President Donald Trump has made no secret of his admiration for strongmen leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte.
And, according to a tape of closed door remarks Trump made at his Mar-a-Lago estate obtained by CNN, he supports President Xi Xinping of China’s move to extend his power indefinitely.
President Donald Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping (R) attend a state dinner at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on November 9, 2017. Thomas Peter/AFP/Getty Images
“He’s now president for life,” Trump told Republican donors, after the Chinese Communist party last week moved to alter the constitution to allow Xi to remain in power beyond the two-term limit.
“President for life. And he’s great. And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll give that a shot some day.”
It is not clear if Trump, 71, was making the comment about extending presidential service in jest. The White House did not respond to a request for comment late Saturday.
In the speech Trump delivered during a lunchtime fundraiser at his Palm Springs estate, he went on to denounce the U.S. political system as “rigged.”
“I’m telling you, it’s a rigged system folks. I’ve been saying that for a long time. It’s a rigged system. And we don’t have the right people in there yet. We have a lot of great people, but certain things, we don’t have the right people.“
U.S. Representative Ro Khanna, a Democrat, said on Twitter of Trump’s remarks on China’s president that “whether this was a joke or not, talking about being President for life like Xi Jinping is the most un-American sentiment expressed by an American President. George Washington would roll over in his grave.”
Former White House Ethics chief Richard D. Painter also criticized the president’s remarks.
“Either he’s losing it, or we’re losing it if we let him stay on after this. How many hints do we need that he wants to be a dictator?”
Norman Eisen, ethics chief under the Obama administration, tweeted: “Trump’s secret reaction to the Chinese communist dictator changing the rules to serve for life:“Maybe we’ll try that here someday.“ You mean, suspend the constitution and make you a permanent tyrant? I don’t think so.”
U.S. presidents by tradition served a maximum of two four-year terms until President Franklin Roosevelt was elected a record four times starting in 1932. An amendment to the U.S. Constitution approved in 1951 limits presidents to two terms in office.
In order to change the current prohibition, it would require initial support of two-thirds of both houses of Congress or support of two-thirds of state legislatures – and then would need to be ratified by three-quarters of the states.
China’s annual parliament gathering kicks off on Monday as Xi presses ahead with efforts to ward off financial risks without undermining the economy. The Communist party announced Feb. 25 the end of the two-term limit for the president—and parliament is expected to ratify the move.
The two-term limit was introduced by former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1982, and was designed a repeat of dictatorships such as that of Mao Zedong, who ruled China for decades.
During the remarks, Trump praised Xi as“a great gentleman” and added:“He’s the most powerful (Chinese) president in a hundred years.” Trump said Xi had treated him“tremendously well” during his visit in November.
Trump has often praised Xi, but in January Trump told Reuters the United States was considering a big“fine” as part of a probe into China’s alleged theft of intellectual property. He has been critical of China’s trade policies.
Trump told The New York Times in December that following the growing threat from North Korea, he had“been soft on China because the only thing more important to me than trade is war.”