When Congress reconvenes, right near the top of Trent Lott's and Denny Hastert's "to do" lists will be figuring out how to respond to the Cox committee's report on Chinese espionage and the transfer of sensitive technologies by U.S. companies. One idea under review is to create a joint House-Senate bipartisan committee and dump the whole thing in its lap. Some version of this is strongly favored by Republican senators Arlen Specter and Bob Smith, but committee chairmen in the House and Senate are resisting it, fearing it would cut them out of the debate. Lott is said to be concerned that the committee would be slow and might opt for closed hearings; he wants the Senate to move quickly and to do so in open session.
However the debate proceeds, it will likely get rocky when America's trade policy with China comes up. A resolution seeking to deny China most-favored-nation status will be introduced in the House -- probably by Dana Rohrabacher -- but it's unlikely to win a majority (the resolution may not even be considered in the Senate). Indeed, neither Lott nor Hastert is inclined to curtail America's trade with China. If the administration strikes a deal with Beijing on accession to the World Trade Organization, Congress might take a more hawkish line. But minority leader Richard Gephardt, who has regularly voted against renewing China's privileged trading status with the United States, gave a speech last week in which he said a WTO deal "shouldn't be held hostage to the desire by many Republicans in Congress to embarrass the president."
Most interesting is the question of whether high-level Clinton administration heads will roll. Tensions between the two parties are sure to escalate as more and more Republicans declare that Sandy Berger, the national security adviser, is not up to the job. A letter is currently circulating in the Senate calling on Berger to resign, while over 80 House Republicans have said he should step aside. Berger didn't help himself with Lott by hiring Ken Pollack, a former RAND Corporation analyst who co-authored an article in the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs that was highly critical of the Lott-sponsored Iraq Liberation Act.