Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is one of China’s biggest critics in Congress.
In the last three weeks, he called out China for using U.S. academic visa programs as “a weapon against us,” warned that the Chinese government’s internet propaganda campaigns are “subtle and sophisticated but no less effective,” and warned that Beijing will try to impose a “Macau-style system of government in Hong Kong” in response to ongoing democracy protests.
But when President Donald Trump on Thursday publicly called on China to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential 2020 rival, Rubio said Trump’s words were a ruse.
“I don’t know if that’s a real request or him just needling the press knowing that you guys are going to get outraged by it,” Rubio told reporters at an economic opportunity event in the Florida Keys on Friday. “He’s pretty good at getting everybody fired up and he’s been doing that for a while and the media responded right on task.”
Trump’s comments on China came as he was headed to an event in Florida Thursday amid a burgeoning impeachment inquiry from House Democrats focused on efforts by the president to encourage Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
“China should start an investigation into the Bidens, because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine,” Trump told reporters at the White House. Trump’s investigation request came moments after he was asked about upcoming trade talks with China.
When asked how he squared his stance on Trump requesting Chinese help to investigate a political opponent with his longstanding anti-China work, Rubio reiterated that the request isn’t real in his opinion.
“I don’t think that’s a real request. I think he did it to gig you guys [reporters],” Rubio said. “I think he did it to provoke you to ask me and others and get outraged by it. He plays it like a violin and everybody falls right in, that’s not a real request.”
Rubio’s comments stand in contrast to some other Republicans, notably Utah Sen. Mitt Romney. In a tweet on Friday Romney, who ran for president in 2012, called Trump’s comments wrong and appalling.
”By all appearances, the President’s brazen and unprecedented appeal to China and to Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden is wrong and appalling,” Romney tweeted.
Rubio was also asked whether he supports an impeachment inquiry, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi endorsed last week. He said more information needs to come out before making a decision.
“Here’s a good idea, why don’t we wait for all the information to come forward before people start making decisions or pronouncements in one direction or the other, rather than just reflexively circling the wagons or rushing to judgment,” Rubio said. “How about waiting for everything to come forward, look at it all, and then you make a judgment of what’s in the best interest of the country?”
— Alex Daugherty and Gwen Filosa