WASHINGTON – John Bolton's claim in an explosive new book that President Donald Trump urged China's Xi Jinping to help him win reelection could undermine his campaign's effort to portray Democratic rival Joe Biden as soft on Beijing.
Biden's top aides moved quickly on Thursday to argue that it's Trump who has taken a weak approach to the rising superpower. They seized on accusations from Bolton, Trump's former national security adviser, that the president continually kowtowed to Xi and ignored human rights abuses while trying to get his foreign counterpart’s assistance with domestic politics.
“The Bolton allegations are just the most noxious and hateful cherry on top of a sundae that already existed here," Ron Klain, a longtime Biden adviser, said in an interview. "We have seen for three years that Donald Trump has curried favor with authoritarian regimes that are willing to help him personally and politically.”
China already loomed large in the contest as Trump and Biden have traded accusations over corruption, geopolitical pandering and the president’s shifts in tone toward the country during the coronavirus pandemic, which ignited in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. But Bolton's accusations intensified the debate with less than five months remaining until the election.
Biden's team hopes the book will help reinforce their argument that the administration was slow to react to the pandemic, in part because of the tone set by Trump.
Klain, who served as President Barack Obama's Ebola coordinator and Biden's chief of staff when he was vice president, said he began briefing Biden on the situation in China as early as Jan. 10. Biden wrote an op-ed warning about the virus on Jan. 27 and began speaking about the issue on the campaign trail around that time.
Trump, meanwhile, told CNBC on Jan. 22 that the virus was “totally under control” and that he trusted Xi to handle the outbreak.
Trump’s team insists the president has taken a strong stance against Beijing.