming recording nay votes.
While Lewis is expected to survive a full Senate floor vote, her connection to pro-China groups has left some Republicans on the Hill concerned.
“The EX-IM Bank represents crony capitalism at its worst, providing taxpayer-financed giveaways to large corporations and foreign governments like China,” Toomey, the ranking member of the Banking Committee, told Fox News. “The bank has a history of forcing American taxpayers to support loans to the Export-Import Bank of China and even the Bank of China itself.”
“I am not convinced Ms. Lewis will end these subsidies to the Chinese government, which is just one of many reasons why I am opposing Ms. Lewis’ nomination,” he added.
Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania and ranking member of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, speaks during a hearing in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. (Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Lewis’ current position as a “strategic adviser” for the United States Heartland China Association (USHCA) – a bipartisan group dedicated to fostering relations between the U.S. and China – has raised GOP eyebrows.
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who has been tough on China, said the USHCA serves as a conduit to the CCP’s United Front Work Department, which Chinese President Xi Jingping reportedly referred to as his “magic weapon.”
“I think it is certainly a poor choice and depending on the decisions that she makes moving forward – dangerous,” Rubio told Fox News. “To see this bank empowered to go out there and co-finance projects that are not in our national interest would be a disaster.”
Rubio, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned that the U.S. is “almost out of time” to adequately counter CCP threats facing the U.S. economy.
“We are now at a period of time where the issue with China is so critical, we can’t afford to send or put into positions of great influence anyone who isn’t clear about the threat China poses and how strong we have to be about it. We’ve already waited too long to address this,” he added.
Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, arrives for a vote in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021. (Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Other GOP lawmakers told Fox News their concerns lie outside whether Lewis can tackle China.
Lummis’ office said the senator views the Export-Import Bank as a “corporate subsidy giving big corporations a leg up on their competition.”
“It’s an unnecessary entity that has been plagued by scandal,” Lummis’ press secretary Abegail Cave said. “At a time of increasing competition with China, it is also troubling that President Biden has nominated someone who seems more interested in coordination with China than competing with them.”
Lewis, who is also is a senior fellow and director of congressional affairs with the German Marshall Fund, vowed to serve the role with a “special focus on…strategic competition with China.” However, she did not mention her work with the USHCA in her opening remarks last month.
The strategic adviser also led the office “charged with building strategic peer-to-peer relationships” between the State Department, state and local officials, and foreign counterparts – including China – during the Obama administration from 2010-2013, according to Lewis’ biography listed in the USHCA.
Banking Committee Chairman Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, accused Republicans of using “red scare tactics” when GOP members questioned close China-ties held by other Biden nominees for top jobs.
Fox News could not reach Democratic senators on the Banking Committee, including Sens. Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Mark Warner of Virginia, who have been tough on China but appeared to back Lewis for the top spot. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s, D-N.Y., office also did not respond to Fox News’ questions regarding Lewis’ potential appointment to lead the Export-Import Bank.
The White House also did not immediately respond to an inquiry from Fox News.