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U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace is lone Southern Republican to support Steve Bannon contempt vote

South Carolina lawmaker was one of just nine Republicans to support criminal referral for former Donald Trump aide

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

South CarolinaWASHINGTON (CFP) — South Carolina U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace was the lone Southern Republican to vote to hold former Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with the panel investigating the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace, R-South Carolina

The House voted 229 to 220 on October 21 to hold Bannon in contempt for refusing to comply with the committee’s subpoenas for documents and a deposition. Mace was one of just nine Republicans to support the contempt citation, which Republican leaders had lobbied their caucus to oppose.

Mace, a first-term lawmaker already facing three 2022 primary challengers in her Lowcountry district, cast her politically risky vote as a defense of the Constitution and warned Republicans that they are better off leaving the subpoena power intact in case they take the House majority next year.

“We will want this same tool in our toolbox to release the spigot, investigating the crises facing our nation: the southern border, the botched exit from Afghanistan, and Antifa, for starters,” she said in a statement after her vote. “We will need the same subpoena power upheld today.”

But Mace also took a swipe at the work of the January 6th committee, which she voted against when it was created by the House in June.

“I want us to imagine the positive impact on our country if Congress invested the same amount of time, energy and effort into investigating violent acts and domestic terrorism within groups such as Antifa or Black Lives Matter,” she said. “We’d all be better and safer for it.”

Bannon has based his refusal to cooperate with the committee on a claim of executive privilege, which has been asserted by Trump. But Mace said Bannon needed to appear before the committee and make that claim himself, rather than ignoring the subpoena.

“Executive privilege protects the advice given to the President. That protection can be invoked when called before Congress,” she said. “When Congress issues a subpoena, that individual must appear before Congress and invoke that privilege.”

Mace was sharply critical of Trump after the January 6th attack, but she did not vote in favor of his impeachment. Her vote to hold Bannon in contempt is likely to fuel complaints from Trump supporters in her district that she is insufficiently supportive of the former president.

All of her three current Republican challengers — T.J. Allen, Ingrid Centurion or Lynz Piper-Loomis — are political newcomers, and none have raised significant money. But the filing deadline isn’t until March, leaving time for another big-name candidate to join the field with Trump’s blessing

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Louisiana US. Sen. Bill Cassidy is only Southern Republican to support Jan. 6 commission

All 5 Southern Democrats vote for bipartisan independent panel to take deep dive into Capitol assault by pro-Trump mob

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WashingtonWASHINGTON (CNN) — U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana stood alone among his Southern Republican colleagues Friday in supporting formation of an independent bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana

The bill setting up the commission died after supporters fell six votes short of the 60 votes needed to break a Republican filibuster led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who said the panel would add an “extraneous layer” of investigation into events at the U.S. Capitol, which was stormed by a pro-Trump mob trying to block certification of President Joe Biden’s Electoral College win.

All five Southern Senate Democrats — Tim Kaine and Mark Warner of Virginia, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock of Georgia — voted in favor of the independent probe.

Eighteen Southern Republicans voted no, while four did not vote, including U.S. Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, who, along with Cassidy, voted to convict Donald Trump in an impeachment trial for his actions that day.

The three other Southern Republicans who did not vote on the commission bill were Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, and Richard Shelby of Alabama. All three had previously indicated that they were opposed to the commission.

In a statement defending his decision not to support the commission, Burr said several investigations are already underway “being led by the committees with jurisdiction, and I believe, as I always have, this is the appropriate course. I don’t believe establishing a new commission is necessary or wise.”

But Cassidy warned his colleagues that if the independent commission wasn’t approved, Democrats in the House would push ahead with an investigation by a select committee “the nature of which will be entirely dictated by Democrats and would stretch on for years.”

The proposed investigative commission — modeled after the panel that investigated the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 — would have had 10 members, half appointed by each party. Subpoenas could only have been issued if agreed to on both sides, and the investigation would have wrapped up by the end of 2021, nine months before the 2022 midterm election.

When the measure passed the House, 35 Republicans had voted for it. But when it got over to the Senate, McConnell began urging GOP members to oppose it as unnecessary and potentially politically detrimental.

Trump also came out firmly against the idea, calling it a “Democrat trap” and castigating House Republicans who supported it.

Manchin, the leading centrist voice among Senate Democrats, had been particularly forceful in lobbying his Republican colleagues to support the investigation, saying there was “no excuse for Republicans not to vote for this unless they don’t want to know the truth.”

But Manchin also refused to budge on his long-standing opposition to eliminating the filibuster, the procedure that allowed Republicans to block the commission even though 54 senators were in favor of it.

The Republicans who voted against formation of the commission were:

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Florida U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings dies at 84

Democrat’s death narrows party’s House majority, sets off scramble for his South Florida seat

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

FloridaFORT LAUDERDALE (CFP) — Democratic U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida, who launched a barrier-breaking, three-decade career in Congress after being impeached and removed from his post as a federal judge in 1989, died April 6 after a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer.

He was 84.

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U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Florida

In a statement announcing his death, Hastings’s family said he “lived a full life with an indelible fighting spirit dedicated to equal justice. He believed that progress and change can only be achieved through recognizing and respecting the humanity of all mankind.”

Hastings was re-elected in November to his 15th term from the 20th U.S. House District, which includes parts of Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and areas inland toward Lake Okeechobee. He was the longest-serving member of the Sunshine State’s House delegation.

With Hastings’s death, Democrats have just a two-seat majority in the House. Republican Governor Ron DeSantis will now call a special election to fill the seat, which could leave it vacant for several months and set off a scramble among local Democrats for a rare open seat.

The heavily Democratic, majority black district will almost certainly stay in Democratic hands.

As a civil rights lawyer in the 1960s, Hastings fought against segregation in South Florida and made headlines in 1970 with an unsuccessful run for U.S. Senate at the age of 29, the first black Floridian to seek a Senate seat.

He became a judge in Broward County in 1977 and two years later was named a U.S. District Court judge by President Jimmy Carter.

In 1981, Hastings was accused of soliciting a bribe to show leniency toward two convicted mobsters but was acquitted of all charges in 1983 after his alleged co-conspirator refused to testify.

But although he was acquitted, the House later voted to impeach Hastings in 1988, and the Senate convicted him and removed him from office in 1989, only the sixth federal judge ever tossed from the bench.

In 1992, he made a comeback by winning a House seat in Broward County in a runoff against one of his current colleagues, U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, becoming part of a group of the first three black congressmen elected from Florida since Reconstruction. He won re-election 14 times, often by 3-to-1 margins.

In January 2019, he announced he had been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, but he continued to serve in Congress and ran for re-election in 2020.

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Amtrak promising more Southern train service as part of Biden infrastructure bill

12 cities in 8 Southern states could gain train service as part of $2.5 trillion infrastructure package

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — As the Biden administration tries to cobble together political support for its massive $2.5 trillion infrastructure program, Amtrak has announced that it plans to use its share of the money to expand its national rail network, including significant additions across the South.

In a plan unveiled April 1, Amtrak said it would add service to 12 Southern cities, as well as enhancing existing service in Texas, Florida and the corridor between Birmingham, Atlanta and Charlotte.

New Amtrak routes shown in light blue

Kentucky — the only state east of the Mississippi River currently without any Amtrak service — will finally be connected to the national network with a rail link between Louisville and Indianapolis.

The Bluegrass State is the home of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who has said no one in his caucus is likely to vote for the infrastructure package the contains the additional Amtrak funding.

Plans also call for a new line to run from Nashville to Savannah, which will extend service to Chattanooga and Macon, Georgia.

Service would also be restored between Mobile and New Orleans, which has been suspended since 2005 because of damage to rail lines from Hurricane Katrina. A new route would connect Baton Rouge to New Orleans.

Currently, Amtrak’s service coming north out of Texas stops at Oklahoma City. That line would be extended to Wichita, Kansas, providing more direct rail links from the Gulf Coast to the Midwest.

Dallas and Houston would also be connected by a direct route, which would bring service to College Station.

In Alabama, Auburn and Montgomery would be connected to Atlanta, while in North Carolina, both Asheville and Wilmington would pick up service. Rail would also be extended further west from Roanoke to Christiansburg, Virginia.

In all, Amtrak would be expanding service in all but three Southern states — Arkansas, Mississippi and West Virginia — which could become an administration talking point as it tries to sell the infrastructure plan to reluctant Southern Republicans.

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WaterGaetz? Florida U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz under federal investigation

Gaetz, a staunch defender of former President Donald Trump, denies sexual relationship with 17-year-old girl, alleges blackmail scheme

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

FloridaWASHINGTON (CFP) — In what is quickly becoming one of the year’s most bizarre political stories, Florida Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz is denying allegations that he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl but acknowledges he is under federal investigation for possible sex trafficking charges, as first reported by The New York Times.

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Gaetz discusses allegations on Fox News

As headlines began to trumpet news of the investigation, Gaetz struck back by accusing a Florida attorney of trying to use the allegations to extort $25 million from his family, which the attorney denies, and then tried to drag Fox News host Tucker Carlson into the narrative, which Carlson rebuffed.

“That was one of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever conducted,” Carlson said after inviting Gaetz to appear on his March 29 show to offer his side of the story. “I don’t think that clarified much, but it certainly showed that this is a deeply interesting story.”

Watch video of Carlson’s interview with Gaetz at end of the story.

To add another twist to the story, the investigation of Gaetz was reportedly triggered by a federal investigation into Joel Greenberg, the former Seminole County, Florida tax collector indicted on a slew of charges, including stalking, identity theft, and child sex trafficking.

While the nature of Greenberg’s relationship with Gaetz remains unclear, the two men were photographed together outside the White House in 2019.

Greenberg also posted a picture on social media of himself and Gaetz with longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone, who was convicted on felony charges in Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election but later pardoned by Trump.

Adding to the swirl around Gaetz is a report in Axios that he is considering leaving Congress to take a job with Newsmax, a conservative news outlet. Gaetz confirmed to the Daily Beast that he has had conversations “about life after Congress,” although he said he has not been pursuing any specific job offers.

The New York Times, citing “three people briefed on the matter,” reported that the Justice Department has been investigating Gaetz over whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel with him, which could have violated federal sex trafficking laws.

Federal law makes it a crime to induce a minor to cross state lines to engage in sexual activity in exchange for money.

The investigation was opened in 2020 in the final months of the Trump administration, and top Justice Department officials, including then-Attorney General William Barr, were briefed on the investigation, according to the newspaper.

Gaetz denied he had a relationship with an underage girl and told the Times that “I have a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward.”

He told Carlson that “providing for flights and hotel rooms for people that you’re dating who are of legal age is not a crime. ” He then tried to remind Carlson that he and his wife had dined two years ago with Gaetz and a woman who is being pursued as a witness in the investigation, whom Gatez claimed is being threatened with prosecution unless she cooperates.

“I don’t remember the woman you are speaking of or the context at all, honestly,” a puzzled Carlson replied. (It was unclear if the woman referenced by Gaetz was the same person whose alleged relationship with Gaetz is the focus of the probe, although at another point he said the 17-year-old “did not exist.”)

Gaetz also alleged that David McGee, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice in Pensacola, Florida, is behind a scheme to use the sex trafficking allegations to extort $25 million from his family and that his father, Don Gaetz, a former Florida Senate president, wore a wire as part of an FBI investigation in the alleged blackmail attempt.

Gaetz has demanded that the FBI release the wiretap recordings to back up his claim. He also claimed that he had been told that McGee could arrange a pardon from President Joe Biden to protect him from the sex trafficking charges.

Speaking to the Washington Post, McGee denied the blackmail allegations, saying he had nothing to do with the investigation into Gaetz. McGee said he had talked to Don Gaetz, describing their exchange as “a pleasant conversation of a dad concerned about his son and the trouble his son was in.”

McGee also told the Post that he welcomed release of any FBI recordings of those conversations: “There is nothing on that tape that is untoward.”

Gaetz, 38, has represented the Florida Panhandle in Congress since 2017, after serving six years in the state legislature.

Last June, he disclosed that he had been providing a home for a teenage Cuban immigrant, the brother of a former girlfriend, whom he considered to be his son, although he had not legally adopted the boy.

In December, he announced his engagement to his girlfriend, Ginger Luckey.

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