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Tipsheet

With Useless China Bill Offering No Help, Jim Banks Introduces Bill to Curb Foreign Influence at Universities

AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File

While the Democratic Party and even some Republicans are supporting the COMPETES Act, in reality the bill accomplishes very little of what it's set out to do when it comes to competing with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) via science and technology. The bill has already passed the House and Senate and is going to the conference committee to be merged. Critics, however, have dubbed it the CONCEDES Act, including Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) who chairs the Republican Study Committee (RSC). On Friday, Rep. Banks introduced the Safeguard Our Universities From Foreign Influence Act, to address what the above bill fails to do.

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President Joe Biden has already indicated his support for the above China bill, including through an official statement from the White House.

"Speaker Pelosi’s CONCEDES Act uses a classic sleight of hand to avoid standing up to China. It proposes a 'review' of gifts from Chinese nationals, but if they are illicit, it doesn’t actually do anything to stop them," Rep. Banks explained in a statement. "Democrats are trying to trick Americans into another decade of cozy relations with the Communist Party. Their fake China bill does nothing to stand up to China. It’s legislative fraud."

"My bill provides a simple solution to hostile foreign influence at universities. Unlike [the] Democrat’s bill, my bill recognizes that American citizens can act on behalf of hostile foreign governments too and reviews all gifts from potential bad actors—instead of singling out foreigners," the congressman continued to explain.

Rep. Banks' bill would add necessary reforms to Section 117 of the Higher Education Act of 1965, by reducing the threshold for disclosure of foreign gifts and contracts from $250,000 to $50,000. The Department of Education (ED) would also be required to post disclosure-related documents online. Donations and gifts that are related to technology may also be subject to more scrutiny. It would also define "foreign source: as a donor who generates substantial review or income from a foreign source.

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In addition to the department posting disclosure-related documents, an office for ED would also be established to review those foreign gifts and contracts, and then merge that office with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). The office would also be allowed to block foreign gifts and contracts if they were deemed to compromise U.S. competitiveness or national security. 

Such changes represent yet another stark contrast between the Biden and Trump administrations. In 2019 and 2020, as the Associated Press reported in February 2020, the Department of Education under former President Donald Trump announced investigations into Harvard and Yale over foreign contracts and donations received from the likes of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar and China.

The Trump administration had a proposed rule change to expand the foreign gift reporting requirements under Section 117, but it was blocked by the Biden administration. As Quin Hillyer pointed out for The Washington Examiner earlier this month, and Robert S. Eitel did for National Review Online, the Biden administration has yet to launch a single Section 117 investigation.

There's definitely been cause for concern, as American universities went from disclosing $1.6 billion in foreign donations from July 6, 2020 to January 20, 2021, and then just $4 million during Biden's first year in office, as Audrey Conklin highlighted for Fox News last November. 

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Stunningly enough, a bill termed the COMPETES Act in Congress does not sufficiently address these concerns of foreign influence through our university systems. In addition to Banks' legislation introduced on Friday 

As I highlighted last month, citing RSC memos, the COMPETES Act is full of Democratic pet projects, including the Critical Race Theory (CRT) concept of "equity." The bill gained attention in part for mentioning "equity" and "coral" in reference to the $6 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to create a National Coral Reef Management Fellowship.

In addition to introducing Friday's legislation, Rep. Banks, along with Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), who is the Education and Labor Committee ranking member, sent a letter last June, as I covered at the time. The letter was sent to Secretary Miguel Cardona, highlighting those very concerns of foreign influence and making reference to Section 117. 

The RSC also has a counterproposal bill, known as the Countering Communist China Act. 

Biden spoke to Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier on Friday, whose frequent meetings he's often touted, though they do not appear to have amounted to much. As Matt covered earlier, this may add to even further concerns about China helping Russia in their invasion of Ukraine. 

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