During the Sunday talk shows, two prominent Republican lawmakers circled around an emerging talking point about President Donald Trump’s public request that China investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter: The president was just joking around.
Last week, amid an impeachment inquiry into the Ukraine scandal in which the president allegedly held up military aid to pressure the country to investigate his political rivals, the president stood on the White House lawn and said: “China should start an investigation into the Bidens, because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine.”
The remarks caused widespread outrage, with even some moderate Republicans such as Sens. Susan Collins and Mitt Romney saying it was a “big mistake” for Trump to publicly urge an authoritarian regime to open a probe into his political opponents. Trump, meanwhile, revealed during private remarks that he raised the Hunter Biden issue with an intermediary to China.
Even though Trump has privately pushed China to look into a 2020 presidential hopeful and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and other allies have been using China to slime Biden for a while now, some GOP lawmakers have attempted to claim that Trump isn't serious about wanting China to look into the former vice president.
Asked by a reporter on Friday—who also noted that he was one of the loudest critics of China and its human rights abuse—if he thought it was OK for the president to publicly ask China to probe the Bidens, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said he didn’t think it was a “real request.”
“I think he did it to gig you guys. I think he did to provoke you to ask me and others, and get outraged by it,” the Florida senator added. “Like I said, he plays it like a violin and everybody falls right into it. It’s not a real request.”
During an appearance on ABC’s This Week on Sunday, meanwhile, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH)—one of the president’s most vocal supporters in Congress—embraced Rubio’s defense of Trump’s China remarks.
Repeatedly refusing to answer host George Stephanopoulos’ question as to whether he believes it’s appropriate for the president to publicly call for the Chinese to look into the Bidens, Jordan laughed and asked the host: “George, you really think he was serious about thinking that China’s going to investigate the Biden family?”
Jordan also claimed that Rubio had it “exactly right” when the Florida lawmaker said Trump’s “getting the press all spun up about this.” After Stephanopoulos questioned him on whether we’re supposed to take Trump at his word, Jordan replied that the press still hasn't “figured out” how the president speaks.
Over on CBS News’ Face the Nation, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) took the same tack, latching onto Rubio’s excuse. Asked by anchor Margaret Brennan if he was “comfortable” with the president calling for foreign governments to investigate his political opponents, Blunt brushed off the China request.
“Well, I doubt if the China comment was serious, to tell you the truth,” Blunt replied.
Brennan then wondered why the Missouri lawmaker wasn’t taking the president at his word on this, prompting Blunt to say Trump just “loves to bait the press” and does it every day to see what the media will “talk about.”
“So you don’t believe the president,” the CBS host noted. “Is that appropriate to ask for a foreign government to interfere?”
“I don’t imagine that’s what he’s doing,” Blunt responded.
While these Republicans are running interference for the president and rallying around a defense that revolves around not taking the president seriously or literally, Trump has spent the past two days unleashing on Romney for condemning his actions and remarks on China, calling the 2012 Republican presidential nominee a “pompous ass.”