A number of Republican senators seeking reelection in November are posing as China hawks after careers spent encouraging, and sometimes profiting from, investments by U.S. corporations in the country.
Despite their previous stances and links, these Republican Senators enthusiastically have adopted the poll-tested GOP talking point of blaming the Chinese government for the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and casting themselves, alongside President Donald Trump, as the group uniquely capable of confronting the U.S. rival.
But Democrat Senators are eager to undermine the new GOP messaging by focusing on the more dovish records these Republican Senators have toward China.
In Montana, for instance, where GOP Sen. Steve Daines faces a tough challenge from Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, Democrats are already spending money to cast doubt on Daines’ commitment to take a tougher line with China.
Before entering Congress, Daines spent years as an executive at Procter & Gamble at a time when the industrial giant was shutting down production facilities across the U.S. and expanding production in China. Daines, who lived in China for much of the 1990s, oversaw the company’s efforts to infiltrate the nascent Chinese consumer market with the active collaboration of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Daines went on to become a champion of U.S.-China relations in Congress, supporting trade agreements that increased U.S. companies’ presence in the country.
The Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic super political action committee, is spending more than $1 million to air a TV ad across Montana that highlights Daines’ work for Procter & Gamble.
“Daines got rich while we struggle to make ends meet,” the spot’s narrator says. “Steve Daines profits from our pain.”
No proof has surfaced that Daines directly profited from, or presided over, the offshoring of U.S. jobs by Procter & Gamble. The company did downsize its workforce in 1993, laying off 13,000 workers ― 4,000 of them in the U.S.
The company simultaneously began scaling up its operations in China, which Daines was heavily involved in. He lived in Guangzhou, China, from 1992 to 1997, shepherding P&G’s expansion in the country.
Both Daines and the company say that his responsibilities were limited to helping P&G penetrate the nascent Chinese consumer market, overseeing manufacturing expansion to sell household products to Chinese consumers, rather than to export them back to the U.S.
At the time, P&G was building relationships with the Chinese Communist Party’s neighborhood watch committees to hawk their products, a practice that other multinational corporations would subsequently emulate.
As a guest earlier this month on the conservative talk radio show “Open for Business with Tom and Shane” in his home state, Daines began to get annoyed when a Montanan who called in accused him of moving American factories to China.
“We were producing and selling products to compete directly with the Chinese companies,” Daines responded. “Nothing we produced there was shipped back to the United States.”
“It’s kind of hard to have this career in the private sector and then in Congress support this free trade with China and then come out as someone who is attacking China.” – David Parker, Montana State University.
In any event, the federal government recognized two specific cases during that same period when P&G replaced U.S. production with plants overseas. The Department of Labor awarded workers laid off at P&G plants in Staten Island, New York, and Hatboro, Pennsylvania, with trade adjustment assistance benefits reserved for workers who lost their jobs due to offshoring.
And even if Daines was not involved in offshoring jobs to China during his tenure at P&G, his current harsh line against the country runs counter to a congressional career spent encouraging deeper trade ties between the country and the U.S.