The Senate on Thursday unanimously passed a bill to crack down on the Chinese government’s genocide targeting Uyghur Muslims, sending the measure to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature.
Despite the bill’s overwhelming support, it faced a long and complicated road to final passage as its co-authors, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), encountered obstacles from the White House and the private sector. The legislation briefly became intertwined with Democrats’ unrelated domestic agenda items, as well as a GOP-led blockade on foreign-policy nominations.
The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act effectively bans all imports from China’s Xinjiang region, where the U.S. government has said that the Chinese Communist Party is perpetrating a genocide against the religious minority, including slave labor, forced sterilizations and concentration camps. Under the terms of the bill, companies that produce goods in Xinjiang can be granted an exception if they show proof that those products are not made using forced labor.
“Many companies have already taken steps to clean up their supply chains,” Rubio said. “For those who have not done that, they’ll no longer be able to continue to make Americans — every one of us, frankly — unwitting accomplices in the atrocities, in the genocide that’s being committed by the Chinese Communist Party.”
As part of the Senate’s agreement to unanimously pass the Uyghur bill, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) secured votes on three stalled foreign policy nominations for later Thursday — including on Nicholas Burns, Biden’s pick to serve as U.S. ambassador to China.
Rubio held up the defense policy bill earlier this month as he pushed for the Uyghur bill’s inclusion in the annual package; around that time, the Uyghur legislation faced questions about potential concerns from the White House. Some major corporations were also lobbying against the bill, arguing it would disrupt supply chains globally.
Then, on Wednesday night, the legislation stalled once again when Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) tried to attach a one-year extension of the child tax credit, which expires at the end of the year. But Wyden quickly backed off, paving the way for the Uyghur bill’s unanimous approval.
The House unanimously passed the bill late Tuesday night, and the White House has indicated that Biden will sign it.
Over the past week, Rubio and McGovern negotiated a consensus bill after the House and Senate passed slightly different versions. Rubio’s bill cleared the Senate unanimously earlier this year, and McGovern’s version secured the support of all but one lawmaker in the House.
The pair announced an agreement on legislative text on Tuesday, and the House acted swiftly on the measure before leaving town for the holidays.
The legislative effort comes as the world prepares for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, with China hawks in the U.S. and around the world advocating for a unified protest of China’s human rights record. The Biden administration recently announced that it would impose a diplomatic boycott on the Games, barring U.S. government officials from attending.