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WASHINGTON — Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., is emerging as a key player in the 118th Congress. He had a prominent role in Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s campaign for House Speaker and he’s been selected to chair a new high-profile committee that’s taking aim at China.
Quickly regrouping from a drawn-out election for Speaker, McCarthy named Gallagher the head of the United States House Select Committee on Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party.
“This is a man that’s sacrificed a lot, focused and studied,” McCarthy said on the House floor last week while introducing a resolution to form the panel. “This is a man that’s not going to be partisan.”
It easily passed the chamber with 146 Democrats joining Republicans in supporting its formation.
“We want to make sure that Congress, to the extent possible, is speaking with a unified voice when it comes to defending America, defending American sovereignty, and defending our interests from the aggression of the Chinese Communist Party [CCP],” Gallagher told Spectrum News.
"It is time to understand the urgency of the threat…"
ICYMI: Ahead of the House vote to create the new Select Committee on China, incoming chairman @RepGallagher calls for bipartisanship, vows to hold the Chinese government accountable.@SpectrumNews1WI pic.twitter.com/DhZNdTKX5R
Bipartisan consensus around the issue is likely to outlast the temporary committee’s tenure. The panel aims to address economic dependency issues that led to supply chain issues over the past few years and investigate military threats.
“[The CCP] just grew more aggressive in recent years and certainly, since Xi Jinping became General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, they became much more aggressive,” Gallagher said.
The appointment assures a prominent role for the 38-year-old Green Bay Republican. His former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Gallagher’s old boss, said the elevation makes sense.
“There’s two kinds of people in Washington, not Liberal and Conservative, not Republican or Democrat,” Walker told Spectrum News. “There are people who want to be somebody great and there are people who want to do something great. And I would count Mike Gallagher in the latter category.”
He was focused on China when he served as a foreign policy advisor to Walker’s 2016 presidential campaign.
“He had the clarity of vision even back then, particularly on issues like China,” Walker said. “Because of his influence, I was calling out China even 7, 8, 9 years ago, and even called for then President Obama not to have a state dinner with Xi Jinping when he came in because of what they were doing — raiding information out of some of our federal agencies.”
Gallagher graduated from Princeton University, served with the Marines in Iraq and earned a PhD from Georgetown before working on Capitol Hill and Walker’s campaign. He won a seat in Congress in 2016, succeeding Republican Reid Ribble.
“You’re going to look really hard to find any member of Congress that knows more about international affairs, national security, intelligence, than Mike Gallagher,” Ribble told Spectrum News. “Because he is so passionate about China, about foreign affairs and national security, on occasion I’ll hear someone complain that he doesn’t focus enough on agriculture and trucking and things like that. But it’s normal that when you go to Congress, that you rise and get put into committees where your experience will best benefit the broader American public. And so yeah, he’s very skilled at doing both.”
Ribble did not seek a fourth term, making good on his pledge to retire after his eighth year in Congress. Gallagher similarly floated the need for term limits. He introduced legislation in 2017 that allowed lawmakers to serve a total of 12 years in Congress, or six terms for House members and two terms for Senate members. When asked about his future, Gallagher did not commit to term-limiting himself.
“The first piece of advice I got for my predecessor Reid Ribble, who was a great man, was don’t term limit yourself because you limit your effectiveness in Congress,” Gallagher said. “But I don’t intend to make this a career and it’s almost impossible for me to foresee me staying longer than what my term limits bill allows for.”
Also like Ribble, Gallagher was critical of former President Donald Trump’s involvement in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. While he voted against impeaching the former president, he supported legislation introduced by a handful of House Republicans that would’ve censured Trump.
“Had I been there, I would have voted to impeach him. I think what he did was criminal,” Ribble said. “But without regard to that, I think Mike has done an extraordinarily good job at walking the fine line between kind of the crazies in the group that bought into all this nonsense about a stolen election, and the normal constituent who just wanted to move on and look forward to 2022 and 2024.”
Gallagher’s ties to new House Speaker McCarthy were clear during the speaker election when he gave one of the nominating speeches urging holdouts to come around to the California lawmaker’s candidacy.
“I tried to express this idea that, I get it, there are a lot of disagreements, it looks messy at times. But ultimately, that’s part of what’s beautiful about our system of government, right?” Gallagher said. “It’s the people’s house and the people’s house is supposed to be responsive to the needs of the people.”
A few of them, like Reps. Chip Roy, R-Texas, and Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., he tried directly persuading on the House floor.
“As for [Rep.] Chip Roy, I respect him profoundly,” Gallagher said. “I mean, I know he wants to restore this institution to what it once was, and restore regular order. And I support that. We might have had a tactical disagreement about how to get there about this or that rules change, but I’ve worked with him very well, on a variety of issues.”
His address picked up bipartisan praise. While McCarthy struggled for several days to win over some 20 Conservatives blocking his bid, Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Cali., floated supporting Gallagher for the gavel after hearing the latter’s speech during a Fox News interview.
“I think his call that we need to have civility, and we’ve got to have a common purpose as Americans and common national purpose struck me as more inclusive than some of the other speeches that were taking partisan shots at the other sides,” Rep. Khanna told Spectrum News.
UPDATE: With the support of @POTUS, a group of my freshman colleagues & I officially introduced a Constitutional amendment today that establishes term limits on Members of Congress. pic.twitter.com/6Oqy0X0Q94
Khanna and Gallagaher both started in the 115th Congress, served together on the House Armed Services Committee and teamed up several times to push several House reforms, including the term limits bill. Khanna said he’s always respected Gallagher.
“We have had constructive debates on Armed Services and, of course, come from different perspectives on issues of defense spending,” he said. “And I have respected the seriousness with which he approaches issues, particularly on China policy.”
Now in the minority party, Khanna said he believes Gallagher’s appointment to head the new China committee is fitting.
“I think he will make sure that the committee doesn’t turn into an exercise of xenophobia or voices that are profiling Chinese Americans or China, the people writ large,” he said. “But he’ll focus on what our strategic plan should be for the 21st century on dealing with China. And, you know, he’s a serious person for a serious issue.”
With infighting seemingly in the rearview for now, Gallagher is focused on steering the Biden administration’s foreign policy with a Republican House majority now in the driver’s seat.