WASHINGTON (AP) — Shortly before Chinese President Xi Jinping's arrival in the United States Thursday, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz tried to get the Senate to back renaming a Washington street after a Chinese dissident.
The Texas lawmaker went to the Senate floor with little notice and attempted to pass a nonbinding resolution to name the street in front of the Chinese embassy in Washington "Liu Xiaobo Plaza." Liu Xiaobo is a Chinese activist imprisoned on charges of inciting state subversion.
His attempt was thwarted by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who objected to the move and said it had political implications because of the timing. She said Cruz had sent out notice that he was bringing the resolution to the floor less than an hour before he tried to pass it.
Feinstein said Obama would have a chance to talk to the Chinese president about human rights issues.
"Maybe people don't believe that diplomacy makes a difference, but I do," she said.
Cruz, like most of his Republican rivals, has been critical of China's role in the world, including allegations that the country manipulates its currency, is behind cyberattacks on U.S. installations and recent activity in the South China Sea.
On the Senate floor, Cruz asked if the United States should be silent, or "will we put President Xi on notice that for America, human rights are no longer off the table?" He said the effort was similar to a 1980s move to name a street outside the Russian embassy after a Soviet dissident.
He acknowledged that he had brought the resolution to the floor quickly, but said that was in part due to the imminent arrival of the Chinese president.
While in prison, Liu was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize for his calls for political reforms. The Nobel committee held Liu's award ceremony in Oslo, Norway, with an empty chair on stage to mark his absence. Beijing condemned the award and put his wife, Liu Xia, under house arrest.
After Feinstein's objection, Cruz said he prays that Liu Xiaobo, in his prison cell, "does not hear word that Democratic senators are unwilling to stand with him."
Other Republican presidential candidates have called on Obama to downgrade Xi's state visit to a more low-key bilateral meeting. Carly Fiorina has said she would cancel the state dinner.
The White House has dismissed the GOP calls.
Follow Mary Clare Jalonick on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MCJalonick