WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Tuesday held a Rose Garden event under the guise of punishing China over its crackdown on Hong Kong, delivering a lengthy diatribe against Democratic rival Joe Biden in a display that resembled a campaign speech at the White House.
The president began his rambling 54-minute opening statement by announcing that he had signed congressional legislation that authorizes his administration to enact sanctions on banks that do business with Chinese officials and an executive order to revoke Hong Kong’s special economic trading status. But he glossed over the specifics and said nothing about the pro-democracy protests on the island as he pivoted swiftly to his attacks on Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
Trump lambasted Biden’s record on Beijing, casting the former vice president and longtime senator from Delaware as soft on China during its rise to become the second-largest economy in the world. He faulted Biden for initially opposing his administration’s decision to shut down some flights from China over the coronavirus, and he inaccurately stated that Biden “sided with China” on its handling of the pandemic – even though Biden had sounded alarms months ago as Trump was still praising Chinese President Xi Jinping.
And he suggested that Biden has been critical of the United States while rooting for China’s economic success, citing a July 4 video message during which Biden had stated that U.S. history was “no fairy tale.”
“Joe Biden’s entire career has been a gift to the Chinese Communist Party,” Trump said.
“He said the idea that China is our competitor is really bizarre. He’s really bizarre,” the president said. “Nobody’s ripped us off more than China the last 25-30 years – nobody close – and he says China’s not a problem? He wants to take it all back now. He wants to be Mr. Tough Guy.”
Trump didn’t stop there, adding an attack on Biden’s son, Hunter, recycling a false portrayal of a business arrangement he had pursued with a private equity firm years ago while his father was serving as vice president. It was the latest in a long effort by Trump to hurl misleading or unfounded accusations at the Bidens – including the attempts to pressure Ukraine that led to his House impeachment in December.
“Where’s Hunter?” Trump said, repeating a question he asked at a news conference last fall that became a popular meme among his conservative supporters. “He’s unemployed, he didn’t have a job, and all of a sudden he’s making a fortune?”
White House aides had announced the Rose Garden event, which was not initially on Trump’s public schedule, as a news conference, and the president fielded a handful of questions from reporters. But his real motive appeared to be his attacks on Joe Biden – a stunning display of partisanship in an exquisitely manicured setting that presidents have traditionally considered off-limits for direct and extended political attacks.
In addition to the Bidens, Trump insulted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., calling her “not talented,” and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., mocking him for having a “good base” of liberal supporters but failing to win the presidency in two campaigns.
The Biden campaign struck back by blasting an email “fact check” to reporters while the president was still talking, accusing Trump of failing to “get tough on China’s government when it mattered most” during the early outbreak of the coronavirus, which originated in the city of Wuhan, at a time when he was pursuing a trade deal with Beijing. The pandemic has killed more than 133,000 Americans and put millions out of work.
“Donald Trump is busy trying to rewrite his miserable history as president of caving to President Xi and the Chinese government at every turn,” the Biden campaign wrote in the email, “but try as he may, Trump can’t hide from a record of weakness and bad deals that consistently put China first and America last.”
Trump’s job-approval ratings have tumbled in recent weeks amid his handling of the pandemic and his response to the racial justice protests that have roiled American cities. Having once hoped to center his reelection campaign around a strong economy, the president has flailed to find a new message while Biden has surged to a significant lead in national polling and a narrower lead in key battleground states.
The two have sparred over China, and some Trump advisers have urged the president to pivot from his attacks on liberal protesters for desecrating statutes of U.S. historical figures, including Confederate leaders, to go after Biden’s record on China instead.
Trump dumped almost an hour’s worth of opposition research against his Democratic rival with less than four months before an election, hitting him over immigration, energy policy and the environment.
“There’s probably never been a time when candidates are so different,” Trump said. “We want law and order. They don’t want law and order.”
The president said he had asked some of his “people” for a list of Biden’s platform before proceeding to read out several liberal policy proposals.
The list mirrored a lengthy Twitter thread posted last week by Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., in which he described the “Biden-Sanders” agenda as “insane.”
Much of Trump’s summary of Biden’s policy proposals was false or misleading. For example, the former vice president has not proposed “government health care for all illegal aliens” as the president claimed.
“Joe Biden is pushing a platform that would demolish the U.S. economy,” Trump said.