Sen. Marco Rubio, an outspoken critic of China, says Trump’s call for it investigate Joe Biden was not a ‘real request’

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  • Republican lawmakers appear to be divided over President Donald Trump’s controversial remarks in which he suggested China and Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, for unsubstantiated claims of corruption.
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  • Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a fierce critic of China’s human rights violations and trade policies, brushed off Trump’s remarks and instead claimed the news media was misinterpreting the president.
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  • “I don’t think it’s a real request,” Rubio said. “Again, 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.”
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  • Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, an outspoken critic of the Trump presidency, thought differently and broke ranks with his colleague.
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  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Republican lawmakers appear to be divided over President Donald Trump’s controversial remarks in which he suggested China and Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, for unsubstantiated claims of corruption.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a fierce critic of China’s human rights violations and trade policies, brushed off Trump’s remarks and instead claimed the news media was misinterpreting the president.

Speaking to reporters in Florida on Friday, Rubio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Trump was “just needling the press, knowing that you guys are going to get outraged by it.

“He’s pretty good at getting everybody fired up,” Rubio said, adding that “the media responded right on task.”

“I don’t think it’s a real request,” Rubio said. “Again, 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.”

Read more: The White House is reportedly considering limits to US investment in China, including delisting Chinese firms from major exchanges

Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, an outspoken critic of the Trump presidency, thought differently.

“Hold up: Americans don’t look to Chinese commies for the truth,” Sasse said, referring to a derogatory term for communists, in a statement to The Omaha World-Herald. “If the Biden kid broke laws by selling his name to Beijing, that’s a matter for American courts, not communist tyrants running torture camps.”

The debate follows Trump’s comments at the South Lawn of the White House on Thursday, amid ramped calls for impeachment. Democratic lawmakers have pointed to mounting evidence, including the bombshell whistleblower complaint, and alleged the president pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rivals in exchange for releasing roughly $400 million of military aid.

“China should start an investigation into the Bidens, because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine,” Trump said to reporters Thursday.

“So I would say that President Zelensky, if it were me, I would recommend that they start an investigation into the Bidens,” Trump added, referring to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Trump also reportedly brought up Biden’s political aspirations during a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping in June, and told his Chinese counterpart that he would not speak out about the ongoing Hong Kong protests during US-China trade talks.

The White House did not deny Trump mentioned Biden during his talks with President Xi and undercut the suggestion it was controversial.

“World leaders need to be able to speak freely in their conversations with the President – that is a key component to effective diplomacy,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said to CNN. “We are not going to start discussing the contents of every conversation President Trump has with world leaders, other than to say his conversations are always appropriate.”

Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu of California – a member of the House Foreign Relations and Judiciary committees, and a colonel in the US Air Force Reserves – said Trump’s remarks were an unequivocal ask for China to investigate Biden, who is currently one of the Democratic frontrunners 2020 US presidential election.

“The president might want to watch the video of his remarks yesterday on the South Lawn,” Lieu said to CNN on Friday morning. “I served in active duty in the military because I believe America is an exceptional country, and one of the things that makes us great is our shared understanding that we are all Americans.”

“The American president should never, ever solicit a foreign government to target a political rival,” Lieu added. “That is un-American, it’s wrong, and it’s abuse of power.”