Virtual Meeting

A Conversation With Chairman Adam Schiff

Wednesday, September 30, 2020
Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS
Speaker

U.S. Representative from California (D); Chairman, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence

Presider

Host, All Things Considered, NPR; CFR Member

Chairman Adam Schiff discusses American intelligence capabilities, the future of great power competition with China, and the role of Congress in pursuing U.S. foreign policy objectives.

KELLY: Thank you. Good evening, everybody. Happy Wednesday. Welcome to today's Council on Foreign Relations meeting. I'm Mary Louise Kelly. I will be presiding and we are fortunate tonight to hear from and have the chance to question Adam Schiff.

As many of you know, he is chair of the House Intelligence Committee, longtime congressman, Democrat from California. He led the House inquiry that resulted in the impeachment of President Trump last December and then led the prosecution when that case made its way into the Senate and they held their impeachment trial earlier this year.

He is here with us tonight to talk about, among other things, China, how much U.S. intelligence knows about China, how U.S. intelligence should perhaps reorganize itself to learn more about China's ambitions and plans and motives.

And, Congressman, I know you have some opening thoughts, so let me welcome you to the Council and to this meeting and throw over to you and then we'll get into some questions after you're done.

SCHIFF: Well, thank you very much. I really appreciate the opportunity to speak to the Council and thank you for moderating the discussion.

Two years ago, we began an intensive look at China, the challenge posed by this rising power, with, you know, one fundamental question in mind and that was: is the intelligence community postured to deal with the challenge posed by this nation across every field of domains? So are we poised to be able to analyze the challenge in space, in the seas, on land, through development assistance, foreign policy, technological innovation, the challenge ideologically as we see a proliferation of authoritarianism or, in China's case, totalitarianism, driven by technology, by CCTV cameras and facial recognition software and the integration of big data analytics. Are we prepared, after decades of focus on the war on terror, to deal with these hard targets, and significant state near peer competitors? And the answer was no, we were not postured in the way we need to be. We had such a long focus on the threat of terror. And that was necessary. And I think we were largely successful until Pensacola and preventing major foreign terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. But as a result, our capacity vis-a-vis some important nation states like China and Russia atrophied.

And given China's rise and Russia's decline, it was apparent that we needed to put a strong focus on what it will take to compete, to give policymakers the information that we need, that the president needs, in order to meet this rising challenge. And so that's what we did. Our report is critical of where we are now. But not alarmist. There is time to reorient the aircraft carrier that is our intelligence community and change direction, and meet this new challenge. It means we need to invest in our people, and make sure that we have the expertise, the language skills. But then we also deploy those people across the different domains. It's not enough simply [to] have a stovepipe focus on China, but realize that there's a Chinese piece to so many different threats and challenges we face. And the pandemic and we'll talk about the pandemic during the discussion, is a perfect illustration of how it's not enough to have a focus on a single nation. But we need to look at the cross cutting—a series of threats and challenges that can emerge from that nation or others. We also need to make sure that we are prioritizing our intelligence posture. We're not able to do everything we want vis-a-vis every threat and that's going to mean hard choices. I think that part of the importance of this report is we took a fresh look at how we're postured in the intelligence community.

I think that in the defense world, they need to do the same thing. In the diplomatic world, they need to do the same thing. The environment has changed dramatically and will continue to change. It's not that we're being outspent by China, although sometimes it feels that way. Our defense and diplomatic and intel budgets are larger than China's but we're utilizing that budget differently and in some ways not as cost effectively. And I think we need to take a fresh look at how we're meeting China's rise across all of those domains. So that was the purpose of our report. I think that we'll need to obviously stay on top of our recommendations and continue to do oversight. I'm pleased to say that much of the work was bipartisan, which has not always characterized our committee in the last few years. But I think there is a bipartisan recognition of the importance of this work.

KELLY: Thank you, Congressman. So let me just establish for everybody a reminder of how this is going to work. The congressman and I are going to work through some questions for fifteen minutes or so. And then I will open the floor to all of the rest of your questions. I see there are something like six hundred plus people registered. So lots of members, I know you have lots of questions, we'll try to get to as many as we can. A reminder, again, that we are on the record and a promise that we will get you out the door and on the way to the rest of your evening by six o'clock sharp. So with that, Congressman, let me dig in. I wonder if I could start by asking you just to set out what the stakes are here. I mean, you laid up the challenge, as you see it, but what are the consequences? If we don't get this right? If U.S. intelligence is not focused like a laser on China?

SCHIFF: Well, you know, just to give, I guess, some historical context, a lot of our expectations, and I'm not suggesting this as intelligence failure. I think this was probably, for a variety of reasons, I guess, a huge blind spot for the United States and the West. You know, for quite some time, we believed that if China was invited into the global economy and welcomed into the international community, that that community would change China more than China would change that community. That economic liberalisation would lead to political liberalization in China, that a totalitarian model and a structured economy was not going to be competitive or compatible with a rules-based international order, and China would change and adapt. That really hasn't happened. And somehow China has managed to maintain its autocratic form of government and yet grow economically and very substantially.

I think it was also the preconceived idea about China that they were much more internally than externally focused, and that would be a permanent part of the Chinese orientation. Well, that's changed as well. And very swiftly and aggressively under President Xi. So we got that wrong. That's had very serious repercussions. And if we get something like that wrong again, then we're going to be very ill prepared to compete with China. If we don't understand really where China's coming from, what Chinese leadership plans and intentions are. And so I think it's very important at a macro level that we have a much better understanding of China. And it's important at a micro level that we understand what's going on in China, what's going on in terms of Chinese efforts around the world. That will inform how we can compete with that power.

KELLY: You mentioned the pandemic, and I know this work was well underway before any of us had ever heard of COVID-19. But if you had gone looking for an example of a non-military threat that might emerge out of China, bingo. How did this—how does the coronavirus—how did it alter your thinking? How does it alter your recommendations?

SCHIFF:  You know, in a very similar way to how we're trying to reorient to deal with the rise of China. And that is, you know, traditionally the intel community has been focused on hard threats: the threat of terror, the threat of nuclear proliferation, the threat from North Korea and Iran and, you know, malevolent state actors. Other threats like climate, like health, you know, were not how you made your career in the intelligence community. You didn't we get to rise with the, you know, rapidity and reach leadership positions because you were focused on the threat, these soft threats. There was kind of a pejorative view of these soft threats. Well, this soft threat has killed 205,000 Americans. And, you know, I think if any of us had been told a few years ago that a threat would emanate from China that would kill that many Americans ultimately and you kill that many people around the world, those who specialized in health could have told us where we come from. Others would have—would have had some likely expectation that it was a conflict over Taiwan that escalated badly out of control and resulted in enormous casualties. Or if we didn't confine it to China, we might have thought it would be a conflict in the Korean Peninsula, or a war with Iran.

But in fact, this pandemic has killed more Americans than the last several wars combined. And that too should force a refocusing of our intelligence agencies and an integration of intelligence with other agencies. And one other thing that I think is really important, which is also part of our China analysis and that is much better use of open-source information. Open-source information on the pandemic was some of the most important early information on the pandemic. And so sometimes the best information is right out there on the open, but you need to be able to find it, you need to be able to assimilate it. That may require the use of artificial intelligence. And so there are a lot of parallels. In fact, we're doing a deep dive on the pandemic, and hope to produce a report like the one we've just produced on China.

KELLY: So what else exactly are you calling for? Because it won't come as news to U.S. intelligence leaders that they should do a better job against the China target. I mean, I can you understand a lot of this is classified, but can you lay out top one or two things U.S. spy agencies in your view should be doing that they're not?

SCHIFF: You know, I can. You know, it will be at a sufficiently general level. Interestingly, when we submitted our executive summary to the Intelligence Committee for declassification, their redactions were mostly our recommendations, which I take it to mean that they were sound, and they didn't necessarily want those recommendations, public—

KELLY: They didn't want China to know that they weren't already doing those things?

SCHIFF: Well, you know, the general conclusion, you know, they did approve us to be public with but the particular course of action, they remain—they're keeping classified. But in general terms, you know, one of the priorities is the one that I mentioned, which is to make much better use of open-source information, and to make sure that we deploy technological means to do that. But that's related also to the first recommendation, which is to make sure that we have the personnel, that we have the language skills, that we have people, not only with the sufficient expertise with a continual focus on China, working within a China mission, or a group of intel professionals focused on China, but also that those people with China expertise are deployed throughout the intelligence community, for example, those that are working on science and technology, so that they can bring their understanding of where China is on science and technology to those working on that subset of issues, to those working on health issues and pandemic issues, so they can bring expertise on China to that group of intel professionals. So these are, I think, a couple of the key recommendations. And, you know, we get very specific about how we think that integration should take place, and what type of skills in particular we need, and where there are particular deficiencies that I can't go into. But the sort of 30,000 foot conclusion is, we're not really positioned the way we need to be, but there's time to get this right.

KELLY: I'm listening to you and I hear such echoes of where U.S. intelligence was twenty, twenty-five years ago, when you had this whole organization and bureaucracy that had primed itself to deal with the Russia threat. You had Russia experts twiddling their thumbs and meanwhile, if you wanted to find somebody who spoke Arabic, Dari, Pashto, Urdu, good luck. I mean that you're calling for a similar pivot as U.S. intelligence did two decades ago, successfully, focusing all out on counterterrorism to say, ‘Okay, time to pivot?’

SCHIFF: That's exactly right. And there are lessons we can learn from how we did successfully pivot. At the same time, you know, we have to underscore the terrorist threat hasn't gone away. You know, Pensacola reminded us only too clearly in the first Al-Qaeda attack on the homeland, I think since 9/11, that this threat is not going away, and it's going to require us to maintain vigilance. But we also need to recognize the extraordinary challenge posed by a nation state actor. And you know, one of the particular challenges for the intelligence community is because China has such profound technological ability, because they're such capable hackers and thieves of everything from personnel records to intellectual property, because they have such a wired environment in China with ubiquitous surveillance, which they use to control their own population, but also presents real challenges to intelligence gathering. And so those challenges have to be met and overcome.

KELLY: Let me segue to a specific threat that we're told China and others present at the moment, which is to our presidential election. I would say our upcoming election, but people are voting. So game on, here we are. The President's attorney general, the President's national security adviser say that China poses a bigger threat than Russia to the U.S. election. Do you agree?

SCHIFF: No. And the Attorney General and the director have been tragically dishonest about that. Interestingly, they started off really fudging. Some of the early statements were, 'China poses a greater threat to the United States than Russia.' Well, they were conflating two different things. They were conflating the kind of general challenge posed by a rising China to the United States. And I would agree that that general threat to the United States, that challenge posed by China, is eclipsing the challenge posed by a declining Russia. But they were conflating the two. The threat to the elections and the threat, in terms of our geostrategic position in the world are not the same thing.

And then they just started outright fabricating by directly saying China's a greater threat to our presidential election than Russia. The reality as we see written in the—as we see in the written product so far is the intelligence community has put in writing that Russia is using a range of modalities to interfere in the election, to help the Trump campaign, to denigrate Joe Biden, to divide Americans, but essentially, to help decide the outcome of our presidential race. China, it is acknowledging, has a preference for who wins. China has an interest in U.S. policy. Those are very different things. And part of the object for Bill Barr and part of the object for John Ratcliffe is to muddy the waters. This is the President's political preferred narrative. And it's a dangerous to service the country to be misrepresenting the facts and to be politicizing the intelligence community the way they are.

KELLY: That's a serious charge to say the Attorney General is fabricating, is misrepresenting the facts. I'm sure it's one you don't make lightly. You're basing your analysis on what? On briefings you've received?

SCHIFF: Yes, briefings I've received, on the documentary materials I've gone through as a member of the Gang of Eight. Presumably I've seen everything the Attorney General has. But look, you know, it's a matter of public record that he's been willing to mislead the country in the present service, as he did when he misrepresented the Mueller Report before the country could see it. And I wish I could say that it ended there. And I do think it's absolutely extraordinary to have to say that the Attorney General cannot be trusted. But then it's extraordinary to have to say that the President of the United States cannot be trusted. And that's a sad reality as well.

KELLY: Do you want to just explain the bell behind you, sir? So people know what's going on?

SCHIFF: Yes, those bells mean we have another vote. But because of the pandemic, we are voting in shifts. I am—because my last name begins with an S, and that means I am in group five of seven. So there'll be time before I need to head off and vote.

KELLY: Good, good, we hope you will be able to stay with us for the full hour.

When I asked you what you were basing your analysis on, and you said yes, briefings. You are getting briefings by the way? Are you getting in person briefings? Do you know every—are you getting access to all of the things you need access to and all your questions answered?

SCHIFF: Well, those are two different questions. Both important.

Are we getting briefings? Yes. We just had a briefing with the intel community in our committee. We're not getting a full House briefing, which we think is a disservice to the members of the House and the Senate. They should be brought up to speed.

Are we getting everything? I don't know. They're certainly very troubling indications, including a new whistleblower from the Department of Homeland Security, the former head of intelligence for DHS who, you know, whistleblower complaint is alleging no, they have been stifling reporting on Russia's intervention in the election because it is embarrassing to the President. Now, whether that was only at DHS, or whether that is a broader intelligence community wide problem, we don't know.

But it's very difficult to have confidence that the intelligence community is sharing everything it has or should when you have a director like John Ratcliffe, who's willing to mislead the country. Now, you know, other agencies have much better leadership. But at the end of the day, the DNI, John Radcliffe, has a very big say on what the Congress is informed of, and what the country is informed of. And this latest gambit by Director Ratcliffe, that is the selective declassification of Russian intelligence, which he acknowledges may be completely fabricated. To do that, you know, days or weeks before an election with a patently political purpose, and then reveal that this is based on very sensitive sources and methods, which means that he may have just compromised those sources and methods. It's inexcusable. But if you're going to resort to that kind of thing, then how can any of us be confident that the intelligence community is really sharing what it should?

KELLY: I want to note, just for the record, I'm reading the statement that Ratcliffe sent out last night, because he's not here to give his position. He—this was a statement to Lindsey Graham, saying, "To be clear, this is not Russian disinformation. It has not been assessed as such by the intelligence community. I will be briefing Congress on the sensitive sources and methods by which it was obtained in the coming days."

SCHIFF: And you know, like much of what we see out of his office, you have to read very carefully between the lines. And reading between the lines there, he's saying, well, this has not been assessed to be Russian disinformation.

But if you look at his prior statement, he acknowledges this may be completely false. This may be false, and it may be exaggerated. And the fact that he is putting out information that [he] acknowledges may be false, or exaggerated, and for what purpose at this particular time, and why put something out that may be false and exaggerated when it could reveal sources and methods? It's really inexcusable.

But, you know, sadly, I think the President, after having fired Dan Coats and then fired Joe McGuire has got the intelligence director he wants now who will carry his water.

KELLY: Speaking—

SCHIFF:I don't think, by the way, that the publication of that by the Director on the day of a presidential debate or the day before a presidential debate, and the hastily arranged briefing for Lindsey Graham, which was supposed to be open to both members, or the staff of both members, but our staff and I believe Senator Feinstein's was turned away from the briefing. None of that is coincidental, then, of course, the President actually used that during the debate. So to see the intelligence community perverted for that kind of a political—domestic political errand to quote Dr. Fiona Hill, about other domestic political errands that she encountered in her time with the NSC, to see the IC brought so low. You know, it is really heartbreaking for me, but I think, more importantly, dangerous.

KELLY: I will nod to the fact that I think among our attendees, tonight, we have some intelligence community alumni who are Council members. So I hope that they will weigh in during the Q&A period because I'm sure they have thoughts they'd love to share on this. But to your point about the timing, the release of things on the day of the first presidential debate, the fact that Americans are already voting, and we're now however many days we are inside a month, coming up to November 3. Do you see, Congressman, the greater threat to the security of this election coming from foreign actors? Or do you see the greater threat being internal?

SCHIFF: You know, this was a terrible conclusion I reached fairly early in the Russia investigation that, as pronounced a threat as Russia was to our election [in] 2016 and poses to our election in 2020, the greater threat now comes from within, comes from a president who is trying in advance of the election to discredit the votes of millions, who in the debate last night was encouraging his supporters to essentially go to polling places, I think with the purpose of intimidating people from voting, who has cast doubt on whether the United States can conduct a fair election, something that would have been a Russian talking point, not a presidential talking point. In these ways, in so many others, the threat to our democratic process now is far greater from within.

The President of the United States will not concede to a peaceful transition of power if he loses. Who would have ever imagined that would be the case in the United States of America? But of course, we would have never imagined we would have a president who couldn't denounce white supremacy. But we are where we are, tragically, and so I think it's inescapable that the most profound threat we have right now is from within, from the president—and not just to the election, but to our democracy as a whole. This is a president who calls the free press the enemy of the people. This is an administration in which the Attorney General of the United States, who is supposed to represent the interest of justice, is intervening in the cases of people who lied to cover up for the President to dismiss their cases, to lighten their sentences, who is adjuring one of his handpicked deputies to announce prosecutions of the President's enemies before the election? This is unthinkable. But it is so destructive of our democracy. So I don't think it's any question where the threat is most pronounced. And tragically, that is from within.

KELLY: All of which I suppose raises a question over what Congress might do about it, whether Congress is a co-equal branch of government, is exercising an adequate check on the Executive Branch. But let me open the floor because I promised that we would get to member questions. So we would maybe circle back to that at the very end. But let me open this. I know that there are a lot of members who have a lot of things they want to ask you. So let me turn it over there.

STAFF: (Gives queuing instructions.) Our first question will come from Timothy Wirth. (Pause.) Okay, we will try again. We'll try for Nicholas Schifrin.

Q: There we go. Can I do that?

STAFF: Oh, there we go. Go ahead, Mr. Wirth. Sorry.

Q: Thank you very much, Congressman, for the superb service you give to the American people. It's—so we're lucky to have you there. I want to pick up on Mary Louise's question about threats from within and ask you about the President's emergency powers. At this particular time when we're going into an election and we know that he's going to do anything to stay in office, we know very little about the vast emergency powers which he has to dismiss provisions of the Bill of Rights, for example, to take over practically anything in the government. And he has powers that are unfettered, from anything we can—I can determine, we can determine. The Congress has not had any hearings at all on the subject. The American public does not know about these emergency powers. And it seems to me it's a real threat for the American public not to know that these powers exist. They're coming out of the Intelligence Committee or Judiciary or the Rules Committee or whatever, you know, we ought to be informed about these and rapidly and usually, it seems to me, you all have an obligation to do everything you can to make these available and make the American public aware of them. Thank you very much for again, for all your really great work.

SCHIFF: Thank you very much. And thank you for all your work on this particular issue and raising this to the attention of the Congress. And in fact, the question Mary Louise posed and your question are interrelated in the sense that last week, I introduced a package of reforms along with a number of my fellow chairs and the Speaker. Our own set of post-Watergate reforms that look at many of the abuses during the Trump administration, but also look at potential vulnerabilities and try to provide new guardrails, statutory guardrails to protect against abuse of the pardon power, to protect against those that would use the White House to enrich themselves, violations of the Hatch Act, the firing of whistleblowers, the firing of inspector generals, and the retaliation against whistleblowers. And we introduced this package of form that goes to all those issues, but it also goes to the issue you raised and that is, these PEADs, these presidential executive orders which are confidential or classified. And the country has very little idea about them. Indeed, the Congress has very little idea about them, whether the legal and constitutional underpinnings are sound or completely unsound. And so we take action in this legislation, and through the Intelligence Authorization Act, to try to ensure that the contents of any of these PEADs are made available to the Congress, that are of limited duration, that Congress has the ability to examine any authority that the President might deign to try to utilize in some kind of an emergency.

So we do act to try and provide new disclosure and new constraints on the potential use of these authorities. We have looked into whether we can hold a hearing on the subject. And we could do that with experts. The challenge is, and this has been frankly, challenging, even finding out what the existing PEADs are, is doing anything like that in open session, where you'd have people from either the current administration or more likely, prior administrations who would be in a position to discuss them. And we run into real constraints into our ability to find people and also make sure that we can discuss these matters in open session.

But we're going to continue working on that issue, to make sure that, particularly with this president, but with any president that no one can arrogate to themselves and in secret powers that they would unveil during some self-declared emergency. So I really appreciate you raising the profile of the issue. We are focused on it in the Intel Committee, and want to bring about legislative reform. But I realized that that doesn't deal with the most immediate threat. The final thing that I would point out would make on this is one of the reasons why we have been—we have seen such destruction of our democratic institutions over the last three and a half, four years, is not just because of Donald Trump. It is also because we have had a GOP majority in Congress, utterly unwilling to constrain him, unwilling to defend its own institution, let alone other institutions. Very little of this would be possible by the President acting on his own or even acting in the face of Republican resistance. But that acquiescence, that complete debasement, the remaking of the GOP and Congress into a cult of personality around the President means that you have basically one House trying to constrain this president. And that's very difficult for one House to do that job. On an issue like PEADs, if we had a normal Congress that was untethered to this cult, we might be able to pass that legislation, standalone legislation, to require disclosure to put in place safeguards. But we can't do that on our own with one House only. And so investigation, oversight, that we can do and are doing. Prospective reforms, which will enjoy bipartisan support when this president is gone, that we are doing but that still leaves the country vulnerable during the interim.

KELLY: Thank you for gracefully answering not only the question that was just put to you, but mine as well, about what Congress's role is here. Next question.

STAFF: Great. Our next question will come from Nicolas Schifrin.

Q: Thanks very much, Chairman, for doing this. Wondered if I could pick up on Mary Louise's questions about what is happening in the news and wondered if you could comment on whether you believe that the Director of CIA, Gina Haspel, and Paul Nakasone, the head of National Security Agency, both objected to Ratcliffe releasing his letter to Senator Graham, and if so what does that say about DNI Ratcliffe?

And then to ask a larger China question, the administration has tried to create a kind of digital Berlin Wall around the world or is trying to create one with a clean path initiative trying to separate 5G, Chinese 5G, from Western 5G, whether you think that's an effective way to combat the threat of Chinese technology. Thanks.

SCHIFF: Thank you, you know, in terms of whether other agencies dissented from the conduct of the DNI Ratcliffe and his decision to declassify this, we're trying to find out. I would hope that they did. And I would hope that we can get a straight answer to those questions. I would like to think that other agencies are resisting this overt politicization that Mr. Ratcliffe is engaged in. So we're trying to get the answer to those questions.

I do think that some of the elements of the IC have been better at resisting being drawn into the corruption of their enterprise by the President and by his administration than others. And it requires strong leadership and a willingness to risk losing your job as Dan Coats lost his, and so we're trying to get answers on that. In terms of 5G, you know, you can't beat something with nothing. And for this reason, I think it's very important that we continue and accelerate efforts to develop Open RAN or other alternatives or alternate sources of 5G so that we can compete with the efforts of China to push out Huawei technology. I do think this is a real national security risk and issue. It's also vital, though, that we have an alternative that we can offer other nations.

I do think part of what has made that job more difficult is the President's sometimes conflation of trade and security. We saw this with ZTE. The President would at times talk about ZTE as a similar and analogous national security issue, but then at the same time, allow ZTE to be traded with President Xi during the trade negotiations. That completely undermines our position. It's either about trade or it's about security. And so I think we need to continue to make the case with our allies around the world. I think we need to continue to develop alternatives to 5G. And I think we've lost very precious time on both those issues.

You know, the other thing I would say is, I do think that we need to step back and take a fresh look at how we compete with a nation that can put its economic might behind a private enterprise, and essentially price out and destroy the competition. Because that's what China is doing with Huawei. Can American telecommunications providers or European ones or Japanese providers or others compete if China is going to put billions behind the development of technology, the deployment of technology, essentially underprice all the competition until the competition is destroyed? And then China can do whatever it wants on prices. So does that mean we need a different kind of level of economic cooperation between the government and private industry in the United States? You know, I think that's very much an open question and one that we need to study. I should tell you group five, which is my group, is now voting. I have some flexibility and can vote with group six or seven. But it may mean that I have time for only a couple more questions before I need to go vote.

KELLY: Thank you for the heads up. Let's get quickly to another question.

STAFF: Perfect. Our next question is from Paula Diperna.

Q:  Thank you, Congressman Schiff, for your terrific leadership, especially at this time, and I know we have to be quick. I'd like to go back to the one House doing the job. Can you discuss to whatever extent there is dialogue between the House and Senate on this issue that Senator Wirth raised, you know, potential takeover? I think most people are quite concerned about the potential for unprecedented presidential usurpation of powers. And I just wonder to what extent there is a membrane that you're crossing with the so-called cult. Thank you.

SCHIFF: You know, there are constant discussions going on, bicameral discussions. You know, I wish I could say that they were bipartisan bicameral, but they're not. But there are discussions about, you know, how do we prepare for any number of disturbing scenarios that we would have never thought we needed to anticipate. One of them is certainly a president's decision to use some PEAD or even draft one today for use after the election. Or even in the absence of that, try to abuse the military or try to encourage voter intimidation or states to ignore the vote and deploy electors that are not representative of the vote in their state. What happens if, for example, the counting of the ballots begins to bump up against constitutional deadlines? How do we deal with the effort to stack a court to essentially decide the presidential election? Or leave it to nine people to decide the election in a way when those nine people are not representative the country?

So on the whole range of what ifs, we are very much working across the Capitol. Now, where are the Republicans in this? I would say a couple things. You know, privately, of course, Republican members express their deep unease, discomfort, and even distaste with the President. But I'm frankly fed up with private disclaimers. We need people of courage; we need people of conviction to be speaking out and to be acting out. But frankly, I've given up hope that we're going to see much of that before the election. They just live in terror of angry tweets and Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson diatribes, and don't have much that passes by way of political courage. So, you know, I can't say there's much discussion about the what ifs on a bipartisan basis. That's a terrible tragedy.

You know, in my view, given what the President has said over the last two weeks about his unwillingness to accept the results of the election, his unwillingness to denounce, you know, white supremacist groups. People of good faith need to speak out, and people of good faith that are in this administration need to do more than speak up, they need to resign. They can do more of a service to the country by resigning than continuing to enable this president. And I realized, you know, for many who served in the administration with the best of intentions, and have thought that they could serve a constraining influence. I don't know how you can serve the country and serve a president who is throwing our democracy into such jeopardy. And I think we've come to the point where people need to make their voices heard. And certainly people that have left the administration, they need to speak out. And it may be very much counter cultural for them to do so given the positions they may have occupied in the past. But, you know, this is a desperate hour. And while I've given up hope for many of my colleagues in Congress, I am encouraged to see more people on the outside speaking out for the first time.

KELLY: Thank you. Tell us how are you doing for time? Can you take one more?

SCHIFF: Yes.

KELLY: Okay, one more question. Last one, right.

STAFF: Our next question is from Annelise Riles.

Q:  Thank you, Congressman. So back to China, I'm speaking for our global universities, it really feels like in every possible way, the administration seems to be working to make it as difficult as possible for us to have legitimate interactions with Chinese citizens. And although you mentioned hacking and IP theft are a problem, I think it's important to remember that the vast majority of scientific collaboration is legitimate and Chinese talent is critical to our continued R&D superiority. So what can we do to balance a national security interest in protecting our IP with national security interest in remaining the greatest research engine in the world and in building soft power through connections with Chinese citizens? And what will the Democrats do to stop some of these latest DHS initiatives in that respect? Thank you.

SCHIFF: Thank you. That's a great and very important question.

You know, we had been mindful from really the beginning of our China deep dive, but probably even before that, of the need to make sure that, when we interact with the intelligence community, when we do hearings on the subject, that we underscore the importance of not casting doubts or aspersions, on people of Chinese heritage, you know, in our efforts to make sure that we meet the China threat, and that we address the counterintelligence needs that we have in this country, and the cross cutting efforts that China is making, along the lines that I've described in terms of theft of IP and other pivotal issues because we are, first of all the tremendous beneficiary of immigrants from China. And we do derive great benefit from the participation of Chinese citizens in our universities, in collaboration with Chinese scientists, across a whole series of domains. And first and foremost, we want to make sure that our own citizens of Chinese origin aren't the subject of any kind of discrimination or suspicion.

 

So we need to make sure that the IC is approaching those issues with the kind of both sensitivity and understanding that they require. And in fact, we have incorporated language into our intelligence bills to encourage the intelligence community to do exactly that. We've held roundtables between members of the intelligence community and law enforcement and Chinese-American communities and stakeholders around the United States. So I think all those efforts are enormously important. And you know, it kills me as the representative, the proud representative, of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Caltech that we have brilliant people who come to this country, they get advanced degrees in STEM fields, they want to stay, they want to start a business, they want to hire Americans and build new enterprise here, and we throw them out of the country. That's just economic suicide.

So we need to make sure that in order to be competitive —and I'm getting notes from my staff, sorry, about the vote —we need to make sure that we approach this sensibly and strategically. And not cut ourselves off, cut off our nose to spite our face. I probably have enough given how many people have left to vote to take one more question before I need to run.

KELLY: Okay, well, I will take the liberty of asking it then, if I may, which is as you've gathered from the question, is coming at you. People are scared and worried about what these coming weeks may bring and I wonder—I ask this not as a softball question, but what is giving you hope? Can you give us some hope that whatever the coming weeks may bring that democracy will hold?

SCHIFF: You know, I'm glad you asked that question because these can be overwhelming times. I am astonished how often and this was more true pre-pandemic when I could be out and about, but how often I'm approached now on Zoom, but previously in person, with people who are desperately concerned about the future of the country to the point of tears. With people telling me they can't eat and they can't sleep and they're so concerned. And, you know, look, these are dark times and whenever you're in crisis, it's hard to see them ending. Sometimes it's hard to see even if they will end, but they do end. This too shall pass. We're an incredible, resilient country populated with very good and decent people. We are experiencing the same disruptive forces as the rest of the world with a rapidly changing economy, a global economy, an economy now so dominated by automation and artificial intelligence that it's displacing millions of people out of the workplace, and a new information environment in which most people now get their information on social media. And in that environment, fear and anger travel virally, where as fact and truth and hope are much slower to move.

So these are enormous challenges, but we will get through them. We know—we will—this too shall pass. The virus will pass. We'll get through it. If we're smart, we can mitigate and reduce the damage and loss of life. But we will overcome.

You know, I'm really encouraged by the new members of Congress that came to join us in the midterms. They are, I believe, some of the most talented new members we have ever had. I work with these new members, I see these new members, I'll hold them up against the post-Watergate class or any other class in Congress's history. I think they're just superb. In the same way that after 9/11, people joined the service to defend the country, after people saw what was taking place in the country for the last couple years, they felt a need to serve in a different way by running for Congress. It's no surprise that so many of that freshman class are themselves veterans. When I look at them, I'm really optimistic about the future. So, you know, we press on. We have an incredible legacy in this democracy, something that we cherish. It's worth fighting for. We need to keep fighting for it, and I know we'll be successful.

KELLY: Well, with that, I want to thank you for joining us. Thank you on behalf of the Council for staying with us every possible moment that you could.

I will note for everyone else that the audio and the transcript of today's meeting will be posted on the Council's website and, Congressman Schiff, we release you to go vote.

SCHIFF:  I think I'm going to run and probably literally okay.

Top Stories on CFR

Coronavirus

The Delta variant is driving new COVID-19 surges, even as countries around the world make gradual progress in vaccinating their populations. Five graphics show how the strain is taking over and who’s at risk.

Public Health Threats and Pandemics

Opioid addiction in the United States has become a prolonged epidemic, threatening not only public health but economic output and national security.

United States

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 is on track to be the United States’ deadliest year for gun violence in two decades. How do other countries regulate firearms and respond to mass shootings?