The campaign of Dr. Mehmet Oz and a super PAC supporting him are running ads that seek to paint his chief rival in the Pennsylvania Senate Republican primary, Dave McCormick, as a “friend” of China who outsourced Pittsburgh jobs and is out of step with former President Donald Trump. But the ads distort some facts to make that case.
McCormick was, until recently, CEO of Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund. The Wall Street Journal reported in November that the firm had “raised the equivalent of $1.25 billion for its third investment fund in China,” making Bridgewater the largest of “foreign private-fund managers in China.” Although the Wall Street Journal noted that the China portfolio was “a fraction of the roughly $150 billion that Bridgewater manages globally,” the investment has been ripe for political attacks.
“First China sent us COVID. Then, David McCormick’s hedge fund gave Chinese companies billions,” an ad from the Oz campaign states. “We got sick. China got investments. And David McCormick got rich. McCormick: China’s friend, not ours.”
The virus that causes COVID-19 was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan at the end of 2019, and then spread around the world, but the ad may leave the impression that spread of the virus was a purposeful act by China — something Trump has alleged in the past based on faulty evidence. Many questions remain about the origin of the virus. But as we wrote back in June, there is no credible evidence at this time that the pandemic was the result of a lab leak in Wuhan, and most experts dismiss the idea that the virus was bioengineered.
While it hasn’t been proved that the virus resulted from natural spillover from an animal to a human, experts widely view that as the most likely scenario, and two recent unpublished studies further indicate that’s what happened.
Most experts also dismiss as implausible the suggestion that the virus may have been bioengineered by Chinese scientists. The U.S. Intelligence community also concluded, based on information as of August 2021, that the virus was “not developed as a biological weapon” and said it believed Chinese officials “did not have foreknowledge of the virus before the initial outbreak of COVID-19 emerged.”
Nonetheless, about three-quarters of Republicans believe the virus originated in a lab in China, according to an Economist/YouGov poll. In fact, McCormick has also claimed in one of his ads, “We all know China created COVID.”
As we said, it’s true that Bridgewater Associates, at the time McCormick was CEO, raised $1.25 billion for an investment fund in China. But the China investments make up just a fraction of the company’s global portfolio. As for the claim that McCormick is “China’s friend,” McCormick has a lengthy public record on his attitudes toward business relations with China, and it presents a more nuanced picture.
One of the ads from the Oz campaign includes a clip of McCormick telling the Chinese, “China’s success and growth is very much in the interest of the United States. And China’s acted in a very responsible way.”
The comments in the Oz ad came during an address to Hong Kong businessmen in October 2008. McCormick at the time was acting in his role as U.S. Treasury undersecretary for international affairs for President George W. Bush. And the timing was notable: It came in the midst of the Great Recession.
McCormick’s comments, beginning at the 2:48 mark, clearly reference the context of the countries’ responses to the recession. (The portions in bold are included in the Oz campaign ad.)
“Our level of communication with China over the last 12 months, in particular over the last three to six months, I think has been unprecedented, where I believe that China’s policy makers have a clear understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish in terms of stabilizing the situation and protecting our economy,” McCormick said. “And China has its own set of challenges, but is trying to take a series of steps to stabilize and continue to grow its economy. And we have an alignment of interests, where China’s success and growth is very much in the interest of the United States and vice versa. And so I would say in that regard the communication has never been stronger. And China’s acted in a very responsible way throughout the last 12 months and I think that communication will continue.”
Ads from American Leadership Action, the super PAC supporting Oz, quote McCormick as saying China is a U.S. “ally.”
That “ally” quote comes from the same trip in 2008. Reporting from Shanghai on Oct. 22, 2008, the Wall Street Journal wrote, “The U.S. and China have been in active communication during the global financial turmoil and Beijing has been ‘a responsible participant and ally’ in dealing with the crisis, said David McCormick, U.S. Treasury undersecretary for international affairs. Mr. McCormick is visiting China as Washington tries to rally support for its $700 billion bailout of the U.S. financial system. The bailout would likely involve major buyers of U.S. Treasury bills, such as China, buying even more U.S. debt.”
The McCormick campaign says the ads misleadingly present the quotes out of the context.
“During the 2008 financial crisis, Dave said that because both economies had major financial interests in avoiding a global economic collapse, China was behaving like ‘a responsible participant and ally’ in dealing with the financial crisis, not an ally of the United States,” the campaign states.
But McCormick, as Treasury undersecretary for international affairs, has made friendly statements about China before the Great Recession, too.
In a speech at Peking University in Beijing on Sept. 20, 2007, McCormick spoke about “the huge interest each of our countries has in the continued growth and prosperity of the other. When China succeeds, the United States succeeds.”
In an op-ed for Fox Business on Jan. 13, the day he entered the Senate race, McCormick struck a much different tone, saying, “it is past time for America’s leaders to confront head-on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which poses the greatest economic and national security threat to the United States.”
The McCormick campaign points to other statements in the last two years in which McCormick took a much more confrontational stance on China.
For example, in a paper published in the Texas National Security Review in May 2020, McCormick and two other officials at Bridgewater wrote, “The Chinese Communist Party has proclaimed its plans to achieve great-power primacy in the coming decades and has set about contesting American economic, military, structural, and cultural power.”
The three authors took issue with China’s “theft of intellectual property” and “massive state subsidies” to Chinese companies that “offer favorable financing terms to prospective clients, which threatens the long-term security of U.S. data.”
For its part, the McCormick campaign says Oz is being hypocritical on the issue of doing business with China.
“Mehmet Oz … has spent the last 20 years making his fortune from syndicating his show in China, enriching itself through censorship and CCP propaganda,” Jess Szymanski, a McCormick campaign spokesman told CNN, referring to the Chinese Communist Party. “While Mehmet has been silent on China until he needed to knock down Dave’s credentials, Dave was serving our country and standing up to the CCP.”
The Oz campaign did not respond to our requests for comment.
A Politico article on Feb. 3 said Oz “running as a China hawk” is “a bit of a stretch.” The article noted that “The Dr. Oz Show” had “a lucrative sponsorship deal to promote the products of Usana Health Sciences, a company whose largest single market is China” and that Oz “exported his popular show to China.”
Trump Didn’t Fire McCormick
Back in September, Trump endorsed Republican Senate candidate Sean Parnell. But Parnell dropped out of the race in November after losing a custody battle for his three children amid allegations of abuse in a divorce case. Since then, both Oz and McCormick have sought to woo Trump supporters.
One American Leadership Action ad claims “McCormick even criticized Trump’s China policy,” and another says that “McCormick criticized President Trump’s efforts to get tough on China.” Both ads also remarked, “No wonder Trump fired him,” a claim that turns out to be false.
To back up the ad’s claim that McCormick criticized Trump’s China policy, the ads cite a New York Observer story on June 4, 2019, about comments McCormick made at the Bloomberg Invest New York Conference. Referring to the ongoing trade war Trump was waging with China, McCormick “warned that both the U.S. and China have ‘a lot of incentives’ to reach a reasonable trade deal, but the latest developments in the negotiation are pushing things in the wrong direction,” the Observer story stated.
“There’s lots of costs of not finding an agreement, but there’s also a growing risk that both parties have created on both sides, through the way they’ve spoken about this publicly, of getting a bad deal,” McCormick said, according to the Observer. “The question will be how we manage through this last phase.”
The article said: “McCormick argued that the trade talk has ‘gone from a market-access discussion [about tariffs] to the weaponization of exports,’ pointing to Washington’s recent export ban on Chinese tech giant Huawei and China threatening to cut off rare earths exports to the U.S. as an act of retaliation.”
The McCormick campaign notes that in the same Bloomberg Invest conference speech, McCormick “argued that the Trump administration is right to drive a hard bargain over the issue of intellectual property theft, with China and the rest of the world,” according to a MarketWatch story.
In the Texas National Security Review article from 2020 that we referenced earlier, McCormick and the other two authors repeatedly praised Trump’s China policy.
“The Trump administration’s recognition that America is engaged in great-power competition and that China is its primary strategic competitor is a critical step in the right direction, as was the administration’s acknowledgment that ‘promoting American prosperity makes America more secure and advances American inﬂuence in the world,'” McCormick and his coauthors wrote.
As for the false claim that Trump fired McCormick, the ads cite a Fox News story in November 2020 that said McCormick was among 11 advisers removed from the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board during Trump’s lame duck period. The Fox News article cites a Foreign Policy report for breaking the news about the shake-up.
However, a follow-up Foreign Policy article noted, “One update from last week: Former Treasury official David McCormick, once a contender for Pentagon chief, will stay on the board.”
A letter obtained by Politico from the McCormick campaign called on TV stations to remove the ad, and provided a government document that indicated McCormick remained on the board until February 2021, after Trump left office.
Politico noted that American Leadership Action has since revised the ad, taking out the claim that Trump fired McCormick and saying only that McCormick “criticized President Trump’s China policy — that’s not putting America first.”
According to an ad from the Oz campaign, “Greedy businessman McCormick cut Pittsburgh jobs and bragged about outsourcing.” An ad from American Leadership Action similarly claimed that McCormick “cut Pittsburgh jobs only to create new jobs overseas,” and another ad claimed, “As a CEO, he was more like the chief executive outsourcer.”
The lead of a Feb. 12, 2003, story in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review states: “FreeMarkets Inc., which last month laid off 50 people from its Pittsburgh headquarters, will open an online auction monitoring center in India employing more than 100 people, its new chief executive said Tuesday.” McCormick, who was CEO of the company at the time, is quoted in the story as saying that the company would spend $4.2 million over the ensuing two years to open the center. The center expanded on FreeMarkets’ footprint in India. The company first established its operations in India with an office in New Delhi in 2000, before McCormick was CEO, according to PR Newswire reports from February 2000 that we accessed via Lexis Nexis.
But the McCormick campaign says that despite the timing, the two deals were unrelated, and it was not a matter of outsourcing jobs from Pittsburgh to India, as the ads from the Oz camp say.
Karen Kovatch, the corporate communications director at FreeMarkets Inc., at the time, told the New York Post the jobs lost in Pittsburgh were not outsourced to India.
“Eighteen years ago, in 2003, FreeMarkets Inc realigned its operations to focus on customer-facing activities that would position the company more strongly for growth,” Kovatch said. “As part of this, some administrative and managerial roles were unfortunately eliminated and the affected employees laid off. We later announced plans to establish a Market Operations Center in India to support online auctions for our customers on a 24/7 basis. The two moves were totally unrelated, and the opening of the India office resulted in no layoffs of American workers.”
The McCormick campaign says the India office was created prior to McCormick becoming CEO and was independently run by Amit Bhatia in India.
The campaign provided a quote from Bhatia stating, “I was hired in 1999 by Glen Meakem to build a new organization in India long before David became CEO. It was 100% new and completely independent of any of our other FreeMarkets locations. Our India office supported marquee India clients such as Tata Motors, Reliance, Dabur and Indo Rama alongside our global clients such as Carrier and Smithkline Beecham enabling global — 24 hour a day/365 days a year — support. Any support provided by the India office had zero impact on Pittsburgh jobs or operations. Any suggestion that jobs were moved from Pittsburgh to India is patently false and nothing more than an attempt to rewrite the history of success at FreeMarkets.”
According to the McCormick campaign, “In 2003, FreeMarkets cut 7 percent of its global workforce but none of those resulting layoffs in Pittsburgh were ever outsourced anywhere else.”
The latest ad from the Oz campaign claims McCormick “paid for attacks on Donald Trump.” The ad cites “FEC Records” as its source, but the Oz campaign did not respond to our inquiry seeking more specifics.
Federal Election Commission records show that in June 2015, McCormick contributed $2,700 to Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign. The Associated Press noted that McCormick also held a fundraiser for Jeb Bush that year. As we noted earlier, McCormick served in the administration of President George W. Bush, Jeb’s brother.
The McCormick campaign says McCormick ultimately supported Trump in 2016 and 2020 and notes that McCormick went on to serve in the Trump administration as a member of the Defense Policy Board. And, the campaign says, McCormick has never directly attacked Trump.
Bush and Trump were fierce competitors in the Republican primary and attacked each other regularly. But if contributions to a Republican primary opponent of Trump’s back in 2015 is the sum of the evidence for Oz’s claim that McCormick “paid for attacks on Donald Trump,” that’s a thin case.
Oz and McCormick, and groups supporting them, have been trading attack ads on the Pennsylvania airwaves for weeks. (See our analysis of some of the attack ad claims being levied by a super PAC supporting McCormick against Oz here.)
Although ads supporting Oz and McCormick have dominated the TV airwaves, they are just two candidates in a very crowded Republican primary field. Other candidates include: Carla Sands, Trump’s ambassador to Denmark; conservative commentator Kathy Barnette; and real estate investor Jeff Bartos. They are seeking to fill the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Pat Toomey.
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