On Thursday, analysts spotlighted the news that the White House and congressional Democrats were moving toward dropping corporate tax increases they had wanted to include in the bill, as they hoped to forge a deal that could clear the Senate. A spending deal without corporate tax increases would be a potential boon to profits and share prices.
“A stay of execution on higher corporate tax rates would seem a potentially noteworthy development,” Daragh Maher, a currency analyst with HSBC Securities, wrote in a note to clients on Thursday.
An agreement among Democrats on what’s expected to be a roughly $2 trillion spending plan would also open the door to a separate $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan moving through Congress. Progressives in the House are blocking the infrastructure bill until agreement is reached on the larger bill.
But the prospects for an agreement have helped to lift shares of major engineering and construction materials companies. Terex, which makes equipment used for handling construction materials like stone and asphalt, has jumped more than 5 percent this week. The asphalt maker Vulcan Materials has risen more than 4 percent. Dycom, which specializes in construction and engineering of telecommunication networking systems, was up more than 9 percent.
The renewed confidence remains fragile, with good reason. The coronavirus continues to affect business operations around the world, and the Delta variant demonstrated just how disruptive a new iteration of the virus can be.
Another lingering concern involves the higher costs companies face for everything from raw materials to shipping to labor. If they are unable to pass those higher costs on to consumers, it will cut into their profits.
“That would be big,” Mr. McKnight said. “That would be a material impact to the markets.”
But going into the final months of the year — traditionally a good time for stocks — the market also has plenty of reasons to push higher.
The recent weeks of bumpy trading may have chased shareholders with low confidence — sometimes known as “weak hands” on Wall Street — out of the market, offering potential bargains to long-term buyers.
“Interest rates are relatively stable. Earnings are booming. Covid cases, thankfully, are dropping precipitously in the U.S.,” Mr. Zemsky said. “The weak hands have left the markets and there’s plenty of jobs. So why shouldn’t we have new highs?”
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WASHINGTON — The chief executive of Emergent BioSolutions, whose Baltimore plant ruined millions of coronavirus vaccine doses, disclosed for the first time on Wednesday that more than 100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine are now on hold as regulators check them for possible contamination.
In more than three hours of testimony before a House subcommittee, the chief executive, Robert G. Kramer, calmly acknowledged unsanitary conditions, including mold and peeling paint, at the Baltimore plant. He conceded that Johnson & Johnson — not Emergent — had discovered contaminated doses, and he fended off aggressive questions from Democrats about his stock sales and hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonuses for top company executives.
Emergent’s Bayview Baltimore plant was forced to halt operations a month ago after contamination spoiled the equivalent of 15 million doses, but Mr. Kramer told lawmakers that he expected the facility to resume production “in a matter of days.” He said he took “very seriously” a report by federal regulators that revealed manufacturing deficiencies and accepted “full responsibility.”
“No one is more disappointed than we are that we had to suspend our 24/7 manufacturing of new vaccine,” Mr. Kramer told the panel, adding, “I apologize for the failure of our controls.”
Federal campaign records show that since 2018, Mr. El-Hibri and his wife have donated more than $150,000 to groups affiliated with Mr. Scalise. The company’s political action committee has given about $1.4 million over the past 10 years to members of both parties.
Mr. El-Hibri expressed contrition on Wednesday. “The cross-contamination incident is unacceptable,” he said, “period.”
Mr. Kramer’s estimate of 100 million doses on hold added 30 million to the number of Johnson & Johnson doses that are effectively quarantined because of regulatory concerns about contamination. Federal officials had previously estimated that the equivalent of about 70 million doses — most of that destined for domestic use — could not be released, pending tests for purity.
confidential audits, previously reported by The Times, that cited repeated violations of manufacturing standards. A top federal manufacturing expert echoed those concerns in a June 2020 report, warning that Emergent lacked trained staff and adequate quality control.
“My teenage son’s room gives your facility a run for its money,” Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, Democrat of Illinois, told Mr. Kramer.
Mr. Kramer initially testified that contamination of the Johnson & Johnson doses “was identified through our quality control procedures and checks and balances.” But under questioning, he acknowledged that a Johnson & Johnson lab in the Netherlands had picked up the problem. Johnson & Johnson hired Emergent to produce its vaccine and, at the insistence of the Biden administration, is now asserting greater control over the plant.
The federal government awarded Emergent a $628 million contract last year, mostly to reserve space at the Baltimore plant for vaccine production. Among other things, lawmakers are looking into whether the company leveraged its contacts with a top Trump administration official, Dr. Robert Kadlec, to win that contract and whether federal officials ignored known deficiencies in giving Emergent the work.
Mr. El-Hibri told lawmakers that the government and Johnson & Johnson were aware of the risks.
“Everyone went into this with their eyes wide open, that this is a facility that had never manufactured a licensed product before,” he said. While the Baltimore plant was “not in perfect condition — far from it,” he argued that the facility “had the highest level of state of readiness” among the plants the government had to choose from.
the coronavirus leaked from a laboratory in China, the “lies of the Communist Party of China,” mask mandates and the Biden administration’s call for a waiver of an international intellectual property agreement.
“You are a reputable company that has done yeoman’s work to protect this country in biodefense,” exclaimed Representative Mark E. Green, Republican of Tennessee, adding, “So you gave your folks a bonus for their incredible work.”
Emergent is skilled at working Washington. Its board is stocked with former government officials, and Senate lobbying disclosures show that the company has spent an average of $3 million a year on lobbying over the past decade. That is about the same as two pharmaceutical giants, AstraZeneca and Bristol Myers Squibb, whose annual revenues are at least 17 times higher.
Democrats pressed Mr. Kramer and Mr. El-Hibri about their contacts with Dr. Kadlec, who previously consulted for Emergent. Documents show that Emergent agreed to pay him $120,000 annually between 2012 and 2015 for his consulting work, and that he recommended that Emergent be given a “priority rating” so that the contract could be approved speedily. Dr. Kadlec has said he did not negotiate the deal but did sign off on it.
“Did you or any other Emergent executives speak to or socialize with Dr. Kadlec while these contracts were being issued?” Representative Nydia M. Velázquez, Democrat of New York, asked Mr. Kramer.
“Congresswoman,” he replied carefully, “I did not have any conversations with Dr. Kadlec about this.”
A Times investigation found that Emergent has exercised outsize influence over the Strategic National Stockpile, the nation’s emergency medical reserve; in some years, the company’s anthrax vaccine has accounted for as much as half the stockpile’s budget.
The investigation found that some federal officials felt the company was gouging taxpayers — an issue that also came up at Wednesday’s hearing when Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York, demanded to know how much it cost to make the vaccine and what it sold for. Mr. El-Hibri promised to supply the information later.
Company executives also view their coronavirus work as one of the “prime drivers” of its 2020 revenues, according to a memorandum released on Wednesday by committee staff members. The executives were rewarded for what the company’s board called “exemplary overall 2020 corporate performance including significantly outperforming revenue and earnings targets.”
Mr. Kramer received a $1.2 million cash bonus in 2020, the records show, and also sold about $10 million worth of stock this year, in trades that he said were scheduled in advance and approved by the company. Three of the company’s executive vice presidents received bonuses ranging from $445,000 to $462,000 each.
Sean Kirk, the executive responsible for overseeing development and manufacturing operations at all of Emergent’s manufacturing sites, received a special bonus of $100,000 last year, in addition to his regular bonus of $320,611, in part for expanding the company’s contract manufacturing capability to address Covid-19, the documents show. Mr. Kirk is now on personal leave.
Emergent officials “appear to have wasted taxpayer dollars while lining their own pockets,” Ms. Maloney charged.
Mr. Krishnamoorthi asked Mr. Kramer if he would consider turning over his bonus to the American taxpayers.
“I will not make that commitment,” Mr. Kramer replied.
“I didn’t think so,” Mr. Krishnamoorthi shot back.
Rebecca R. Ruiz contributed reporting.
WASHINGTON — President Biden’s carefully worded statement on Monday supporting a cease-fire between Israelis and Palestinians came amid growing pressure within his own party for the United States to take a more skeptical stance toward one of its closest allies.
Mr. Biden’s urging of a halt to the fighting — tucked at the end of a summary of a call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel — followed a drumbeat of calls from Democratic lawmakers across the ideological spectrum for his administration to speak out firmly against the escalation of violence. It reflected a different tone than the one members of Congress have sounded during past clashes in the region, when most Democrats have repeated their strong backing for Israel’s right to defend itself and called for peace, without openly criticizing its actions.
The push is strongest from the energized progressive wing of the party, whose representatives in the House, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, have drawn attention in recent days for accusing Israel of gross human rights violations against Palestinians and of operating an “apartheid state.” But their intensity has obscured a quieter, concerted shift among more mainstream Democrats that could ultimately be more consequential.
Though they have no intention of ending the United States’ close alliance with Israel, a growing number of Democrats in Washington say they are no longer willing to give the country a pass for its harsh treatment of the Palestinians and the spasms of violence that have defined the conflict for years.
a letter on Friday that stood by Israel but also said Palestinians “should know that the American people value their lives as we do Israeli lives,” AIPAC quietly worked behind the scenes to discourage lawmakers from signing.
Republicans have also seen a political advantage in trying to use the most extreme statements from progressive Democrats to try to peel Jewish voters away from the party.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader and a vocal supporter of Israel, condemned Ms. Ocasio-Cortez on Monday for her description of Israel as an “apartheid state” and urged the president to “leave no doubt where America stands.”
wrote on Twitter. (Mr. Yang later released a new statement saying that his first was “overly simplistic” and “failed to acknowledge the pain and suffering on both sides.”)
That has left some of Israel’s most vocal traditional allies in the party in an awkward position.
Mindful of the crosscurrents in his party and home state, where he faces re-election next year, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, has been largely silent since the fighting broke out. Like Mr. Menendez, Mr. Schumer voted against the Iran nuclear deal, and he represents the largest Jewish population in the country, ranging from secular progressives to politically conservative Orthodox communities.
In response to a question asked by a reporter at the Capitol on Monday, Mr. Schumer said, “I want to see a cease-fire reached quickly, and mourn the loss of life.”
He clearly regards Mr. Xi as a worthy competitor who will force America to up its game — thus the focus in his speech on education, speedier, universal internet access, and on partnerships with industry in new technologies. Mr. Biden has made clear to his aides, in lengthy Situation Room sessions on China strategy, that his administration must finally focus the country on the existential threat of a world in which China dominates in trade and technology, and controls the flow of electrons — and the ideas they carry.
In contrast, he regards Mr. Putin’s Russia as a declining power whose only real capability is to act as a disrupter — one that seeks to split NATO, undermine democracy and poke holes in the computer and communications networks that the United States, and the rest of the world, depend upon. That came through in the speech. While he did not repeat his reference to Mr. Putin as a “killer,” he focused on the recent sanctions. “He understands we will respond,” he said, while opening the door to new agreements on arms control and climate.
But making this twin strategy of competition and containment work, Mr. Biden acknowledged at one point, depended on persuading Americans to make the necessary investments, and convincing allies that the United States would have their backs.
The pandemic response, he suggested, paved the way. One hundred days ago it would have been hard to imagine any country turning to the United States for coronavirus aid; now India has, and the pressure on Mr. Biden is how fast he can deploy vaccines to the rest of the world, at a moment that domestic politics suggests he needs to vaccinate all willing Americans first.
But when the pandemic abates, the divisions in the United States will remain. And those divisions, he knows, will be exploited by Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin to further their argument that America is in terminal decline.
It is still a powerful argument, one that Mr. Biden acknowledged when he described his conversations with nearly 40 world leaders.
“I’ve made it known that America is back,” he said. “And you know what they say? The comment that I hear most of all from them is they say, ‘We see America is back but for how long? But for how long?’”
WASHINGTON — Four months after Congress approved tens of billions of dollars in emergency rental aid, only a small portion has reached landlords and tenants, and in many places it is impossible even to file an application.
The program requires hundreds of state and local governments to devise and carry out their own plans, and some have been slow to begin. But the pace is hindered mostly by the sheer complexity of the task: starting a huge pop-up program that reaches millions of tenants, verifies their debts and wins over landlords whose interests are not always the same as their renters’.
The money at stake is vast. Congress approved $25 billion in December and added more than $20 billion in March. The sum the federal government now has for emergency rental aid, $46.5 billion, rivals the annual budget of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Experts say careful preparation may improve results; it takes time to find the neediest tenants and ensure payment accuracy. But with 1 in 7 renters reporting that they are behind on payments, the longer it takes to distribute the money, the more landlords suffer destabilizing losses, and tenants risk eviction.
scheduled to expire in June.
“I’m impressed with the amount of work that unsung public servants are doing to set up these programs, but it is problematic that more money isn’t getting out the door,” said Ingrid Gould Ellen, a professor at New York University who is studying the effort. “There are downstream effects if small landlords can’t keep up their buildings, and you want to reach families when they first hit a crisis so their problems don’t compound.”
Estimates of unpaid rents vary greatly, from $8 billion to $53 billion, with the sums that Congress has approved at the high end of the range.
The situation illustrates the patchwork nature of the American safety net. Food, cash, health care and other types of aid flow through separate programs. Each has its own mix of federal, state and local control, leading to great geographic variation.
programs with discretionary money from the CARES Act, passed in March 2020. These efforts disbursed $4.5 billion in what amounted to a practice run for the effort now underway with 10 times the money.
Lessons cited include the need to reach out to the poorest tenants to let them know aid is available. Technology often posed barriers: Renters had to apply online, and many lacked computers or internet access.
nearly 1 renter household in 5 reported being behind on payments.
The national effort, the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, is run by the Treasury Department. It allocates money to states and also to cities and counties with populations of at least 200,000 that want to run their own programs. About 110 cities and 227 counties have chosen to do so.
The program offers up to 12 months of rent and utilities to low-income tenants economically harmed by the pandemic, with priority on households with less than half the area’s median income — typically about $34,000 a year. Federal law does not deny the aid to undocumented immigrants, though a few states and counties do.
Modern assistance seems to demand a mix of Jacob Riis and Bill Gates — outreach to the marginalized and help with software. Progress slowed for a month when the Biden administration canceled guidance issued under President Donald J. Trump and developed rules that require less documentation.
Other reasons for slow starts vary. Progressive state legislators in New York spent months debating the best way to protect the neediest tenants. Conservatives legislators in South Carolina were less focused on the issue. But the result was largely the same: Neither legislature passed its program until April, and neither state is yet accepting applications.
“I just don’t know why there hasn’t been more of a sense of urgency,” said Sue Berkowitz, the director of the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center. “We’ve been hearing nonstop from people worried about eviction.”
committee in the state House of Representatives found that after 45 days, the program had paid just 250 households.
By contrast, a program jointly run by the city of Houston and Harris County had spent about a quarter of its money and assisted nearly 10,000 households.
Not everyone is troubled by the pace. “Getting the money out fast isn’t necessarily the goal here, especially when we focus on making sure the money reaches the most vulnerable people,” said Diane Yentel, the director of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
2018 study found the area had the country’s highest eviction rate. Charleston County ran three rounds of rental relief with CARES Act money, and the state ran two.
The second state program, started with $25 million in February, drew so many applications that it closed in six days. But South Carolina is still processing those requests as it decides how to distribute the new federal funds.
Antonette Worke is among the applicants awaiting an answer. She moved to Charleston from Denver last year, drawn by cheaper rents, warmer weather and a job offer. But the job fell through, and her landlord filed for eviction.
Ms. Worke, who has kidney and liver disease, is temporarily protected by the federal eviction moratorium. But it does not cover tenants whose leases expire, as hers will at the end of next month. Her landlord said he would force her to move, even if the state paid the $5,000 in overdue rent.
Still, she said the help was important: A clean slate would make it easier to rent a new apartment and relieve her of an impossible debt. “I’m stressing over it to the point where I’ve made myself sicker,” she said.
Moving faster than the state, Charleston County started its $12 million program two weeks ago, and workers have taken computers to farmers’ markets, community centers and a mall parking lot. Christine DuRant, a deputy county administrator, said the aid was needed to prevent foreclosures that could reduce the housing stock. But critics would pounce if the program sent payments to people who do not qualify, she said: “We will be audited,” possibly three times.
Latoya Green is caught where the desire for speed and accounting collide. A clerk who lost hours in the pandemic, she owes $3,700 in rent and utilities and is protected by the eviction moratorium only until her lease expires next month.
She applied for help on the day the county program started but has not completed the application. She said she is unsettled by the emails requesting her lease, which she lacks, and proof of lost income.
Still, Ms. Green does not criticize Charleston County officials. “I think they’re trying their best,” she said. “A lot of people run scams.”
With time running short, she added: “I just hope and pray to God they’ll be able to assist me.”
Additional attention in this area is a notion with bipartisan support, in an era that lacks much of that. In June, Representatives Chip Roy, Republican of Texas, and Abigail Spanberger, Democrat of Virginia, introduced what they called the Trust Act.
The bill would require their colleagues, spouses and dependent children to use a qualified blind trust, as Mr. Ossoff and Mr. Kelly are doing. With such vehicles, a third party would control individual stocks, if any, and some other investment assets and keep the beneficiary from knowing much about the contents or from trading on specialized knowledge of coming legislation. (Owning and trading common investments like mutual funds would be fine.)
“This is about making it easier for members of Congress to do their job,” Mr. Roy said at the time.
And let us not forget what I outlined in detail in a November column: They’ll all end up with more money in the end, on average, if they (or their stockbrokers) stop believing that they’re smart enough to beat the market. The studies on this are legion, and a particularly fun one showed how badly people in Congress did, on average, when they tried to outsmart the market between 2004 and 2008.
It is perhaps not surprising that those who would be elected officials would not be passive investors. The same enhanced sense of self that propels many of them to run for office may well make them think they have some kind of stock-picking superpower. They almost certainly don’t — and neither do the financial advisers who are charging them handsomely. Perhaps they’ll come to their senses eventually.
Others may own stock or trade it to blow off steam, as a form of gambling. If they can afford to lose the money, and are truly not using any inside information or in a position to influence the policies that affect the companies they bet on, then there is no real harm.
But do they wish to lose elections over it?
Certainly, stock trading wasn’t the only issue at play in Georgia. But in purple parts of the country or districts where upstarts in their own party would try to make a case of it, these newly elected officials could be vulnerable. If they avoid individual stocks for political reasons rather than more principled reasons, so be it. It’s all to the good.
WASHINGTON — President Biden outlined a vast expansion of federal spending on Friday, calling for a 16 percent increase in domestic programs as he tries to harness the government’s power to reverse what officials called a decade of underinvestment in the nation’s most pressing issues.
The proposed $1.52 trillion in spending on discretionary programs would significantly bolster education, health research and fighting climate change. It comes on top of Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package and a separate plan to spend $2.3 trillion on the nation’s infrastructure.
Mr. Biden’s first spending proposal to Congress showcases his belief that expanding, not shrinking, the federal government is crucial to economic growth and prosperity. It would direct billions of dollars toward reducing inequities in housing and education, as well as making sure every government agency puts climate change at the front of its agenda.
It does not include tax proposals, economic projections or so-called mandatory programs like Social Security, which will all be included in a formal budget document the White House will release this spring. And it does not reflect the spending called for in Mr. Biden’s infrastructure plan or other efforts he has yet to roll out, which are aimed at workers and families.
Trump administration’s efforts to gut domestic programs.
But Mr. Biden’s plan, while incomplete as a budget, could provide a blueprint for Democrats who narrowly control the House and Senate and are anxious to reassert their spending priorities after four years of a Republican White House.
Democratic leaders in Congress hailed the plan on Friday and suggested they would incorporate it into government spending bills for the 2022 fiscal year. The plan “proposes long overdue and historic investments in jobs, worker training, schools, food security, infrastructure and housing,” said Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee.
Shalanda D. Young, who is serving as Mr. Biden’s acting budget director, told congressional leaders that the discretionary spending process would be an “important opportunity to continue laying a stronger foundation for the future and reversing a legacy of chronic disinvestment in crucial priorities.”
The administration is focusing on education spending in particular, seeing that as a way to help children escape poverty. Mr. Biden asked Congress to bolster funding to high-poverty schools by $20 billion, which it describes as the largest year-over-year increase to the Title I program since its inception under President Lyndon B. Johnson. The program provides funding for schools that have high numbers of students from low-income families, most often by providing remedial programs and support staff.
The plan also seeks billions of dollars in increases to early-childhood education, to programs serving students with disabilities and to efforts to staff schools with nurses, counselors and mental health professionals — described as an attempt to help children recover from the pandemic, but also a longstanding priority for teachers’ unions.
Mr. Biden heralded the education funding in remarks to reporters at the White House. “The data shows that it puts a child from a household that is a lower-income household in a position if they start school — not day care — but school at 3 and 4 years old, there’s overwhelming evidence that they will compete all the way through high school and beyond,” he said.
There is no talk in the plans of tying federal dollars to accountability measures for teachers and schools, as they often were under President Barack Obama.
his vision of having every cabinet chief, whether they are military leaders, diplomats, fiscal regulators or federal housing planners, charged with incorporating climate change into their missions.
The proposal aims to embed climate programs into agencies that are not usually seen as at the forefront of tackling global warming, like the Agriculture and Labor Departments. That money would be in addition to clean energy spending in Mr. Biden’s proposed infrastructure legislation, which would pour about $500 billion on programs such as increasing electric vehicle production and building climate-resilient roads and bridges.
Strategic National Stockpile, the country’s emergency medical reserve, for supplies and efforts to restructure it that began last year. Nearly $7 billion would create an agency meant to research diseases like cancer and diabetes.
Reporting was contributed by Coral Davenport, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Lisa Friedman, Brad Plumer, Christopher Flavelle, Mark Walker, Dana Goldstein, Mark Walker, Noah Weiland, Margot Sanger-Katz, Lara Jakes, Noam Scheiber, Katie Benner and Emily Cochrane.
The vote could lead to a rethinking of strategy inside the labor movement.
For years, union organizers have tried to leverage growing concerns about low-wage workers to break into Amazon. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union had organized around critical themes of supporting Black essential workers in the pandemic. The union had estimated that 85 percent of the workers at the Bessemer warehouse were Black.
The inability to organize the warehouse also follows decades of unsuccessful and costly attempts to form unions at Walmart, the only American company that employs more people than Amazon. The repeated failures at two huge companies may push labor organizers to focus more on backing national policies, such as a higher federal minimum wage, than unionizing individual workplaces.
Democrats in Washington, who put their full weight behind the union effort, said the loss showed that they needed to push for changes to labor and antitrust laws. The House of Representatives passed an expansion of worker protections this year, but it is unlikely to be approved in the Senate.
“Workers cannot organize to scale in America absent labor law reform, full stop,” Representative Andy Levin of Michigan, who had visited Bessemer, said in an interview.
The Amazon warehouse, on the outskirts of Birmingham, opened a year ago, just as the pandemic took hold. It was part of a major expansion at the company that accelerated during the pandemic. Last year, Amazon grew by more than 400,000 employees in the United States, where it now has almost a million workers. Warehouse workers typically assemble and box up orders of items for customers.
The unionization effort came together quickly, especially for one aimed at such a large target. A small group of workers at the building in Bessemer approached the local branch of the retail workers’ union last summer. They were frustrated with how Amazon constantly monitored every second of their workday through technology and felt that their managers were not willing to listen to their complaints.
Organizers appeared to have strong support early on, getting at least 2,000 workers to sign cards saying they wanted an election, enough for the National Labor Relations Board, which conducts union elections, to approve a vote.
WASHINGTON — If anything can tip the global power struggle between China and the United States into an actual military conflict, many experts and administration officials say, it is the fate of Taiwan.
Beijing has increased its military harassment of what it considers a rogue territory, including menacing flights by 15 Chinese warplanes near its shores over recent days. In response, Biden administration officials are trying to calibrate a policy that protects the democratic, technology-rich island without inciting an armed conflict that would be disastrous for all.
Under a longstanding — and famously convoluted — policy derived from America’s “one China” stance that supports Taiwan without recognizing it as independent, the United States provides political and military support for Taiwan, but does not explicitly promise to defend it from a Chinese attack.
As China’s power and ambition grow, however, and Beijing assesses Washington to be weakened and distracted, a debate is underway whether the United States should make a clearer commitment to the island’s defense, in part to reduce the risk of a miscalculation by China that could lead to unwanted war.
foreign policy challenge seizing the Biden administration as it devises its wider Asia strategy. At the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon, which is reviewing its military posture in Asia, officials are re-evaluating core tenets of American strategy for a new and more dangerous phase of competition with China.
American officials warn that China is growing more capable of invading the island democracy of nearly 24 million people, situated about 100 miles off the coast of mainland China, whose status has obsessed Beijing since Chinese nationalists retreated and formed a government there after the country’s 1949 Communist revolution.
Last month, the military commander for the Indo-Pacific region, Adm. Philip S. Davidson, described what he sees as a risk that China could try to reclaim Taiwan by force within the next six years.
The United States has long avoided saying how it would respond to such an attack. While Washington supports Taiwan with diplomatic contacts, arms sales, firm language and even occasional military maneuvers, there are no guarantees. No statement, doctrine or security agreement compels the United States to come to Taiwan’s rescue. A 1979 congressional law states only that “any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means” would be of “grave concern to the United States.”
The result is known as “strategic ambiguity,” a careful balance intended both to avoid provoking Beijing or emboldening Taiwan into a formal declaration of independence that could lead to a Chinese invasion.
essay in the September issue of Foreign Affairs magazine that declared that strategic ambiguity had “run its course.”
“The time has come for the United States to introduce a policy of strategic clarity: one that makes explicit that the United States would respond to any Chinese use of force against Taiwan,” Mr. Haass wrote with his colleague David Sacks.
Mr. Haass and Mr. Sacks added that the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, may question America’s willingness to defend its alliances after four years under President Donald J. Trump, who railed against “endless wars” and openly questioned the United States’ relationships and security commitments. While more hawkish-sounding, a clearer pledge would be safer, they argued.
“Such a policy would lower the chances of Chinese miscalculation, which is the likeliest catalyst for war in the Taiwan Strait,” Mr. Haass and Mr. Sacks wrote.
remarks in February at an event hosted by The Washington Post, Robert M. Gates, a former defense secretary and C.I.A. director who served under presidents of both parties, including Mr. Bush and Barack Obama, called Taiwan the facet of U.S.-China relations that concerned him the most.
Mr. Gates said that it might be “time to abandon our longtime strategy of strategic ambiguity toward Taiwan.”
The notion gained another unlikely adherent when former Representative Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat and longtime dove on military issues, argued in an opinion essay in The Hill newspaper last month that on human rights grounds, the United States must guarantee that a thriving Asian democracy be protected from “forcible absorption into an unashamedly brutal regime that exemplifies the denial of fundamental human rights.”
Mr. Frank cited China’s “imperviousness to any other consideration” than force as reason to “save 23 million Taiwanese from losing their basic human rights.”
Though of limited value in territorial terms, Taiwan in recent years has also gained a greater strategic importance as one of the world’s leading producers of semiconductors — the high-tech equivalent of oil in the emerging supercomputing showdown between the United States and China, which faces microchip supply shortages.
sent dozens of warplanes over the Taiwan Strait days after Mr. Biden’s inauguration in January, the State Department released a statement declaring America’s “rock solid” commitment to the island. Mr. Biden raised the subject of Taiwan during his phone call in February with Mr. Xi, and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and the national security adviser Jake Sullivan raised their concerns about the island during their meeting last month in Anchorage with two top Chinese officials.
“I think people are bending over backward to say to China, ‘Do not miscalculate — we strongly support Taiwan,’” said Bonnie Glaser, the director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Ms. Glaser said she had been surprised at the Biden team’s early approach toward Taiwan, which so far has maintained the Trump administration’s amplified political support for the island, a posture some critics called overly provocative. She noted that Mr. Blinken had recently urged Paraguay’s president in a phone call to maintain his country’s formal ties with Taiwan, despite pressure from Beijing, and that the U.S. ambassador to Palau, an archipelago state in the Western Pacific, recently joined a diplomatic delegation from that country to Taiwan.
“That is just really outside of normal diplomatic practice,” Ms. Glaser said. “I think that was quite unexpected.”
But Ms. Glaser does not support a more explicit U.S. commitment to Taiwan’s defense. Like many other analysts and American officials, she fears that such a change in policy might provoke China.
“Maybe then Xi is backed into a corner. This could really cause China to make the decision to invade,” she warned.
billions of dollars in arms sales under the Trump administration that featured fighter jets and air-to-ground missiles allowing Taiwanese planes to strike China. Such equipment is meant to diminish Taiwan’s need for an American intervention should it come under attack.
But Mr. Colby and others say the United States must develop a more credible military deterrent in the Pacific region to match recent advances by China’s military.
Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee last month, H.R. McMaster, a national security adviser for Mr. Trump, said the current ambiguity was sufficient.
“The message to China ought to be, ‘Hey, you can assume that the United States won’t respond’ — but that was the assumption made in June of 1950, as well, when North Korea invaded South Korea,” Mr. McMaster said.
In addition to advancing the travel ban by Mr. Kim and Mr. Malinowski, the Foreign Affairs Committee voted unanimously to require American intelligence officials to release a report on the role that commercial entities controlled by the crown prince — such as shell companies or airlines — played in Mr. Khashoggi’s murder. The amendment, led by Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, sets up a process to eventually impose sanctions on those organizations under the Global Magnitsky Act.
Lawmakers have also become increasingly concerned with the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, as the nation faces rising rates of famine that aid groups warn are likely to rise, after an air and sea blockade by the Saudi-led coalition on Houthi-controlled territory has restricted imports of vital goods.
As part of cease-fire negotiations, Saudi officials offered last month to reopen the airport in Sana, the Yemeni capital, and allow fuel and food to flow through a major Yemeni seaport, but a spokesman for the Houthis said that they would not agree to discuss a cease-fire until Saudi Arabia first lifted its blockade.
Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee were shaken after a closed-door briefing they received late last month from David Beasley, the executive director of the United Nation’s World Food Programme and a former Republican governor. Mr. Beasley, who had just returned from a trip to Yemen, painted a dire situation of mass starvation and hospitals without fuel, and impressed upon lawmakers the urgency of lifting the blockade “immediately,” according to two officials who attended.
“Ending U.S. support for Saudi-led offensive operations in Yemen alone isn’t enough if we allow the blockade to continue,” said Representative Debbie Dingell, Democrat of Michigan, who led the letter to the Biden administration. “This blockade is causing immense suffering and starvation among Yemeni children and families, and it needs to be lifted now.”
But pushing the administration to pressure the Saudis to do so may be an uphill battle, according to Peter Salisbury, a Yemen analyst at the International Crisis Group, who said in an interview that control of the ports amounted to “very important pieces of leverage in the negotiations from the Saudi perspective.”
“When you look at it from the perspective of the administration, they are trying to deal with these things through existing negotiation mechanisms,” Mr. Salisbury said. “On Yemen, and in many other cases, there is no profoundly simple way of ending the war.”