How would the “Chinese Government COVID 19 Accountability Act,” recently proposed by Congressman Greg Steube, help America recover from the coronavirus pandemic?
And is China now undercutting produce prices in the US?
In this episode, we sit down with Florida Republican Congressman Greg Steube, who serves on the House Judiciary, Oversight and Reform, and Veteran’s Affairs committees.
This is American Thought Leaders 🇺🇸, and I’m Jan Jekielek.
Jan Jekielek: Congressman Greg Steube, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Rep. Greg Steube: Thanks so much for having me.
Mr. Jekielek: The new legislation that you’re proposing that caught my eye. It’s the Chinese Government COVID-19 Accountability Act. We’ve been talking about this topic a lot on the show lately, and there’s a new headline to consider here out of Wuhan, China. We’ve just discovered that the death toll is apparently 50% higher than what they were saying before. That speaks a bit to accountability. What are your thoughts?
Rep. Steube: … As Americans, [given] what we’re hearing from the government of China, I don’t think we can believe anything that we’re seeing. Suddenly, the amount of people that died from COVID-19 in Wuhan has gone up by 50%? That didn’t happen overnight when they’re opening Wuhan back up as we speak. I think there’s some real challenges internationally, with nations trusting what China is telling them. We know now that doctors that sounded the alarm have disappeared. We don’t know what happened to them; they’ve passed away, and we don’t know how. There are all these things that clearly the Chinese Communist Party was trying to keep tabs on and keep down the information of what was really happening with this virus, and it’s not appropriate for other countries to rely upon that information.
Mr. Jekielek: I’ve frankly found it a bit worrisome that a number of our media here in the U.S. actually just kind of accepted the Chinese number at face value when we know a lot of the numbers can’t be counted on like that, even these new numbers, frankly.
Rep. Steube: Yeah, it’s disappointing. The mainstream media was literally just putting out what the Chinese Communist Party was putting out, and those aren’t reliable. It’s not reliable information. You don’t know where it’s coming from or if the government is just creating these things to try to have some type of narrative that the Chinese government wants to have. Unlike [in] America, where you have checks and balances in our government and you have free association of press, you don’t have free association of press [in communist China]. When all this started happening, they started kicking out American reporters, the Wall Street Journal reporters and other reporters from the United States, out of their entire country so that there wasn’t information that they couldn’t control coming out. Those are the challenges that we faced being reliant upon anything that comes out from the Chinese Communist Party.
Mr. Jekielek: You support this temporary defunding of the WHO pending investigation of Chinese influence. Can you tell me more?
Rep. Steube: [I support it] 100%. When there are now reports that the Chinese were feeding the leader of the WHO information of what they wanted him to say and how they wanted him to say it. The WHO was even saying in the very beginning that this doesn’t spread by human-to-human contact. We know that to be absolutely and utterly false. The Chinese government was trying to perpetuate this information, “Oh, this isn’t spreading human-to-human,” when it actually was. How many lives could have been saved if we got the actual, accurate information in the beginning of this pandemic from the Chinese government? Had the Chinese government acted swiftly and quickly, I think that it would never have left the shores of China and wouldn’t have come to the United States, because they would have known what was going on, and didn’t want this information disseminated to the entire world. So, if we’re not getting accurate information from the WHO, then why is the United States being a part of it, and [why do] we send the most money of any country in the world to support them? So absolutely, I support the president in pulling back our funding to ensure that at least the information that they’re disseminating is accurate.
Mr. Jekielek: Some folks we’ve had on the show are actually concerned with the U.S. involvement in these international institutions, or lack of it. The thing that’s been voiced a number of times recently is that what actually happens when the U.S. pulls back is China tries to come in, fill the vacuum, and gain more control. Based on everything you’ve said and the information we know, [giving them] more control isn’t a very positive thing.
Rep. Steube: Well, I don’t think supporting organizations that aren’t disseminating correct information is what Americans want to have done with their tax dollars. When I got elected, one of the things that was constantly asked to me on the campaign trail was, “Why are we sending all this money, our taxpayer dollars, to all these foreign governments, to all these different entities, when they don’t have Americans in the United States’ perspectives foremost in their minds?” I don’t disagree with that. I think Americans should have some hostility and pause to determine where our money is going, and how it’s being spent. If it’s not to organizations that have what’s best for the world in mind, we shouldn’t be sending our money there.
Mr. Jekielek: So, this whole situation with COVID-19, or coronavirus, or Wuhan coronavirus, or actually CCP virus as we call it at The Epoch Times, is exposing a lot of connections and dependencies between the U.S. and China that are questionable. This is something you’ve actually been vocal about. We’ve learned recently when it comes to supply chains that the Chinese government is requiring permits for companies if they wish to actually leave China at this time. I’m wondering what thoughts you have on this?
Rep. Steube: We’re in the process of putting together a piece of legislation that would provide tax incentives for American companies to bring their manufacturing back to the United States. I think that if anything that comes from this–after we’ve dealt with the actual response in ensuring that Americans are safe, and the government is responding appropriately to that–[it will be that] we look at those relationships that we have with China, and [ask] why are we getting all of our PPE, our personal protective equipment, for hospitals from China? Why are we getting all our pharmaceuticals in foreign countries?
I think that’s something that we need to look at for the safety and security of the United States, and so we’re putting a bill together that would incentivize, from a tax perspective, those companies to come back to the United States and manufacture that PPE here on our shores. Then we [will] have assurances that it’s actually being made and manufactured in a way that is safe to the United States. Then when we have a pandemic like this, we can actually get those supplies from American manufacturers on the soils of America instead of being reliant upon China, or Italy, or other countries that are manufacturing the products. After this has all passed and we’re looking at how we can protect our country moving forward, I think that is going to be something that Congress looks at. How can we ensure that the things that are protecting Americans–pharmaceuticals, protective equipment–should be manufactured in the United States?
Mr. Jekielek: Larry Kudlow mentioned the relocation of companies and supply chains and that the U.S. might even be interested in footing the cost of some of those relocations. What would you think about that?
Rep. Steube: Well, I think we can do that in a tax incentive; you can do that through tax breaks. Whatever they’re getting in China or Mexico or these other foreign companies, let’s make it beneficial financially for them to invest in the United States, bring their companies here, and manufacture here. That creates jobs; that [helps build] the economy in our community, in our country; and then we’re not relying upon foreign governments to get certain types of products. If you do it through tax incentives and not direct money of tax dollars going to companies, the American people support that a lot more. [We can] do it in a way that they would want to be very encouraged to come to the United States and open up manufacturing here.
Mr. Jekielek: I want to talk a little more about your other bill about accountability in a moment. What do you see right now as we speak, as the strongest evidence, that the Chinese Communist Party is actually responsible for this global pandemic?
Rep. Steube: Well, we know where it came from. We know it came from Wuhan, China. There’s obviously a lot of disagreement and speculation as to [exactly where]. Did it come from a wet market? Did it come from this lab that we know is there?
Another piece of information that I just found out recently is that we as an American government were supporting researchers through NIH funding to do research at this Wuhan facility. Why in the world are American taxpayer dollars, through the NIH, going to China to do research on viruses and all sorts of other things that the American people didn’t know about? So, I think there’s also going to be scrutiny on things like that. Why in the world are we sending our tax dollars to a lab in Wuhan, China, to investigate viruses and other types of warfare?
We certainly know it came from Wuhan, China; we do not know if it came [from] or escaped this lab. Did somebody purposely unleashed this virus to see what type of response it would have? We don’t know the answers to that, and I hope through these different acts that different members are filing that we find out where exactly it did come from, and what was done from the Chinese perspective to dampen the information on it that put all of us in the world at risk.
Mr. Jekielek: When we were preparing for this interview, I learned that the awareness of the threat of China is relatively recent to you and frankly, to most Americans. I’m wondering if you could chart that progression. Of course, the trade war was part of this. How is it that this perspective among you and your colleagues in Congress has changed over the past years?
Rep. Steube: Well, it started years ago. I can remember I was in state-elected office and a practicing attorney when the Chinese drywall issue impacted Florida hugely. There’s been huge things like the Chinese drywall. I don’t think our businesses ever saw a dime from China to compensate them from the losses that they had from that. … I just had a call yesterday with the Florida Farm Bureau, and they were telling me that Chinese products and produce are now dumping Chinese products in the United States. Why in the world do we want to buy produce from China when we have American farmers who are struggling, certainly during this time?
It’s kind of been over the years: you’ve seen more and more information, whether it be trade, whether it be Chinese drywall, whether it be produce. I think more and more Americans are becoming aware of this, and it shows that the president was right to lead on a fair trade agreement with the Chinese long before any of this happened. More and more people have been paying attention to this as more things like the Chinese drywall, this pandemic, and now, suddenly China is dropping produce in the American market [have occurred]. Those are things that I think Americans are going to be very cautious about, and I think you’re going to want to spend a lot more time focusing on.
Mr. Jekielek: This is interesting, the produce piece. Can you dig into that a little bit more? For me, this isn’t something we’ve talked about much yet.
Rep. Steube: … I didn’t know anything about it until my call yesterday with the Florida Farm Bureau. Individuals from all over the state have the opportunity to ask questions, and my district is a very rural, agricultural district. My district’s the number one citrus-producing district in the entire country, so obviously agriculture is a big piece of this district, and the Florida Farm Bureau plays a part of that. They brought [this issue] up to me through a question that was posed: “Why is China allowed to be able to dump produce into the United States? Is this because of the trade deal that was just negotiated? Was that a piece of it?” That was the first information that I had gotten about it, and it came from a producer here in the United States who is now having to compete with citrus from China. So, why are we bringing citrus from China to compete with domestic farmers here in the United States? So, just this morning after the call which was late last night, I sent out an email to my staff to find out from the USDA: is this true? And if it’s true, why in the world are we bringing in produce from China to compete with our domestic farmers?
Mr. Jekielek: Since we’re talking about your district, I saw that you had a virtual town hall recently. What is the state of people? What are people seeing right now? What are their biggest concerns?
Rep. Steube: It’s kind of morphed as the pandemic has kind of changed. In the very beginning, as soon as I got back from D.C., I called every one of my hospitals and every one of my county medical societies to make sure that they had all the PPE they needed. They had everything they needed from a healthcare perspective to protect themselves and treat those that were getting tested positive for this. That was in the beginning, and then [the concern] became loss of jobs and unemployment in Florida. There’s been a real challenge with Floridians getting their unemployment compensation, and that’s a state-run program. The feds just disperse the money, and the state runs the system.
Now, today, the paycheck protection programs run out of money, so now I have small businesses [concerned]. I had a call this morning with a CPA who was telling me that two thirds … of his clients that have now applied for this funding are freaking out because they don’t know if the amount of money is going to get replenished. For the last week or so, the president has authorized more money to try to go into that program and asked Congress to just reauthorize more money into that program, and Speaker Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are holding that amount up for other things that they want. We’re trying to call on everybody to put pressure on the Democratic leadership to say, “Look, the time for politics is over. Let’s focus on getting small businesses the relief that they need.”
Right now that’s the focus, but it’s changed as this pandemic has changed focuses, and now you have struggling businesses that kept their employees on knowing that the government was going to reimburse them for paying those employees. Now they don’t know what to do because they’ve made that commitment to their employees, and the government has not [given them] the money to reimburse them for those payments. I hope that Congress can come up to an agreement and get that money to them. We’ve been putting pressure on the Democratic speaker, but unfortunately, we’re in the minority in the House and we can’t make that decision. Speaker Pelosi makes that decision. Right now, that’s the challenge, and the focus is ensuring that our small businesses get the help that we told them that they were going to get.
Mr. Jekielek: The president has talked about reopening the economy and presented the plan to do that. How does that work for your district? Are you already aware? Is it gonna happen soon in Florida in general?
Rep. Steube: Just this morning, the mayor of Jacksonville repealed his executive order on people going to the beaches, so you’re seeing them in parts of Florida. I get information every day from my district, specific by county, of test positives on cases and deaths from COVID-19, and I’ve been seeing the number trend downward. There was an article in the Florida Digest this morning about comparing COVID-19 daily deaths to stroke, cancer, heart disease, and it’s nowhere near cancer and heart disease, so you’re starting to see that bell curve run down because of the response the government leaders have had. I’ve been encouraging government leaders [like] Florida’s governor to open up the state of Florida. I think you’re seeing the curve flattened; I think you’re seeing cases go down. People know what the CDC recommendations are now for social distancing. If they don’t want to go out, they don’t have to, if they’re at risk, but I think it’s time where we should start opening up businesses and slowly allow the economy to come back.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s amazing to hear the changes, the moves forward so to speak, in Florida. I imagine there’s a lot of folks all over the country that are thinking similarly, and we’ll be collecting those stories and that information. But let’s jump to your bill, the [Chinese Government COVID-19] Accountability Act. Your bill is basically about the way in which the U.S. will be able to go after China and actually obtain financial restitution, is that right?
Rep. Steube: China should be held financially accountable for what [the U.S.] incurred and the impact that it’s had in the United States. Our last bill, the “phase three” bill, costs $2.2 trillion of our tax dollars. That’s on top of the $4 trillion that we spent this year. We only take $3.5 trillion in. That’s more than $6 trillion that we’ve spent, all to respond to a virus that should have been kept within China’s shores. [The Chinese Government COVID-19 Accountability Act] gives the president the ability to negotiate how that would work. Do we not pay a certain amount of interest on the debt that we owe China for some of the debt that we have? Do we have them reimburse us for medical expenses? [It] gives the President the authority and the ability to negotiate that. China should be held financially responsible for the cost to the United States of having to respond to a virus that emancipated from their shores.
Mr. Jekielek: This is one bill of a concert of bills. There’s a bill that I’ve been quite interested in, which is Senator Hawley’s calling for stripping the sovereign immunity that the Chinese regime enjoys with respect to this issue. What are your thoughts on that one?
Rep. Steube: I think you’re going to see a litany of bills filed by members of Congress [that] relate to China. There was a group text today with a number of different Republican congressmen about bills and getting peoples’ support for different aspects of this. How do we now deal with them from a manufacturing standpoint, from a trade standpoint, knowing that we’re not getting accurate information from their government? I hope that Congress gets back to work. There are Republicans that are encouraging leadership: look, health care workers are out there working. We should be in Washington dealing with these issues on the front lines and ensuring that our government is well-postured to be able to respond and dealing with the things that we need to deal with from a trade perspective with China.
Mr. Jekielek: Are you expecting bipartisan support for your bill?
Rep. Steube: I would certainly hope so. I would think that we can check our party affiliations at the door and know that China caused this, and China should pay the United States back for the cost that it caused our government. I’m hopeful that we can have a bipartisan approach to this. We do have a common part of a caucus that is post-9/11 vets who served our country. It’s called the “For Country Caucus,” and it’s a bipartisan group of individuals who served their country in the military. I’m going to bring that bill up during that call this afternoon, and hopefully, I can get some bipartisan support for that.
Mr. Jekielek: This is actually quite interesting. We were talking earlier about how this whole situation is exposing the realities of Chinese influence, and [China] having co-opted certain international organizations. I saw that you were actually involved in the resolution related to China suddenly appearing on the UN Human Rights Council. I’m wondering if you could share your thoughts about that.
Rep. Steube: It’s fascinating. If you look at the list of human rights abuses that the Chinese Communist Party has committed against their people [and] the lack of freedoms in their country, the fact that they would get a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council is just beyond the pale, in my opinion. So, we filed a resolution that we’re not going to be a part of that organization until China is removed as a member of the human rights committee. There’s no reason why they should be on there. They’re one of the worst violators in the world of human rights violations, and so having somebody like China on the Human Rights Council is a little bit hypocritical. It’s not appropriate [to have] somebody that’s committed so many human rights violations.
Mr. Jekielek: What people argue in these kinds of situations is: how can you get someone who is doing the violations to change if they’re not part of the organization that’s trying to change things? At least that’s what I hear people tell me.
Rep. Steube: The UN should be holding them accountable for their violations. That [United Nations Human Rights] Council should be holding them accountable for their violations, and that’s how you get them to change their behavior. Hopefully, by our engagement on this issue and the country of the United States backing out of these different things that [China is] involved with and clearly controlling, we can have more change in their behavior.
Mr. Jekielek: There’s been a lot of discussion about Huawei. For that matter, China Telecom is another one … that’s in discussion right now: China Mobile. What are your thoughts about these organizations or these companies?
Rep. Steube: There were reports that the Chinese government was holding hostage PPE, and face masks, and face shields, and telling other countries, “Yeah, we’ll send it to you, but you’ve got to sign this contract for Huawei.” That should tell you what their real intentions are: trying to infiltrate all of these different countries and all the information that these countries have. I’m very cautious about how we should approach that from a national security perspective, and I would encourage other governments to not take the “free” money that China is dangling in front of them in exchange for having them control all their information in their country.
Mr. Jekielek: Congressman Steube, it’s quite remarkable that … 77% of Americans blame China for the coronavirus, or CCP virus. That’s according to this recent Harris Poll. To me, that represents quite a dramatic shift from general perceptions of China even 10 years ago when the Kissinger doctrine was what guided American thinking, the idea that if a lot of money is invested in China, China will change, and there was this benevolent perception anyway. I’m wondering if you could please speak to that.
Rep. Steube: Globalization works as long as all the actors are acting appropriately and honestly. A pandemic like this shows you your weaknesses as it relates to national security, where you’re getting all of your products from, and where you’re getting all your manufacturing from. When suddenly, you can’t get face masks and face shields, because they’re all manufactured in China, and China’s holding on to them, that’s a real problem. When all of your medication or pharmaceuticals are produced overseas, that’s a real problem for the health, safety, and welfare of Americans. This has really exposed some national security issues, and I think Americans are starting to see that it’s not a good idea to be getting all these things from foreign governments, especially communist foreign governments.
Americans are looking at this much more closely now and realize that, “Hey, maybe shipping off all our pharmaceuticals and the manufacturing of healthcare supplies to China isn’t a great idea, even though we can get it for a cheaper price.” I bet you Americans today, if I asked my district “Would you pay a little bit more money to ensure that you’re getting a face mask and a [inaudible] produced in the United States by American companies?” I bet that response will be in the 90 percentile. This has really exposed how important it is from a national security perspective to get our food from the United States, to get healthcare supplies from the United States, to get medicine from the United States, and I think you’re going to see more and more legislation encouraging businesses to bring that business back to the United States, which would have another effect of creating jobs at a time when obviously we have record unemployment due to this. You’re really going to see people’s attitudes change as it relates to our relationship with China.
Mr. Jekielek: We’re going to finish up in a moment. Any final words before we do?
Rep. Steube: No, just thank you for the opportunity. I appreciate it.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, it’s such a pleasure to have you on the show.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.