Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz Dismisses 'Phony Threat of Russia,' Says 'Real' Problem Is China

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) claimed Monday that concerns about Russian threats to national security are "phony," instead warning that China poses the most serious threat to the U.S. as the November presidential election approaches.

The Quote

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said Sunday Congress may subpoena intelligence officials to testify on Russian election interference. The threat came after the Office of the Director of National Intelligence canceled future in-person congressional briefings on election security, citing the risk of leaks.

But Gaetz told Fox News' Sean Hannity:

"I would not trust Adam Schiff with the secret ingredient to my mother's lasagne recipe, much less our nation's most sensitive intelligence. But this dispute is not really about intelligence, it's about politics."

"You see, Democrats want to use these briefings as a platform to try and scare Americans about Russia, when we know the real threat that we face is from China. And the Democrats know that Joe Biden has a big China problem. If we're going to rebuild this economy after coronavirus, we need a president who's willing to confront China, that's what Donald Trump has done."

"If you're just a regular American wondering how all this affects you—you know, the Democrats are saying Russia's the biggest threat, the Republicans are saying China's the biggest threat — go look around your home. How many products there are made in Russia? Not too many, but a whole lot are made in China."

"So this is all about making sure you keep the establishment in power through Joe Biden, to bolster the phony threat of Russia and diminish the very real threat that China poses."

Why it Matters

Many analysts and U.S. lawmakers have long considered China to be America's next great strategic threat, the most significant since the end of the Cold War. The coronavirus crisis has brought that reality home to American voters. The virus was first identified in China, and the Chinese Communist Party has been accused of failing to adequately warn the international community about the threat posed by the outbreak.

The Trump administration has pivoted to blaming China entirely for the pandemic and its consequences, though the president and his allies have been accused of fumbling the U.S. response to the pandemic and even disregarding the danger when the virus was ravaging Democrat-voting states.

Trump and his GOP allies are hoping a tough stance on China—which predates the pandemic and has been a feature of his time in office, despite his praise for President Xi Jinping—will give him a foreign policy edge on Joe Biden. Republicans say Biden is weak on Beijing, citing his time in two Obama administrations that largely failed to address China's rise.

The Counterpoint

It makes political sense for the GOP to divert attention away from Russia and onto China. Russia has loomed over Trump's entire presidency, and the president has been dogged by allegations of improper ties with Moscow during his 2016 campaign.

The Senate intelligence committee concluded last month that Trump associates had contact with multiple Russian officials and welcomed Moscow's interference in the campaign. Congress and U.S. intelligence have confirmed pro-Trump Kremlin meddling, though the president continues to dismiss such reports as "fake news" and related investigations as a "witch hunt."

Lawmakers and intelligence officials have warned that Russia—along with other U.S. adversaries—is still interfering in U.S. elections, though Trump has been dismissive of any such suggestion.

Last month, National Counterintelligence and Security Center Director William Evanina warned that both China and Russia are seeking to influence the 2020 election—China hoping for Trump to lose and Russia hoping he will win.

"We assess that Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia 'establishment,'" Evanina said.

"Some Kremlin-linked actors are also seeking to boost President Trump's candidacy on social media and Russian television," Evanina explained.

Matt Gaetz, Russia, China, GOP, 2020 election
Rep. Matt Gaetz is pictured during a House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing in the Rayburn House office building on July 29, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Graeme Jennings-Pool/Getty Images/Getty