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6.11.20

Tillis Admits “Tough On China” Talk Has “Political Dimensions,” After Following McConnell’s Playbook

A new report from the News and Observer yesterday outlined the ways that Thom Tillis’ new “tough on China” plan is an election-year political strategy. The fact is, Tillis didn’t hold China accountable for how they were handling the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s not the first time he has been weak on China.

Tillis failed to stand up against the Trump administration as it applauded China’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and shipped 18 tons of PPE and other medical equipment to China instead of stockpiling in the U.S. Instead, he followed Mitch McConnell’s political playbook with “tough on China” talk. And his campaign is even selling a “China Lied” bumper sticker as part of this messaging strategy:

A 57-page memo written by a GOP strategist and distributed to Senate campaigns by the National Republican Senatorial Committee this spring advised candidates to attack China over the coronavirus, including accusing the Chinese of covering it up and pushing for sanctions, Politico reported.

The memo lays out talking points for blaming China and the World Health Organization and for positioning Democrats as soft on China.

“It also encouraged candidates not to defend the president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, except his travel ban on China. Early in the year, before the pandemic took hold, Trump claimed the U.S. would soon have zero cases and that it would go away.

Now, Tillis has fessed up to the strategy, saying “there is a political dimension to it.” 

As Cal Cunningham put it, “This is once again Thom Tillis trying to have it both ways and save the campaign. Mitch McConnell told him to put this plan out and that’s exactly what he’s doing.” 

A look further back at Tillis’ record on China tells more of the story. Tillis praised the administration’s approach to China when its Phase One Trade Deal benefited Chinese state-owned companies and didn’t do enough for American workers. 

Cal has been clear about the need to hold China accountable: “Tillis has been weak on China since he got to Washington… Make no mistake, China needs to be held accountable for both failing to contain this virus and for lying to the world about it. I’m going to do just that.”

It is clear there aren’t enough of Tillis’ “China lied” bumper stickers to paper over his checkered past on China. Read more below. 


News & Observer: Tillis pushes plan to punish China for COVID-19. Cunningham calls him ‘weak’ on China

By Brian Murphy – June 9, 2020

  • President Donald Trump, after early praise for China’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, blamed the “malfeasance” of the government of the world’s most populous nation for the worldwide deaths and economic hardship from the deadly virus.
  • North Carolina Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis has backed that view, releasing his own 18-point plan in May “to hold China accountable” for what he says is its role in the coronavirus pandemic and thrusting the issue to the fore in his Senate re-election campaign against Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham.
  • Cunningham, in one of the sharpest attacks of the campaign thus far, called Tillis’ plan “election-year chest-thumping” and dismissed some points as “bumper stickers.” The Tillis campaign is selling “China Lied” bumper stickers.
  • “This is once again Thom Tillis trying to have it both ways and save the campaign. Mitch McConnell told him to put this plan out and that’s exactly what he’s doing,” Cunningham said in a phone interview with McClatchy.
  • “My question is, When is Thom Tillis going to follow the advice not to defend Donald Trump? That was in the memo, too.”
  • Trump, at various times, has praised and now criticizes China’s response to the virus. He said the U.S. is cutting ties and no longer funding the World Health Organization over its COVID-19 response.
  • Recent polls show Tillis and Cunningham in a statistical tie. The race, considered a toss-up, could determine which party controls the Senate chamber in January. Libertarian Party nominee Shannon Bray and Constitution Party nominee Kevin E. Hayes also will be on the November ballot in the Senate race.
  • A 57-page memo written by a GOP strategist and distributed to Senate campaigns by the National Republican Senatorial Committee this spring advised candidates to attack China over the coronavirus, including accusing the Chinese of covering it up and pushing for sanctions, Politico reported.
  • The memo lays out talking points for blaming China and the World Health Organization and for positioning Democrats as soft on China.
  • It also encouraged candidates not to defend the president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, except his travel ban on China. Early in the year, before the pandemic took hold, Trump claimed the U.S. would soon have zero cases and that it would go away.
  • Cunningham has been critical of the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus, saying the lack of urgency and clear direction led private and religious organizations to donate supplies to China that were needed in the U.S.
  • While also wanting to look into the Trump administration’s response, Cunningham said the U.S. needs to investigate what China knew and when, consider sanctions, and look at supply chain issues and China’s expansionist military threat — many of the same things included in Tillis’ plan.
  • But Cunningham said he is better positioned to do it.
  • “Tillis has been weak on China since he got to Washington,” Cunningham said. “Make no mistake, China needs to be held accountable for both failing to contain this virus and for lying to the world about it. I’m going to do just that.”
  • The Cunningham campaign has consistently labeled Tillis as “weak” on a series of issues, most notably for not standing up to Trump.
  • He said trade, where Tillis has backed Trump’s approach to China, is one example of the senator’s anti-China rhetoric not matching his record.
  • Cunningham said one of the key underlying trade problems is China’s subsidizing of its industries and state-owned businesses — an issue, he said, that was not addressed in trade negotiations.
  • In 2017, the U.S banned ZTE, a Chinese telecommunications company, from purchasing U.S. equipment as punishment for violating sanctions on Iran and North Korea. ZTE responded by loading up on lobbyists, according to financial disclosures and The New York Times. The ban was lifted by the Commerce Department at Trump’s request in 2018. The company agreed to a huge fine, among other penalties.
  • The company engaged in a huge lobbying effort of U.S. lawmakers in 2018 largely through the firm Hogan Lovells. Hogan Lovells PAC donated to Tillis in 2017 ($2,000) and 2019 ($2,500), according to FEC reports. One of the company’s lobbyists donated $1,000 to Tillis.
  • “A very transparent election-year effort,” Cunningham said of Tillis’ focus on China.