SIMI VALLEY, Calif. — Standing with Taiwan’s leader here Wednesday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy had an opportunity to criticize President Joe Biden’s administration — and he didn’t take it.
McCarthy, who supports more rapid arms deliveries to the self-governing island claimed by Beijing, rebuffed a reporter who asked about alleged White House reluctance to boost such shipments, insisting there’s little daylight between himself and the administration on the issue.
“This administration and my communications with them see the importance of speeding up the weapon delivery system, so I’m not feeling the same differences based upon your question,” he said.
It was a small, yet remarkable moment that felt illustrative of just how closely the two parties have hewn together on the issue. Republicans and Democrats have been largely split on foreign policy for decades, but heightened tensions with China over trade, its refusal to be transparent about Covid and the country’s more assertive role globally, in particular toward Taiwan, have forced the two parties to work more closely together.
Intelligence suggesting that China is considering sending artillery and ammunition to Russia for its war in Ukraine, and the downing of a spy balloon over the U.S. in February — which NBC News has learned collected sensitive information during its trip across the continent — further soured U.S.-China ties and helped push the two political parties closer together.
Biden and McCarthy are less aligned on other issues, such as the debt ceiling.
Asked by NBC News about the unusual unanimity on Taiwan policy on Wednesday, McCarthy said: “One of our greatest challenges with Taiwan and with China … is never speaking with one voice.”
“For the world itself, learn the lessons from Ukraine, so we’re not back here in another country a few years from now,” he added.
By declining to take a partisan shot at the Biden administration during his meeting with President Tsai Ing-wen, McCarthy flexed his leadership muscles and exhibited statesmanlike behavior. Both Republicans and Democrats accompanied him and spoke at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, where the speaker met with Tsai.
China had criticized the McCarthy-Tsai meeting as a “provocation” and a violation of the one-China principle, under which Washington recognizes Beijing as the sole legitimate government of China while maintaining unofficial relations with Taipei.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry accused Tsai and McCarthy of promoting Taiwanese independence through their meeting. China considers Taiwan a breakaway province.
Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who never had a warm relationship with McCarthy, even issued quick praise for the Tsai meeting. (When Pelosi visited Taiwan last August, not a single Republican accepted her invitation to travel with her.)
“Today’s meeting between President Tsai of Taiwan and Speaker McCarthy is to be commended for its leadership, its bipartisan participation and its distinguished and historic venue,” she said in a statement.
On Thursday, Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, led another bipartisan group to meet with Taiwanese Vice President William Lai in Taiwan and put a fine point on how he views the U.S.-Taiwan relationship.
“I want to make it clear that the United States stands by you and will protect you,” said McCaul, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.