Former fighter pilot Martha McSally has a problem.
She’s behind in the race to keep the Arizona Senate seat which was (quite literally) handed to her in 2018 after John McCain’s death.
McSally’s bid to secure a seat the old fashioned way (i.e., by actually winning an election) didn’t pan out, which is a nice way of saying she lost. Her appointment to McCain’s vacant seat thus marked what The New York Times called an “unusual twist” given that it “paired [McSally] in the Senate with the woman who just beat her, Kyrsten Sinema”.
Now, she’s on the ballot against Mark Kelly, an astronaut, who leads in every poll RealClearPolitics tracks. And it’s not even close.
Apparently, this is going to be an uphill battle. In Kelly, she’s facing an opponent with “a sterling resume, massive fundraising and popular wife, Gabby Giffords”, Politico wrote in March, adding that McSally’s strategy of turning “Mark Kelly the astronaut into Mark Kelly the socialist” is complicated by the fact that “Kelly has no history in elected politics [and] no past votes to attack”.
Recently, McSally has adopted another strategy to bolster her lackluster poll numbers. That strategy revolves around demonizing China.
For example, McSally (along with Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn, who has an interesting backstory) is sponsoring a bill called the “Stop China-Originated Viral Infectious Diseases Act”. And no, that is not a joke.
The aim of the bill, as the senators explained earlier this month, is to “ensure the Chinese Communist Party faces consequences for its role in spreading the coronavirus”. Specifically, it would “empower Americans to sue China in US court and seek compensation for the devastating harm the deadly virus has caused to the economy and human life”.
That gives you all the background information you need to appreciate McSally’s overwrought tele-rant on Tuesday, delivered during a virtual hearing featuring Jerome Powell and Steve Mnuchin, who were on the line to discuss the CARES Act.
But McSally didn’t want to talk about CARES. Rather, she wanted to talk about China. And she said just that.
“I want to talk about China”, she began, kicking off a truly inflammatory diatribe.
“As we know, they unleashed this virus on America and the world with their classic Communist coverup and deception”, McSally mused, before continuing as follows:
… costing now over 90,000 American lives and 35 million Americans losing their jobs so far. We don’t know who patient zero is, they destroyed samples, they silenced doctors, they kicked out journalists, they impacted international travel to seed this, and their reckless behavior continues to be the root of all this. As you know, this is why we are here today.
Actually, no. That was not “why” Jerome Powell and Steve Mnuchin were “there today”, and you should most assuredly note that McSally uses the same language (i.e., China using air passengers to “seed” the virus) as Peter Navarro used on ABC Sunday. This is a GOP script.
McSally then attempts an awkward transition to bridge the unbridgeable gap between virus recrimination and one of the Fed’s emergency lending facilities. Here’s McSally:
… we’re here to talk about the economy which was very strong and now really struggling. I don’t think either of you think there’s any reason why we should be rewarding China or Chinese state-owned enterprises or individuals or entities that want China to prosper as we implement these massive initiatives to support the American economy, is that fair to say?
Mnuchin immediately said “that’s correct”. Powell wouldn’t take the bait. “Senator McSally that’s really not a question for me”, he said, wisely demurring.
“I know”, McSally remarked, before taking things up another couple of notches. “But none of us as Americans wants to see China prospering”, she declared.
That is obviously not true. To the extent every American has a bone of contention with China, it isn’t with the country – it’s with the leadership. There have only been a handful of times in US history when it was accurate to say that the whole of America collectively harbored a grudge against an entire people. This isn’t one of them. Even the staunchest supporters of the president understand that some poor farmer in rural China (for example) has nothing whatever to do with COVID-19.
But this is what it’s come to. Republicans (and some Democrats) are angling to whip the public into a xenophobic frenzy ahead of the election – as though xenophobia in America weren’t already running high enough vis-à-vis Latinos and Muslims. Now, we’re going to throw all Chinese into the fray.
After smearing the country, McSally attempted a ludicrous leap of logic. “I want to talk about a company called BlackRock”, she began, as though BlackRock is some kind of shadowy entity that nobody outside of smoke-filled rooms has ever heard of.
The first thing you’ll note from the clip is that McSally assumes to educate Powell and Mnuchin on what kind of business BlackRock is, in the process proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that she does not, in fact, know what BlackRock does.
After that, she assails Larry Fink’s house for daring to have a webpage that explains common myths about investing in China – she calls it “an ode to China”.
McSally then asks Powell to explain how he’s going to make sure that any fees BlackRock earns from advising on the corporate credit facilities aren’t funneled to the Chinese Communist party.
I’ll pause for laughter.
Clearly, this is part publicity stunt, but when considered in conjunction with McSally’s deficit in the polls, it makes an important point about the lengths lawmakers are willing to go to in order to parlay this crisis into votes.
That isn’t necessarily to suggest lawmakers like McSally are wrong to blame the Party. Obviously, China hasn’t been as forthcoming as a western democracy would be in similar circumstances. It’s just to say that the old adage about “never wasting a crisis” is the primary motivator behind the anti-China rhetoric.
Alongside the virus recrimination emanating from the White House, Capitol Hill is turning the screws. Last week, US lawmakers pressed for sanctions against Chinese officials in connection with human rights abuses in Xinjiang, while a separate piece of legislation championed by Lindsey Graham called for additional sanctions in the event Beijing doesn’t provide a satisfactory account of COVID-19’s origins.
At the same time, the White House moved forward with the first capital restrictions aimed at choking off investment to Chinese equities, and put new rules in place designed to further strangle Huawei.
Finally, when it comes to BlackRock and a willingness to look the other way on human rights abuses when money is at stake, I have myself been vocally critical. You can (and should) read my harsh critique of Fink’s comments on the Jamal Khashoggi murder, for example.
But I am not a US senator. And my remarks are sincere. And, perhaps most importantly, my musings don’t have the potential to start a war.
Incidentally (or not), a new tracking poll released on Tuesday by OH Predictive Insights shows McSally now trailing Kelly by 13 points.
“McSally is doing terribly”, one pollster told a local paper in the USA Today network. “There’s no way to find a bright spot on that one”.