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Psaki Dodges on Reconciliation Bill’s Missing Uyghur Human-Rights Provision

White House press secretary Jen Psaki holds a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., August 11, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined to say today whether President Biden was disappointed by the removal of a prohibition against funding entities complicit in the Uyghur genocide from his social-spending plan.

RealClearPolitics‘ Philip Wegmann had asked her if Biden was disappointed about the removal of a provision barring new National Science Foundation funding from entities designated under the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act during this afternoon’s White House press briefing. “I don’t have any other reaction,” she said. “Obviously we are working closely with Congress. We share the concern about human-rights abuses. We are going to continue to take action, as the president’s record shows.”

The removal of the provision — which was included in drafts of the package until a new version dropped on October 28 — has not been explained. National Review’s requests for comment to House Democrats, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, the House Rules Committee, and the House Science Committee, all went unanswered earlier this month.

After the absence of the provision came to light, House Rules Committee Democrats passed amendments providing legislative fixes to the reconciliation package, but they did not reinsert the missing Uyghur provision.

This is significant because the White House has also declined to endorse the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, a bill that would prohibit imports of goods from Xinjiang on grounds of forced labor. On Friday, Psaki also revealed that the administration is working with Congress to provide “technical assistance” on human-rights legislation but declined to specify what provisions officials were working on.

Psaki’s latest comment follows multiple reports saying that climate envoy John Kerry’s office is pressing congressional Democrats to hold up the forced-labor bill amid his negotiations with the Chinese.

After the U.S. and China inked an agreement on climate cooperation at the U.N. climate-change conference in Glasgow this week, Kerry said it was not his responsibility to confront China over its human-rights abuses when asked by a reporter about the widespread use of forced labor in Xinjiang’s solar-panel industry. “That’s not my lane,” he said.

Although the Biden administration has taken some steps to punish Beijing for its mass atrocities, such as coordinating a multilateral sanctions campaign against Chinese officials, it has just as conspicuously pulled its punches as Kerry sought to engage China on climate-change issues.

Biden will hold a virtual meeting with Chinese Communist Party general secretary Xi Jinping next week, and in the lead-up to the summit, both sides have taken a more conciliatory tone. Bloomberg reported that a senior administration official said Friday that the meeting is intended to determine “guardrails” that could prevent a future conflict. These two goals — finding common ground on climate and clearing the path for bilateral diplomacy between the two leaders — might well be why the White House is choosing to not act on its pledge to put human rights at the center of U.S. foreign policy.

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