Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s bill to support ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong amid escalating violence between police and protesters passed the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, a bipartisan rebuke of China as the U.S. negotiates a trade deal with the world’s second-largest economy.
Rubio’s bill, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, would sanction Chinese officials involved in undermining ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and put the quasi city-state’s special trade relationship with the U.S. up for review. The bill passed via a fast-tracked process called unanimous consent, when Rubio and senators from both parties argued that inaction was unacceptable after Hong Kong police began shooting at pro-democracy protesters last week.
“The world witnesses the people of Hong Kong standing up every day to defend their long-cherished freedoms against an increasingly aggressive Beijing and Hong Kong government. Their cries have been met with violence, and young Hong Kong lives have tragically been lost,” Rubio said in a statement. “Now more than ever, the United States must send a clear message to Beijing that the free world stands with Hong Kongers in their struggle.”
The bill passed the U.S. Senate a month after the U.S. House passed a nearly identical measure by voice vote. However, the Senate bill won’t head to President Donald Trump’s desk immediately because of procedural differences with the House-passed bill, which must be resolved before it can be signed into law.
A White House official declined to comment on the bill, which the Chinese government said will lead to “strong countermeasures” if it becomes law. A Rubio source said his office’s communication with the White House is “very positive” and there’s “no indication POTUS would not sign it.”
The bill is the latest effort to combat China by Rubio, who has emerged as one of Beijing’s harshest critics in Washington.
Earlier this year, Rubio and Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott supported tariffs on Chinese imports that were opposed by Florida businesses. They argued that tariffs are a necessary short term cost to limit Chinese influence over the U.S. economy in the long term.
Scott said in an interview with the Miami Herald that he expects Trump to sign the legislation when it reaches his desk, noting that Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently made speeches in support of the protests.
“I think they’ll sign it,” Scott said. “I think it’s clearly evident when Pence gave that talk that they understand the importance of being supportive of Hong Kong.”
A group of Democratic and Republican senators gathered on the Senate floor Tuesday evening to support Rubio’s bill, including Scott and New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez.
“This has been a great, bipartisan moment for the Senate,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.
Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley said Tuesday’s bill was a measure designed to check China’s power.
“Today’s vote sends a clear message that the United States will continue to stand with the people of Hong Kong as they battle Beijing’s imperialism,” Hawley said. “The Chinese Communist Party’s quest for power across the region is a direct threat to America’s security and prosperity.”
The ongoing protests in Hong Kong, which began in March and intensified in June after the introduction of a bill that would allow Hong Kong residents to be extradited to mainland China despite differences between Hong Kong and China’s legal systems, received increased attention in the U.S. after Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted his support for the protesters.
Morey’s tweet led to the Chinese government’s pulling the National Basketball Association’s games from state-run TV networks and a slew of NBA stars to sympathize with China over Hong Kong.
“To the brave and resilient people of Hong Kong, the United States is with you, your fight will not be in vain and it does not go unnoticed,” Scott said. “And to communist China, consider your next moves carefully. The world is watching.”
McClatchy DC White House reporters Michael Wilner and Francesca Chambers contributed to this report.