U.S. Senate Sets Up Expedited Vote on Hong Kong Democracy Bill

Daniel Flatley

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Senate is preparing for quick passage of legislation to show support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong by placing the city’s special trading status with the U.S. under annual review.

The Senate is set to bring the bill to the floor under an expedited process that would allow for quick passage unless there is an objection, according to Republican Senator Marco Rubio, the lead sponsor. The bill could pass as early as next week, according to a Senate aide.

“The world witnesses the people of Hong Kong standing up every day to defend their long-cherished freedoms against an increasingly aggressive Beijing and Hong Kong government,” Rubio said in a statement. “Now more than ever, the United States must send a clear message to Beijing that the free world stands with Hong Kongers in their struggle.”

Clashes between police and protesters in Hong Kong have grown increasingly violent and widespread since they began five months ago. The financial hub has been paralyzed since Monday morning, when a demonstrator was shot during protests.

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act would require the State Department to certify at least once a year whether Hong Kong should keep its special status under U.S. law. This legislation is slightly different from the version passed by the House of Representatives, which means the two bills would have to be reconciled and passed by both chambers before going to President Donald Trump.

The White House declined to comment Thursday when asked whether Trump would sign it into law.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Thursday warned of retaliation if the measure passes Congress.

Rubio and Democratic co-sponsor Senator Ben Cardin have garnered broad bipartisan support for their bill, including from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch, who has pressed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for a swift vote.

“The world needs to see that the United States will stand up and tell the Chinese Communist Party that what they are doing to the people of Hong Kong is wrong,” Risch said in a statement. “The U.S. stands with the people of Hong Kong, and I look forward to continuing to work with Senate leadership and my colleagues across the aisle to move this bill swiftly.”

Rubio and McConnell met late Wednesday to hash out a way forward for the legislation, which would also levy sanctions on people the president finds responsible for human rights violations.

(Updates with bill timing in the second paragraph.)

--With assistance from Justin Sink.

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Flatley in Washington at dflatley1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net, Anna Edgerton

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