This will be brief.
It's no secret in Hong Kong that I was with my boss and a few others recently walking the halls of government in Washington D.C. Saw Speaker Pelosi and other leaders in the House and Senate. Visited the State Department. Met some folks from administration, the think tanks, and of course always see the very switched on human rights groups. This week I shot down to D.C. and saw a few folks in a follow-up. All staffs and officials. Working level folks have best info.
Both trips to D.C. were in regard to one question. Will we see Senator Rubio's bill, or for that matter any bill on Hong Kong from the Senate in 2019？
Answer is No.
But let's not flip out. Senate will pass segments of the Rubio bill through a "Foreign Operations Funding Bill" by the end of this year. There will be some key and good updates on the existing Hong Kong Policy Act, but it will not go as far as the full Rubio Bill, which will now have to go through the full Senate floor process before becoming law.
As far as timing for the Rubio bill, there is little chance that work on Rubio's bill, or any Hong Kong legislation, will happen on Senate floor before April or May of 2020.
So what's the hold up in Senate？ Agriculture, Boeing, Fedex, and Hollywood. I count nine Senators representing those industries who will support a "hold" on any legislation at this time until they get some floor changes to the Rubio bill.
What is a "Hold" in the Senate？
A Senatorial "hold" prevents a bill from going to a full floor vote for "Unanimous Consent". Unanimous Consent is when non-controversial bills are sent to the floor by the Senate leadership and a voice vote is taken without any amendments being offered or any debate on the floor.
Good news is a "hold" is not a permanent block. Once any Hong Kong bill comes to a full vote in the Senate, and it will, I expect at least 80 Senators voting for passage. But this brings us back to timing. We are looking at late spring 2020.
Time on the Senate floor is in short supply. Every piece of business in the US Congress has to go through the Senate. Add to a very busy Senate schedule the potential of an impeachment trial and Hong Kong is just not on the priority list.
It's obvious that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is not happy with some aspects of the sanctions in the Rubio bill. McConnell has been a consistent opponent of sanctions throughout his tenure in the Senate. His chief foreign policy aide, Robert Karem was identified just this past October 31st in the Wall Street Journal as idealogically opposed to sanctions on Turkey. If Karem is consistent, and we can assume he is based on other Senate sources, then it's reasonable to assume Karem is similarily opposed to sanctions in the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy bill. This means there will be changes to Rubio bill before or when it reaches the Senate floor. Just what changes, I am sorry, I do not know.
Finally, we shouldn't discount that China has some influence here.
The Trump administration will not want to upset Xi before they sign a first stage trade deal. It's not politically viable to deliver an insult to China when a trade deal is coming up at a November APEC meeting. Yet, administration knows a veto on Hong Kong is unsustainable, so they will not fight when full Senate takes up Rubio bill.
So what's next in the US？
Pressure needs to be kept up to pass the changes to the Hong Kong Policy Act in the Foreign Operations Bill by the end of this year. Secondly, support for the Rubio bill needs to be gathered not on Capitol Hill, but in the states of the senators who are blocking.
The halls of D.C. are no longer where Hong Kong has to make its case. Hong Kong has to go out and meet America.