Skip Navigation
Breaking News
Breaking News
from Washington and beyond

OceanGate CEO Missing in Titanic Sub Had History of Donating to GOP Candidates

Here’s who OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush has donated to.

Ocean Gate/Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Public campaign finance records indicate that Stockton Rush, the CEO of OceanGate currently stuck on the missing Titan submersible that was running a tourist expedition of the Titanic wreck, has been a consistent Republican donor over the years.

Now a point of caveat here: According to these public finance records, Rush was not a Republican megadonor, but his donations over the years leaned heavily toward Republican candidates.

Federal Election Commission campaign finance filings show a Stockton Rush of Washington state employed by OceanGate giving $1,500 to Culberson for Congress, the principal campaign committee for now-former Republican Congressman John Culberson who represented Texas’s 7th district from 2001 to 2019. Culberson had a 100 percent scorecard rating from the conservative Family Research Council, a 92 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union, and a 4 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters. Not exactly a RINO.

The FEC also lists donations from Stockton R. Rush III, Stockton R. Rush Jr., and Stockton R. Rush. While the home addresses for these donations are all the same, it’s not clear if these are close relatives or the same Stockton Rush (the employers for these donations vary depending on the specific donation and include “Remote Control Technology, Inc.,” “investor,” and “Mr Oil & Gas Company”). But altogether, those donations are consistently Republican and include George Bush for President in 1979, the Illinois Republican State Central Committee in 1980, Citizens to Elect Rick Larsen in 2022, and friends of Mike McGavick in both 2000 and 2005.

Separately, OpenSecrets filings show Stockton R. Rush donating to Dino J. Rossi, a perennial Republican candidate in Washington state who ran unsuccessfully for governor, United States Senate, and the House of Representatives. Rossi served in the state Senate from 2016 to 2017.

Washington state Democratic consultants told The New Republic they don’t regard these donations as a sign that Rush is anything like a GOP megadonor, just that he leans to the right.

As national attention has shifted to the missing submersible, there has been increasing scrutiny on OceanGate and its top executives. As I reported yesterday, according to court filings, a former employee at OceanGate voiced safety concerns about the Titan submarine that is now missing. The CEO reportedly knew about these safety concerns, and the employee voicing them was fired. That case was settled in court.

Ob-Gyns Say More People Are Dying Since Dobbs Overturned Right to Abortion

A new KFF poll finds health professionals are incredibly concerned about the restrictions on abortion.

Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images
A doctor at a clinic in San Antonio, Texas, informs a patient that he can no longer provide abortion services since the Supreme Court just overturned Roe v. Wade, June 24, 2022.

Health professionals say that maternal mortality has skyrocketed in the year since Roe v. Wade was overturned, a new survey from KFF found, a sign of how harmful abortion bans are.

The Supreme Court rattled the country when it rolled back the nationwide right to abortion on June 24, 2022. In the year since then, Republican-led states have cracked down on abortion access, imposing confusing restrictions or outright bans on the procedure. Many in the GOP argue that they are not limiting access to medically necessary procedures, but instead are saving lives.

KFF surveyed nearly 600 ob-gyns nationwide from March to May, and found that 68 percent say the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision worsened their ability to respond to pregnancy-related emergencies. The survey also found that 64 percent of ob-gyns “believe that the Dobbs decision has worsened pregnancy-related mortality” and 70 percent believe the ruling increased racial and ethnic inequities in maternal health.

Part of this could be due to the fact that all of the new laws surrounding abortion have left doctors confused about what they’re even allowed to do. Only 45 percent of ob-gyns in states with abortion restrictions say they understand the circumstances under which abortion is legal.

Many doctors also feel that their hands are tied. In states where abortion is limited, 59 percent of ob-gyns say they are worried about the legal risk when making “decisions about patient care and the necessity of abortion.” In states where abortion is banned, that number jumps to 61 percent.

The United States already has the worst maternal mortality rate among developed nations, and health experts have long warned that abortion restrictions would only cause it to rise. A study released in November by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that if abortion is banned nationwide, maternal mortality will rise 24 percent. Maternal mortality among Black people will shoot up 39 percent.

Samuel Alito’s Tacky Defense on Why He Ruled on Case From Billionaire Fishing Pal

The Supreme Court justice accepted a luxury vacation from a Republican megadonor, didn’t disclose it, and then ruled on one of his cases.

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito

Samuel Alito is the latest Supreme Court justice to come under fire for allegedly questionable ethics decisions, and his reasoning behind them is truly awful.

Alito was gifted a luxury vacation in 2008 that included flying on Republican billionaire megadonor Paul Singer’s private jet to Alaska, where they stayed in a fishing lodge that cost $1,000 a night, ProPublica reported late Tuesday. Right-wing activist (and then-head of the Federalist Society) Leonard Leo helped organize the trip, and also attended. Alito did not list the vacation on his annual financial disclosure statement.

The year before, Singer’s hedge fund had submitted its first request that the Supreme Court intervene in a business lawsuit. In 2001, the fund had purchased Argentina’s federal debt at a steep discount. Years later, after Argentina recovered from an economic crash, the hedge fund wanted the Argentine government to pay it back in full.

Singer first asked the Supreme Court to weigh in in 2007, the year before he took Alito on vacation. After the trip, the fund came before the court at least 10 times for the same case. Singer’s involvement was heavily documented in the press. The high court agreed to resolve the issue in 2014. Alito did not recuse himself, instead joining the 7–1 majority in Singer’s favor, earning the hedge fund a $2.4 billion payout.

And Alito himself confirmed everything.

Seeking to preempt outcry, Alito published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday—just hours before ProPublica published its report. His explanation for why he neither recused himself nor reported the trip was essentially, “I didn’t know I had to.”

I had no obligation to recuse in any of the cases that ProPublica cites. First, even if I had been aware of Mr. Singer’s connection to the entities involved in those cases, recusal would not have been required or appropriate,” Alito wrote, arguing that he and Singer were not personally close, and so he could be considered unbiased.

But beyond that, “when I reviewed the cases in question to determine whether I was required to recuse, I was not aware and had no good reason to be aware that Mr. Singer had an interest in any party.” Again, Singer’s involvement was widely reported.

Alito said he did not report the Alaska trip because “until a few months ago,” justices did not report accommodations or transportation for social events. (This is not true. ProPublica found at least six other examples of justices disclosing gifts of travel on private jets.)

Alito also said that he was really doing the government a favor by taking Singer’s private jet. The trip had already been planned before Alito was invited, and “I was asked whether I would like to fly there in a seat that, as far as I am aware, would have otherwise been vacant,” Alito said. “Had I taken commercial flights, that would have imposed a substantial cost and inconvenience on the deputy U.S. Marshals who would have been required for security reasons to assist me.”

Not only is this terrible logic all around, but Alito also fails to mention the reason that financial disclosure rules changed a few months ago: ProPublica began releasing reports on Justice Clarence Thomas’s relationship with another Republican megadonor, Harlan Crow.

Thomas has received hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts from the Nazi memorabilia–collecting billionaire. These include luxurious island-hopping vacations, tuition payments for Thomas’s grandnephew’s private school education, and even the purchase of Thomas’s family property, where the justice’s mother still lives.

If Alito’s shoddy defense of “we didn’t have to report it” is to be believed, we can expect more reports like this soon.

The Supreme Court has operated since its creation without a formal code of ethics, and largely without supervision. As more reports of shady dealings come to light, it’s no wonder that public trust in the institution is waning fast.

Republicans Suddenly Claim Trump-Appointed Prosecutor Is Evil Deep Stater

House Republicans now want to question U.S. Attorney David Weiss about Hunter Biden’s “sweetheart deal.”

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan

In the wake of Hunter Biden’s plea deal in Delaware, House Republicans are blind with rage that after all the buildup, the president’s son isn’t even going to be spending a single night in jail. And more than that, What—nothing about those alleged Burisma bribes? Joe Biden’s mysterious $10 million in unreported 2017 income? On Fox News and in the New York Post, the Daily Mail, and other outlets, they already had Hunter Biden—and for that matter, Joe Biden too—tried and convicted for what Fox’s Maria Bartiromo called “the biggest political scandal any of us has ever seen.”

The air shot out of that balloon in a big way Tuesday, with the plea deal. And now House Republicans want to call on the carpet the U.S. attorney in Delaware who accepted the deal, David Weiss. House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer wants Weiss to come in for a “briefing.” Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan said the House should wait until the plea is formally entered. “If there’s a plea entered and it’s done and then the investigation is over, then certainly we’re going to want to talk to him,” Jordan was quoted as saying.

The thread Jordan is hanging onto in that quote is the question of whether this investigation is truly over. Weiss introduced some ambiguity on this matter in his post-deal statement that the probe “is ongoing.” He did not elaborate. Did he mean simply that it’s ongoing in the sense that it’s still on until the plea is officially entered? Or did he mean, as Bill Barr suggested last week, that he’s still looking into the Burisma angle?

It’s the key thing to watch here. It would seem pretty weird for a U.S. attorney to close an investigation into an individual while still probing other charges against that individual. But a lot of weird stuff is happening in America these days.

Bear in mind: Weiss was appointed to his position by Trump. When he became president, Biden left Weiss in the post specifically so he could continue the investigation into his own son—because he saw, rightly, that installing his own person would be seen as a banana-republic-perversion-of-justice kind of move. So he left the fate of his own son to a potentially hostile federal prosecutor. Think Donald Trump would have done that?

And if this is really the end of Huntergate? Well, to most of us, it will prove that the right was overhyping this from jump street. In Wingnuttia, it will merely prove that the deep state is so pervasive, so many-tentacled, that it swallows even Republican prosecutors in its embrace. There’s always an excuse.

Donald Trump Could’ve Gotten the Hunter Biden Deal

The former president thinks his successor’s son got off with a “traffic ticket.” He could have too—if he had listened to his lawyers.

Photo by ALON SKUY/AFP/Getty Images
Donald Trump speaking in 2022

Donald Trump is predictably furious after Hunter Biden agreed to plead guilty on two misdemeanor charges of tax evasion and participate in a pretrial program for a gun offense in a deal that means the son of the current president will avoid jail time. “Wow! The corrupt Biden DOJ just cleared up hundreds of years of criminal liability by giving Hunter Biden a mere ‘traffic ticket.’ Our system is BROKEN!” Trump wrote on Truth Social, his bespoke, decrepit social network. “No crime, no case. Election Interference!” he continued.

This is an extension of the line Trump has repeatedly deployed about the dozens of federal charges he faces regarding his alleged mishandling of sensitive classified material related to U.S. national security. Trump has claimed, again and again, that he is facing a political witch hunt, that the charges he faces are a smokescreen intended to remove him from the 2024 presidential race, and that the real criminals—Joe Biden and his family—are getting off scot-free.

There are several problems with this. Setting aside the dubious nature of the allegations against the Bidens, the biggest issue is probably that Trump has all but admitted to refusing to hand back the classified documents for months after leaving office. But there’s another issue as well. Donald Trump could very well have gotten the same deal—and probably even a lighter one—if he had just listened to his lawyers’ advice. One of Trump’s attorneys reportedly tried to get him to return the documents after the Department of Justice’s investigation had begun. Had Trump done this—or if he had returned them months earlier, when the National Archives asked for them back—it is highly unlikely that he would have been charged at all.

If he took a plea deal like the one Hunter Biden agreed to on Tuesday, he would have also likely received a “slap on the wrist” or even less—the Justice Department really, really did not want to bring charges against a former president. He chose not to. The decision to refuse to return documents he had unlawfully retained and then, after an investigation had been opened, to refuse to even try to negotiate a settlement with the Department of Justice directly led to the dozens of charges he was hit with earlier this month.

Donald Trump could have gotten off with a traffic ticket too. The only person he has to blame for the legal predicament in which he now finds himself is Donald Trump.

Republicans Fume Over Hunter Biden’s “Sweetheart Deal”

Despite the fact that a Trump-appointed U.S. attorney cut the deal, GOP pols are crying foul.

Republican Rep. James Comer during a hearing before the House Oversight and Accountability Committee
Alex Wong/Getty Images
House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer got the “slap on the wrist” talking points.

Republican politicians are not happy about Hunter Biden and federal prosecutors agreeing to his pleading guilty to two minor tax crimes and avoiding prosecution on a separate gun charge.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy decried the proposed deal as evidence of a “two-tiered” U.S. justice system. Former President Donald Trump was indicted on 37 counts for keeping classified documents after leaving office and refusing to cooperate with an investigation, but McCarthy says that he is being targeted because he’s President Joe Biden’s “leading political opponent.”

“If you are the president’s son, you get a sweetheart deal,” McCarthy fumed to reporters on Tuesday. Never mind that the federal prosecutor leading the investigation into Hunter Biden, which began in 2018, is a Trump appointee.

Indeed, “sweetheart deal” was the House Republicans’ phrase of the day. “Hunter Biden’s sweetheart plea deal is further proof of the utter politicization of our federal government—especially the Department of ‘Justice,’” Representative Beth Van Duyne tweeted in a post the House Republican conference Twitter account subsequently shared.

Representative James Comer, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, called the charges against Hunter Biden “a slap on the wrist,” adding in a statement that “these charges against Hunter Biden and sweetheart plea deal have no impact on the Oversight Committee’s investigation.” Comer continued: “We will not rest until the full extent of President Biden’s involvement in the family’s schemes are revealed.”

Senator Josh Hawley also tweeted about the “slap on the wrist” plea deal, adding that the Justice Department has “charge[d] Trump as a spy and tries to put him in prison forever.”

Hunter Biden is not the first high-profile person to take a plea deal with federal prosecutors. Trump adviser Roger Stone, for example, settled a civil case on $2 million in unpaid taxes last year without even having to serve probation.

Hunter Biden’s agreement must still be approved by a federal judge.

Missing Titanic Sub Once Faced Massive Lawsuit Over Depths It Could Safely Travel To

Court documents reveal a former OceanGate employee had several safety complaints over the tourist submersible—and then he was fired.

David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

The tourist submersible that went missing while exploring the Titanic wreck was previously the target of safety complaints from an employee of OceanGate, the parent company that owns the sub and runs tourist expeditions of the wreck. That employee complained specifically that the sub was not capable of descending to such extreme depths before he was fired.

That’s according to legal documents obtained by The New Republic. According to the court documents, in a 2018 case, OceanGate employee David Lochridge, a submersible pilot, voiced concerns about the safety of the sub. According to a press release, Lochridge was director of marine operations at the time, “responsible for the safety of all crew and clients.” 

The concerns Lochridge voiced came to light as part of a breach of contract case related to Lochridge refusing to greenlight manned tests of the early models of the submersible over safety concerns. Lochridge was fired, and then OceanGate sued him for disclosing confidential information about the Titan submersible. In response, Lochridge filed a compulsory counterclaim where he alleged wrongful termination over being a whistleblower about the quality and safety of the submersible.

Lochridge, in his counterclaim, alleged that “rather than addressing Lochridge’s concerns, OceanGate instead summarily terminated Lochridge’s employment in efforts to silence Lochridge and to avoid addressing the safety and quality control issues.”

The counterclaim said that:

Given the prevalent flaws in the previously tested 1/3 scale model, and the visible flaws in the carbon end samples for the Titan, Lochridge again stressed the potential danger to passengers of the Titan as the submersible reached extreme depths. The constant pressure cycling weakens existing flaws resulting in large tears of the carbon. Non-destructive testing was critical to detect such potentially existing flaws in order to ensure a solid and safe product for the safety of the passengers and crew.

The counterclaim also details a meeting at OceanGate’s Everett, Washington, facility with engineering staff where “several individuals had expressed concerns over to the Engineering Director.” The OceanGate CEO, Stockton Rush, asked Lochridge to conduct a quality inspection of the Titan. Per the complaint:

Over the course of the next several days, Lochridge worked on his report and requested paperwork from the Engineering Director regarding the viewport design and pressure test results of the viewport for the Titan, along with other key information. Lochridge was met with hostility and denial of access to the necessary documentation that should have been freely available as part of his inspection process.

Lochridge initially verbally expressed concerns about the safety and quality of the Titan submersible to OceanGate executive management, but those concerns were ignored. Lochridge “identified numerous issues that posed serious safety concerns, and offered corrective action and recommendations for each.” Lochridge was particularly concerned about “non-destructive testing performed on the hull of the Titan” but he was “repeatedly told that no scan of the hull or Bond Line could be done to check for delaminations, porosity and voids of sufficient adhesion of the glue being used due to the thickness of the hull.” He was also told there was no such equipment that could conduct a test like that.

After Lochridge issued his inspection report, OceanGate officials convened a meeting on January 19, 2018, with the CEO, human resources director, engineering director, Lochridge, and the operations director. Per the complaint:

At the meeting Lochridge discovered why he had been denied access to the viewport information from the Engineering department—the viewport at the forward of the submersible was only built to a certified pressure of 1,300 meters, although OceanGate intended to take passengers down to depths of 4,000 meters. Lochridge learned that the viewport manufacturer would only certify to a depth of 1,300 meters due to experimental design of the viewport supplied by OceanGate, which was out of the Pressure Vessels for Human Occupancy (“PVHO”) standards. OceanGate refused to pay for the manufacturer to build a viewport that would meet the required depth of 4,000 meters.

The Titanic is estimated to sit on the ocean floor at a depth of nearly 4,000 meters.

Paying passengers wouldn’t know or be informed about Lochridge’s concerns, according to his complaints. They also wouldn’t be informed “that hazardous flammable materials were being used within the submersible.” Lochridge expressed concerns about the Titan again. But OceanGate didn’t address those concerns, and Lochridge was fired.

The case between Lochridge and OceanGate didn’t advance much further, and a few months later the two parties settled.

As of Tuesday, the Coast Guard said that 10,000 square miles have been searched since the Titan submersible went missing Sunday afternoon. Five people are said to be on board, and the submarine had the capability to be underwater for about 96 hours, according to The Guardian

Trump Blames Golf Shirts for Federal Crimes in Bizarre Interview

Donald Trump gave a damning interview to Fox News on why he kept so many classified national security documents.

Donald Trump
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Donald Trump just keeps making his own legal troubles worse.

In a damning interview with Fox News on Monday, the twice-impeached, twice-indicted, and liable for sexual abuse former president pretty much confessed to stealing and hoarding classified documents.

In the interview, Fox host Bret Baier asked Trump directly about several claims in the federal indictment against him.

First, Baier asked Trump why he ignored a May 2022 Justice Department subpoena to hand over any remaining classified documents in his possession. This is a key point in the case against Trump, and Trump’s lawyers had reportedly advised him to hand over all the documents and avoid charges (advice that he ignored).

Trump’s response was to pretty much admit he kept classified documents … but it was only because his golf shirts were in the same boxes.

“Because I had boxes, I want to go through the boxes and get all my personal things out,” Trump said. “I don’t want to hand that over to [the National Archives and Records Administration] yet. And I was very busy, as you’ve sort of seen.”

Baier went on to cite the indictment against Trump, which found that the former president directly interfered to hide the documents from the Justice Department in response to the subpoena.

As the indictment notes, Trump ordered an aide to move the boxes of classified documents to another location and asked his lawyers to tell the Justice Department he had fully complied with the subpoena when he hadn’t. (The indictment even says Trump told his lawyers things like, “Wouldn’t it be better if we just told them we don’t have anything here?”)

Trump didn’t comment on these charges, but instead replied, “Before I send boxes over, I have to take all of my things out. These boxes were interspersed with all sorts of things. Golf shirts, clothing, pants, shoes, there were many things.”

In other words, Trump may have committed a crime, but it was only because he was busy and needed to find his golf shirts and shoes … which he kept in the same boxes as highly classified national secrets, as one does.

Later in the interview, Baier asked Trump about a classified Pentagon document he allegedly kept, which details a potential attack on Iran. The Justice Department has an audio recording of Trump in July 2021—months after he had left the White House—bragging to other people in the room about keeping this national security document, and even admitting it was classified.

“You were recorded saying that you had a document detailing a planned attack on another country that was prepared by the U.S. military for you when you were president,” Baier said. “The Iran attack plan. You remember that? You were recorded—”

“You ready?” Trump responded. “It wasn’t a document. I had lots of paper. I had copies of newspaper articles, I had copies of magazines.”

“I know,” Baier replied. “This is specifically a quote. You’re quoted on the recording saying the document was secret, adding that you could have declassified it while you were president, but ‘Now I can’t, you know this is still secret, highly confidential.’ And the indictment cites the recording and the testimony from the people in the room that you showed it to people there that day. So you say on tape that you can’t declassify it, so why have it?”

“When I said I couldn’t declassify it now, that’s because I wasn’t president,” Trump said at first, again admitting that a document existed. “When I’m not president, I can’t declassify.”

When further pressed by Baier, Trump backtracked, saying no document existed and “I didn’t have a document per se.” Trump, in other words, was saying that he was lying to his guests—one of the rare times he said something that had a ring of truth.

Again, there is an audio recording of Trump bragging about this document, and the indictment cites corroborating testimony of those who were there in the room with him that day.

The second half of the Fox interview is set to be aired Tuesday evening—and Trump’s bumbling, incoherent statements may very well come up at trial, when he faces 37 criminal charges.

Facing Climate Unrest, Biden Makes Low-Key Pitch in California

Much of his speech was spent taking a victory lap for defending climate investments in the IRA from Republicans.

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images
President Joe Biden and Governor Gavin Newsom listen to a speaker before Biden’s speech on his administration’s environmental efforts at the Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center and Preserve in Palo Alto, California, on June 19.

Joe Biden—now campaigning in earnest for president—made a pitch to climate voters on a windy stretch of California wetland on Monday. The headline announcement was a new $600 million effort, to be administered by the Commerce Department, for coastal communities to weather rising sea levels, storm surges, and tidal hurricanes. Another $67 million is being allocated for upgrades to the electrical grid in California, where investor-owned utility PG&E has been found responsible for a number of deadly fires over the last several years.

“Resiliency matters,” Biden said in a short, muted speech at the Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center and Preserve in Palo Alto. “I’ve toured many sites across the country that clearly show climate change is the existential threat to humanity.”

Much of his time at the podium was spent listing off climate-related investments provided for by the Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, taking a victory lap for having defended the former from recent Republican attacks.

“We didn’t just protect some of the climate money and clean energy provisions. We protected every single solitary one,” Biden said.

Climate voters aren’t the only people Biden is trying to win over in the Golden State: Biden seems particularly eager to court Bay Area tech magnates, per reports about his West Coast visit. It’s possible he was reserving his energy this afternoon for the full stack of fundraisers filling out the rest of his schedule there. Later today Biden is scheduled to attend a $6,600-per-head reception at the Atherton home of venture capitalist Steve Westly and his wife, Anita Yu. Biden will also meet LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and Microsoft CTO Kevin Scott, along with prospective donors in climate tech and private equity.

Last week, the president secured early 2024 endorsements from some of the country’s biggest green groups: the League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and NextGen America. Despite the inarguably historic passage of the IRA last year, which marked America’s first major climate-related spending package, he may have to do more to win over climate voters angered by the White House’s support for fossil fuel projects ranging from the Mountain Valley Pipeline—bolstered by the recent debt ceiling deal—to new liquefied natural gas export facilities, drilling in Alaska, and a gas pipeline in Japan.

Recent polling from Data for Progress found that 48 percent of likely voters under 34 are somewhat or much less likely to vote for Biden because of his “approval of new oil and gas drilling projects on public lands, such as the Willow project in Alaska.” Hours before Biden’s speech, protesters attempted to interrupt Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm during an event in Michigan. “No MVP, no LNG, Granholm you are killing me,” activists with the group Climate Defiance chanted before being ejected from the hotel where Granholm was speaking.

Can U.S.-China Relations Be Fixed?

A surprise meeting between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Xi Jinping suggests the two countries are trying to fix a broken relationship.

Photo by LEAH MILLIS/POOL/AFP/Getty Images
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken shakes hands with China’s President Xi.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday, in what many hope is a sign of improving diplomatic relations. But China may be hoping for something more.

China’s economy is struggling after three years of strict Covid-19 restrictions. The past few weeks have been particularly bleak, with investment slowing and exports shrinking. The housing market has taken a hit, and young people are struggling to find jobs, a long-standing and growing problem in the country. Neither China’s rollback of Covid-19 restrictions nor its continued economic stimulus has jump-started its economy.

The meeting between Blinken and Xi could open the door to economic talks between the two countries. Former President Donald Trump imposed steep tariffs on Chinese goods, making it more expensive for U.S. companies to import from China. President Joe Biden not only left those tariffs in place, but he also convinced Congress to provide large subsidies for the U.S.-based production of certain goods, further weakening China’s economy. Other countries also diversified supply chains away from China during the pandemic.

The growing economic and geopolitical rivalry between the U.S. and China led to a nadir of diplomatic relations between the countries. After months of sky-high tensions between Beijing and Washington—over alleged spy balloons, human rights issues, and even TikTok—both sides seem ready to come to the table. China’s main diplomat for the Western hemisphere, Yang Tao, said Blinken’s visit “marks a new beginning.”

But China did not concede to the U.S.’s main point: improved communication between their militaries. The U.S. considers better military-to-military communication key to avoiding international conflict, particularly over Taiwan. Chinese officials, however, said they are not yet ready to resume contact.

Whatever happens next will prove to be a delicate balancing act for the Biden administration. One of Trump’s most-repeated attacks was accusing Biden of being “soft” on China. This has continued to be a major talking point among Republicans and will no doubt figure heavily during the GOP presidential primary. Biden faces a difficult political task in the coming months: Improve relations with Beijing without damaging his reelection chances.

More on U.S. Foreign Policy