Congressional Roundup: Foreign ownership, culture wars in the military, child tax credit, and more

By: - July 15, 2023 8:00 am
U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-South Dakota, questions witnesses in a hearing of the House Select Committee on Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, in the Cannon House Office Building on Feb. 28, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-South Dakota, questions witnesses in a hearing of the House Select Committee on Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, in the Cannon House Office Building on Feb. 28, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-South Dakota, is supporting another effort to limit foreign ownership of U.S. land.

The House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party recently introduced the Protecting U.S. Farmland and Sensitive Sites From Foreign Adversaries Act, with the support of Johnson, who’s a member of the committee.

The bill would expand the jurisdiction of the existing Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which can make recommendations for the president to block transactions. Johnson’s news release said the bill would give the committee jurisdiction over “all non-urban, non-single ‘housing unit’ land purchases by foreign adversary entities.” The bill says those adversaries are China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and Venezuela – as long as Nicholas Maduro is Venezuela’s president.  

Congressional Roundup

This is the latest installment in a series of periodic updates on the activities of South Dakota’s congressional delegation.

“We know China poses a significant threat to America in more ways than one,” Johnson said in a news release. Referencing the Chinese Communist Party, he added, “Allowing the CCP close access to our food supply and military is a major red flag.”

The bill would require reports on foreign adversaries making land purchases near “sensitive sites.” The list of sensitive sites would be expanded to include all military facilities, acknowledged intelligence sites, national laboratories, defense-funded university-affiliated research centers and similar locations.

Additionally, the bill would require the committee to consider U.S. food security, including biotechnology acquisition, as a factor in its national security reviews. And the secretary of agriculture would be given a vote in committee reviews of transactions that involve farmland or agriculture technology.

Heightened concern about foreign acquisitions of U.S. land date to last year, when a Chinese company was on the verge of building a corn milling plant near an Air Force base in North Dakota. People concerned about national security wondered why the federal government hadn’t already stopped it; as it turned out, the Committee on Foreign Investment lacked jurisdiction over the area around Grand Forks Air Force Base. 

After Congress passed a law in 2018 empowering the committee to review foreign purchases of real estate near sensitive government facilities, the committee went through a rulemaking process to craft a list of those facilities. 

The resulting list didn’t include the base in Grand Forks, or Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, or some other military installations.

A pending rule change, separate from the new legislation, would add those bases and six other military installations to the list of sensitive facilities.

Johnson also co-sponsors legislation that would prohibit China, Russia, Iran and North Korea from purchasing U.S. agricultural land and agricultural companies.

Elections bill

On a party-line vote, the U.S. Committee on House Administration passed a bill this week that would enact strict new voting laws for states, such as requiring copies of IDs for voting by mail, and set penalties for states that allow voting by noncitizens in local elections.

The 224-page bill, H.R. 4563, was approved 8-4, and contains provisions similar to those passed in many Republican-led states since the 2020 election.

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The top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Joe Morelle of New York, slammed the bill for “catering to the demands of election deniers,” and said it will not increase voter access to the ballot.

“Americans can take solace in the fact that this bill will never become law,” Morelle said.

While the overhaul has a chance of passage in the Republican-controlled House, it’s likely to die in the Senate, where Democrats hold a slim majority.

Johnson co-sponsors the bill and said it incorporates his District of Columbia Tribal Voter Identification Act, which would require Washington, D.C., to accept a tribal ID for the purposes of registering and voting. The bill would also require D.C. to adopt election security measures, including prohibiting same-day voter registration and requiring valid photo ID to vote in person or request an absentee ballot.

“We must have an election system worthy of the public’s trust,” Johnson said in a news release. “Part of that goal is allowing voters to use a valid ID, including ones issued by a tribal government. I’m proud to support this bill that strengthens election integrity while also respecting the Constitution.”

Rounds rails against ‘woke’ military policies

Sen. Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, questioned the nominee for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff this week.

Rounds pursued a topic his later press release described as “woke” Department of Defense policies. His office said in the news release that those policies “forced an 18-year-old female member of the South Dakota National Guard to shower and sleep next to biological males who had yet to undergo sex change surgery.”

During the hearing, Rounds said, “She was sleeping in open bays and showering with biological males who had not had gender reassignment surgery, but were documented as females because they had begun the drug therapy process. This 18-year-old girl was uncomfortable with her situation but had limited options on how to deal with it.”

The nominee is Gen. C.Q. Brown, current chief of staff of the Air Force. He responded, “Senator, one of the things I’ve thought about throughout my career is, as you’re being inclusive, you also don’t want to make other individuals uncomfortable. And so, there are areas, when we look at our policies and approaches and get feedback like this, we have to take a look to see if we can improve on how we approach situations like this.”

In response to a South Dakota Searchlight question about the incident, South Dakota National Guard Col. Scott Linquist said in a statement, “Senator Rounds’ statement speaks for itself, and we have nothing further to add.”

Susan Williams is the executive director of The Transformation Project, which advocates for transgender people. She said the organization is disappointed Rounds promoted the line of questioning “in a press release titled in such a provocative manner, as it can contribute to divisiveness and sensationalism.”

The press release was titled, “Rounds Questions Top General About Woke DOD Policies that Forced Young Female SD National Guard Recruit to Shower with Biological Males.” 

Defense bill

The U.S. House approved an annual defense authorization bill Friday that includes GOP rollbacks of Pentagon policies on abortion, transgender health care and efforts to boost racial equity.

Republican amendments targeting social policy issues turned a typically bipartisan measure preserving the nation’s military security into another front for the culture wars, similar to those that have gripped many state legislatures. The bill passed 219-210, with mostly GOP support, including a yes vote from Johnson.

The bill is called the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA.

“The NDAA is necessary to ensure our nation’s military remains the strongest in the world,” Johnson said in a news release after the vote. “This bill gives our nation’s defense the resources it needs and cuts unnecessary programs that distract from the goal of our military to protect and defend. The NDAA’s passage is a huge win for America.”

Johnson said the bill’s many provisions include a 5.2% increase in servicemember basic pay, the largest pay raise in over 20 years; $395 million for Ellsworth Air Force Base construction projects; and $2.33 billion for B-21 bomber procurement. 

Pandemic policy questioned

Johnson urged the Department of Defense to abandon a remnant of COVID-19 pandemic policy that restricts enlistees of the National Guard from having family present at swearing-in ceremonies.

“This restrictive policy did not exist prior to the pandemic, and since the Commander in Chief fully ended the national emergency in April 2023, the MEPS [Military Entrance Processing Command] previous policy to accommodate all guests should be restored,” Johnson said in his letter to the department.

Rushmore bill

The National Park Service, which manages the preservation and upkeep of Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills, testified in opposition to Johnson’s “Mount Rushmore Protection Act” on Thursday — not because the agency disagrees with the bill’s intent, but because the agency views the bill as “unnecessary.”

NPS Deputy Director for Congressional and External Relations Michael Reynolds testified in front of the House Committee on Natural Resources, adding that the bill’s language, which is meant to protect the national memorial from being altered, changed, destroyed or removed, could unintentionally threaten the agency’s ability to care for the memorial.

“We share the goals of what’s happening with the protection of Mount Rushmore in perpetuity,” Reynolds said.

The bill awaits action by the committee. 

Child tax credit

Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, ranking member of the Finance Subcommittee on Taxation and Internal Revenue Service Oversight, held a hearing last week assessing the effect of the child tax credit over the course of its 25-year history.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 doubled the maximum credit amount, Thune said, providing qualifying families with a maximum $2,000 credit per dependent child, up to the age of 16. The expanded credit is set to expire and revert back to prior levels beginning in 2026 if Congress does not act.

“Therefore, it is my hope that my colleagues on the Finance Committee and in the Senate see the necessity for this expanded child tax credit to not be allowed to simply expire in just a few short years,” Thune said.


— States Newsroom’s D.C. Bureau contributed to this report.


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