A voicemail message being left at the homes of voters in Pennsylvania and elsewhere by the Republican National Committee makes a number of misleading claims about presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his son Hunter and Trump’s handling of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
The phone message, which repeatedly refers to President Donald Trump’s rival as “Beijing Biden,” says: “Beijing Biden’s son Hunter penned a $1.5 billion deal with a Chinese investment fund to make $80,000 per month from China in the months leading up to the coronavirus outbreak.”
That’s wrong in some respects and misleading in others. As we and others have written, Hunter Biden was involved in the formation of a private equity fund with Chinese firms. But that deal, as the Wall Street Journal reported at the time, occurred in 2014 – long before the current pandemic. The call also leaves the misleading impression that Hunter Biden may have earned $1.5 billion as part of that deal, but the dollar amount is a reference to the new fund’s $1.5 billion investment goal for 2014.
There is no support for the call’s claim that Hunter Biden made “$80,000 per month from China in the months leading up to the coronavirus outbreak.”
The message ends with the assertion that Trump’s “first priority is the health and safety of the American people, not his family’s pocketbook.”
We asked an RNC spokesman for information supporting its claims about Hunter Biden but never heard back from him.
The Trump campaign and its allies have long criticized the Bidens over Hunter’s business dealings in China and Ukraine while his father was vice president. But, in both cases, there’s no evidence that either Biden did anything illegal or that the former vice president used his office to enrich his son, as we have written.
George Mesires, Hunter Biden’s attorney, said of the RNC call: “This is false. Hunter Biden resigned from the BHR board of directors in October 2019, and the board position was unpaid. Hunter has not received any compensation for being on BHR’s board of directors nor has he received any return on his investment, which was a commitment to contribute approximately $420,000, not $1.5 billion.”
The RNC message, which presents itself as an “important update on President Trump’s response to COVID-19 and how it saved Americans’ lives,” repeats other unsupported claims that Trump has frequently made before.
The message asserts that the China travel restrictions the Trump administration implemented on Feb. 2 “saved millions of lives.” When we looked into this previously, we found no support for such figures, and the White House didn’t provide any.
The few studies that have been done estimate travel restrictions the United States and other countries imposed on China had modest impacts, slowing the initial spread outside of China but not containing the coronavirus pandemic. Past studies also have found travel restrictions could delay the path of the spread of diseases but do little to contain them.
As we’ve written, it’s possible the U.S. travel restrictions on China had some impact in slowing the importation of cases, but we don’t have evidence of that, or of how large the impact might be.
After the mention of the travel restrictions, the message says, “Beijing Biden accused President Trump of hysteria, xenophobia and fearmongering before finally agreeing with President Trump’s decision in April.” It’s true that Biden said that about Trump and that he endorsed the travel restrictions in April. But it is misleading to connect the two.
As we have reported, on Jan. 31, the day the travel restrictions were announced, Biden, while campaigning in Iowa, said that as the pandemic unfolds, Americans “need to have a president who they can trust what he says about it, that he is going to act rationally about it.” He added, “This is no time for Donald Trump’s record of hysteria and xenophobia – hysterical xenophobia – and fearmongering to lead the way instead of science.”
In his remarks that day, Biden didn’t mention the travel restrictions — which prohibited non-U.S. citizens who have traveled to China within the previous two weeks from entering the U.S., with exceptions for legal permanent residents and immediate family members — so it’s unclear what he meant when he criticized Trump’s “hysterical xenophobia.” The Biden campaign told us the candidate wasn’t referring to the travel rules, but rather to what it called Trump’s “long record of scapegoating others at a time when the virus was emerging from China.”
On April 3, the Biden campaign said its candidate backed the travel restrictions.
The references to “Beijing Biden” reflect the Trump campaign’s efforts, through a number of advertisements, to portray the former vice president as unduly close to China. We reported previously on some misleading aspects of one of the ads. And while it is true that Biden has said quite positive things about China and its people, so, too, has Trump. For example, on Jan. 22 the president tweeted, “One of the many great things about our just signed giant Trade Deal with China is that it will bring both the USA & China closer together in so many other ways. Terrific working with President Xi, a man who truly loves his country.”
In recent weeks, however, Trump has been critical of China for failing to do more to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. For example, at a coronavirus task force briefing May 11, Trump said, “I’m not happy with China. They should’ve stopped this at the source.”
Michael Joyce, a spokesman for the RNC, said the organization leaves a message when it calls voters and no one answers. He said the message varies in different parts of the country. He couldn’t say precisely where this one was being used, but said it was likely being used in states that, such as Pennsylvania, haven’t had their primaries yet. Pennsylvania, where we know this message was left, has its primaries on June 2.
To sum up: It’s perfectly fair for the RNC to criticize Biden’s policies on China. But to suggest, without evidence, that those policies were influenced by his “family’s pocketbook” is off base.
Editor’s Note: Swing State Watch is an occasional series about false and misleading political messages in key states that will help decide the 2020 presidential election.
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