Where are you going for the Summer, Madame Speaker?
Oh. I don’t know, Taiwan?
Sometimes it is difficult to keep up with all the moving parts in American politics.
The domestic economy is teetering on the edge of a recession, run-away inflation is creating a family budget crisis, and interest hikes are making credit loving Americans nervous.
The President is unpopular across the country and his own party are starting the long dance of edging him off the ticket for the next General Election in 2024.
America has expressed support for the Ukrainian government and its fight against Russian invaders, declaring no buckling to imperialism despite the knock-on effect of higher food and energy costs around the world.
Currently, the west coast and southern states are ablaze as wildfires, droughts and record temperatures run rampant adding personal loss and expense to the devastating ecological impact of global warming.
So, it might come as a bit of a surprise that in the middle of all this the Speaker of The House – the most powerful person in America after the President and his VP – has decided to float the idea she may be visiting the Chinese-disputed territory of Taiwan in August.
Moreover, her Summer travel plans are being discussed hours before President Biden and Chinese Communist Party Leader Xi JinPing are about to have their first telephone conversation in more than four months following recent diplomatic tensions.
Top of the agenda for the call was meant to be Ukraine, and how the two world superpowers could exert pressure on Russia to cool its expansionist heels and find a face-saving way to end hostilities.
But now, if the call even goes ahead, it will be all about Nancy Pelosi’s trip.
China has already issued a strong warning to ‘Get off my land’ saying that if the 82-year-old lawmaker does fly into Teipei, “China will act strongly to resolutely respond to it and take countermeasures,” according to a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, arguing that the speaker’s visit would send the wrong message to advocates of independence for the island.
Chillingly he adds: “We will do what we say.”
It does seem a strange time to be planning a trip to one of the most hotly disputed bits of land.
But perhaps that is the point.
The planned trip has already had the effect of putting even more pressure on President Biden.
When asked about Pelosi’s plans in a press conference earlier he responded “Well, I think that the military thinks it’s not a good idea right now,” which is a strangely coded way to talk.
He stopped short of saying he didn’t think it was a good idea but left the distinct impression he would rather this headache wasn’t occurring.
Sensing blood, Capitol Hill friends and foes waded in.
Republicans and Democrats are now rallying behind House Speaker Pelosi urging her to follow through on the trip.
“If I were the speaker, I’d be going,” said Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, who isn’t and never will be.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., chirped up with: “If she wants to go, I certainly think she should go. And I think she should be more motivated to go now that she’s been discouraged … and colleagues should join her.”
Democrats were equally enthused:
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J.
Not all were so keen.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., expressed reservations about Pelosi’s trip.
“Obviously, the speaker of the House visiting Taiwan is a significant step that suggests recognition — formal diplomatic recognition is not part of our current policy,” he said.
“I think we should be purposeful. If we’re going to change our Taiwan policy, let’s make it a collective decision to do so. Let’s not do it by accident through a series of uncoordinated steps.”
But now it’s a tense stand-off.
China has said “Don’t Do it” and if Pelosi’s trip is cancelled it will look like they have come out on top.
The U.S. Administration doesn’t want the trip to go ahead either but can’t be seen to be backing down to good old fashioned Chinese gun boat diplomacy.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., agrees it’s hard for Pelosi to “back out now.” But he added she could “lower the volume” by taking a smaller group of lawmakers and flying on a private plane rather than on a military or government plane.
“I think she has to go, but she can take steps to make it a fact-finding trip and not something that could be exploited by the other side”.
And of course, there are businesses and lobbyists still prowling the halls of The Hill too.
Congress is poised to pass major legislation to boost domestic computer chip production and competition with China. Only days earlier, the package known as “CHIPS-plus” cleared a procedural obstacle in the Senate and is on track to pass both chambers by the end of the week.
The bill is meant to jumpstart the US semiconductor industry with an injection of $52 billion in grants and incentives for domestic semiconductor manufacturing and research, and some $2 billion is specifically earmarked for Defense Department microelectronics.
Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks applauded lawmakers for passing the bill, saying it’s critical to national security, and will help reinforce America’s semiconductor supply chain and maintain the country’s competitive edge with China.
Hicks had earlier noted that approximately 98% of commercial microelectronics on which the Defense Department relies are assembled, packaged and tested in Asia.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan characterized the US’s continued dependence on overseas facilities to produce chips as “flat out dangerous”
But Kea Matory, director of legislative policy for trade association National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) perhaps closed the circle of events in Washington this week best when she said:
“One of the concerns has been that we’re getting the majority of our chips from overseas, primarily Taiwan. And so, you have the concern, as you look at Ukraine… If China decided to go after Taiwan, we will lose, possibly, that ability to get our chips.”
Martin Liptrot is a Public Affairs, PR and Marketing consultant working with UK, US and Global clients to try and ‘make good ideas happen’.