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Kentucky U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie faces avalanche of criticism for forcing vote on coronavirus bill

Massie insists his stand was in defense of the Constitution, but Donald Trump suggests he be tossed from GOP

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky is defending his decision to force members of the House to return to Washington to vote on emergency coronavirus legislation against a torrent of criticism — including from President Donald Trump, who suggested Massie be drummed out of the Republican Party.

Massie objected to pushing through the $2 trillion measure with unanimous consent, which required House leaders to assemble a quorum of lawmakers who had to travel from their home districts back to the nation’s capital to vote on Friday.

U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Kentucky, rises to object in the House (From C-SPAN via YouTube)

“I came here to make sure our republic doesn’t die by unanimous consent in an empty chamber,” Massie said on the House floor, drawing audible groans from his fellow lawmakers.

Earlier in the day, Massie defended his decision to try to delay the massive spending bill on Twitter, saying “I swore an oath to uphold the constitution, and I take that oath seriously.”

“The Constitution requires that a quorum of members be present to conduct business in the House,” he said. “Right now, millions of essential, working-class Americans are still required to go to work during this pandemic … Is it too much to ask that the House do its job, just like the Senate did?”

Massie’s stand derailed a plan by House leaders in both parties to push the bill through with unanimous consent, which would have allowed members to remain in their districts, where most of them had been during a scheduled recess.

However, while Massie blocked unanimous consent, he was unable to find enough support to force a roll call vote on the bill, which passed by a voice vote and was quickly signed into law by Trump.

Massie’s move triggered an eruption by Trump on Twitter, who dismissed the Kentuckian as a “third rate grandstander.”

He just wants the publicity,” Trump said. “Workers & small businesses need money now in order to survive. Virus wasn’t their fault. It is ‘HELL’ dealing with the Dems, had to give up some stupid things in order to get the ‘big picture’ done. 90% GREAT! WIN BACK HOUSE, but throw Massie out of Republican Party!”

Trump also reacted to a tweet from former Secretary of State John Kerry after he said that Massie had “tested positive for being an asshole”: “Never knew John Kerry had such a good sense of humor! Very impressed!”

Trump’s reaction is welcome news for Todd McMurtry, a Covington attorney who is challenging Massie in the Republican primary in Kentucky’s 4th District — and would be the beneficiary if the president decides to move against Massie.

Massie had been sufficiently concerned about Trump’s potential support of McMurty that he aired an attack ad against him during Super Bowl weekend on TV in Palm Beach, Florida, where the president was staying.

The 4th District includes suburban Cincinnati and the Ohio River Valley between Louisville and Ashland.

Kentucky’s primary, originally scheduled for May, was moved to June 23 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

While Trump and Democrats were scorching in their criticism of Massie, two members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus came to his defense.

U.S. Rep. Chip Roy of Texas told Trump to “back off,” calling Massie “one of the most principled men in Congress.”

“He is defending the Constitution today by requiring a quorum. There’s nothing 3rd rate about that, @realDonaldTrump,” Roy said in a tweet.

In his own tweet, U.S. Rep Paul Gosar of Arizona called Massie “a good man and a solid conservative.”

“He believes in the Constitution strongly. We won’t always agree on strategy or policy. But he doesn’t warrant this dressing down,” Gosar said, adding “Thomas—Hang tough brother.”

Massie, 49, has served in Congress since 2012.

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U.S. Senator Rand Paul pushes back against criticism for not entering self-quarantine while awaiting coronavirus results

Kentucky Republican was reportedly using Senate gym just hours before positive test result

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

WASHINGTON (CFP) — U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is pushing back against criticism that he may have put others in the Senate in danger by continuing with his work as a senator for nearly a week while awaiting the results of a coronavirus test that came back positive.

Paul was reportedly seen working out in a Senate gym on Sunday morning, just hours before he learned he had tested positive for the virus and went into self-quarantine.

U.S. Senator Rand Paul, R-Kentucky

In a statement issued Monday, Paul acknowledged he took the coronavirus test on March 16 and did not self-quarantine while waiting for the results, which came back on March 22.

However, Paul said he had no reason to believe that he had been exposed to coronavirus prior to the positive result and had only been tested as a precaution because of a lung injury he suffered during an attack by a neighbor in 2017.

“For those who want to criticize me for lack of quarantine, realize that if the rules on testing had been followed to a tee, I would never have been tested and would still be walking around the halls of the Capitol,” Paul said. “The current guidelines would not have called for me to get tested nor quarantined. It was my extra precaution, out of concern for my damaged lung, that led me to get tested.”

Paul also said that while he did attend a March 7 museum fundraiser in Louisville that was also attended by two people who later tested positive for coronavirus, he did not have contact with either of them, and his decision to get tested was unrelated to his attendance at the benefit.

“The event was a large affair of hundreds of people spread throughout the museum,” he said. “I was not considered to be at risk since I never interacted with the two individuals even from a distance and was not recommended for testing by health officials.”

Paul said he was “at a higher risk for serious complications” because he had part of his lung removed after he developed complications from rib fractures he suffered when he was attacked by a neighbor, Rene Boucher, outside of his Bowling Green home in 2017.

In his statement, Paul also renewed his call for more immediate, widespread testing of people who do not yet show any symptoms of coronavirus.

“The broader the testing and the less finger-pointing we have, the better,” he said.

Paul’s positive test prompted two fellow senators who had contact with him — Mitt Romney and Mike Lee, both of Utah — to enter self-quarantine, which means five Republican senators are now out of action as Congress grapples with emergency coronavirus legislation.

In his statement, Paul did not confirm or deny reports that he swam and worked out in the Senate gym on Sunday before the results of his coronavirus test came back.

Politico reported that one of Paul’s colleagues, Jerry Moran of Kansas, told colleagues a Republican lunch on Sunday that he had seen Paul using the facilities. That report led another senator, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, to blast Paul’s behavior as “absolutely irresponsible.”

“You cannot be near other people while waiting for coronavirus test results,” she said in a tweet. “It endangers others & likely increases the spread of the virus.”

Paul’s office responded by noting that he had left the Senate “immediately” after the diagnosis and entered self-quarantine.

Paul’s actions with regard to coronavirus are also being scrutinized because of his background — he is a graduate of the Duke University School of Medicine who worked for 20 years as an ophthalmologist before being elected to the Senate.

In an interview on MSNBC Monday, Ezekiel Emanuel, former chief of bioethics at the National Institutes of Health and health policy adviser in the Obama administration, accused Paul of a “lack of leadership” for not going into self-quarantine until his test results came back.

“Multiple times Rand Paul has sort of violated his basic oath of being a physician, that he should model good, healthy behaviors,” Emanuel said.

In addition to Paul, Romney and Lee, two other Republican senators — Rick Scott of Florida and Cory Gardner of Colorado — are in self-quarantine after coming into contact with people who tested positive for the virus.

That leaves just 48 GOP members in the upper chamber who are able to vote on coronavirus legislation because Senate rules require senators to be present in person in order to vote.

Paul was among just eight senators who voted against an emergency coronavirus funding bill that passed March 18 and the only senator who opposed an earlier coronavirus funding measure that passed on March 5.

In a letter to his constituents sent over the weekend, Paul vowed to continue to oppose “more spending, more debt, and more mandates on the American people.”

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U.S. Senators Richard Burr, Kelly Loeffler under fire for selling stock before coronavirus slide

Burr and Loeffler insist they did nothing wrong in unloading stocks before markets tanked

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Republican U.S. Senators Richard Burr of North Carolina and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia are facing a torrent of criticism after revelations that they and family members unloaded millions of dollars worth of stock before U.S. markets tanked over concerns about the coronavirus — and while both senators were still making upbeat assessments about its threat.

Prior to his stock sales, Burr, as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was receiving daily briefings from Trump administration officials about coronavirus; Loeffler and her husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, whose company owns the New York Stock Exchange, sold stock after she attended a private briefing for senators on the topic in late January.

Another Southern senator, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, also sold stock after that briefing but says he did not attend.

U.S. Senators Kelly Loeffler (R-Georgia) and Richard Burr (R-North Carolina)

All three senators insist they did nothing wrong, although Burr has asked the Senate Ethics Committee to review his sales.

“I relied solely on public news reports to guide my decision regarding the sale of stocks,” Burr said in a statement posted on Twitter. “Specifically, I closely followed CNBC’s daily health and science reporting out it its Asia bureaus.”

Loeffler — a multimillionaire business executive appointed to the Senate in January by Governor Brian Kemp — called the reports about the stock trades “completely false,” saying they were made by her financial advisers.

“I’m not involved in the decision-making of these trades, nor have I been in communication with my third-party financial advisors about them,” she said in a statement posted on Twitter. “I have no knowledge of these trades until well after they are made.”

However, Democrats and even some Republicans are calling for investigations into the trades — and even for the senators to resign.

Among those calling for Burr’s head is Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who told his viewers that “there is no greater moral crime than betraying your country in a time of crisis.”

While Burr is retiring in 2018, Loeffler is facing a tough special election battle for the remainder of her term in November, a race that includes an intra-party challenge from Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Collins.

Collins — still in self-quarantine after being exposed to the virus — said he was “sickened” by Loeffler’s actions.

“People are losing their jobs, their businesses, their retirements, and even their lives and Kelly Loeffler is profiting off their pain?” he said in a tweet.

The leading Democrat in the race, Raphael Warnock, called Loeffler’s conduct “unconscionable.”

“As the coronavirus pandemic is busy taking lives and livelihoods, Kelly Loeffler has been busy looking out for herself,” Warnock said on Twitter.

An analysis of disclosure reports by the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan research group, showed that on February 13, Burr sold 33 stocks worth between $628,000 and $1.7 million dollars, including stocks in hotel companies hard hit by the coronavirus. The stock market began to plunge about a week later.

Senators only have to report financial transactions within ranges on disclosure reports, so the exact amount of Burr’s stock sales is unknown.

Loeffler and Sprecher sold up between $1.3 million and $3.2 million worth of stock in the weeks after she attended a private January 24 briefing for senators in which administration officials discussed the spread of coronavirus, according to a financial disclosure report she posted on Twitter.

In that report, Koeffler said she wasn’t notified of those transactions until Feb. 16, which she said was “proof” that the stock sales weren’t improper.

At the time of the briefing, Loeffler had been in office just three weeks.

Two other senators — Inhofe and Dianne Feinstein of California — also sold stock after the January 24 briefing.

In a statement, Inhofe, who is seeking re-election in November, said he did not attend the briefing and that the sales were part of an ongoing effort to shift his stock portfolio into mutual funds after he became chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. His sales were on a smaller scale than those of Burr and Loeffler, between $180,000 and $400,000.

A Feinstein spokesman said her holdings were in a blind trust run by her husband and she was not involved in the sale.

Members of Congress are permitted to own and trade stocks. However, trades have to be disclosed, and it is illegal for them to buy and sell stock based on insider information that isn’t available to the general public.

In addition to the stock sales themselves, statements made by Burr and Loeffler about coronavirus as their stocks were being sold have also come under scrutiny, as have Burr’s remarks at a private gathering in late February where he likened the coronavirus to the 1918 flu epidemic that killed millions of people worldwide.

On February 28, Loeffler took to Twitter to allege that “Democrats have dangerously and intentionally misled the American people on #Coronavirus readiness. Here’s the truth: @realDonald Trump & his administration are doing a great job working to keep Americans healthy & safe.”

On March 10, following a meeting with the president, she said on Twitter: “Concerned about #coronavirus? Remember this: The consumer is strong, the economy is strong, & jobs are growing, which puts us in the best economic position to tackle #COVID19 & keep Americans safe.”

By the time of those tweets, at least $355,000 worth of her stock had been sold and possibly as much as $950,000; her husband’s total was between $926,000 and $2.2 million, according to her disclosure report.

On February 7, Burr co-wrote an opinion article for Fox News in which he said that the United States “is better prepared than ever before to face emerging public health threats, like the coronavirus” and said public health officials were moving “swiftly and decisively” to deal with the threat.

A week later, he began selling stock, and on February 27, he told a private meeting of North Carolina business leaders that coronavirus “is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history,” according to audio of the speech obtained by National Public Radio.

Burr also likened coronavirus to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that is believed to have killed at least 17 million people worldwide, NPR reported.

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Two Southern Democratic senators representing Trump states vote to convict president

Doug Jones of Alabama and Joe Manchin of West Virginia likely to face blowback back home for supporting Trump’s removal

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Two Southern Democrats in the U.S. Senate who represent states President Donald Trump carried in 2016 — Doug Jones of Alabama and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — voted to find Trump guilty on two articles of impeachment, a decision that will subject them to significant blowback in their home states.

The other two Southern Democrats in the Senate — Tim Kaine and Mark Warner of Virginia — also voted to convict Trump, while all 24 Republicans representing Southern states voted no. Both impeachment articles failed to get the two-thirds majority necessary to remove the president from office.

Jones announces decision on Senate floor (From PBS via YouTube)

Jones — considered to be the most vulnerable Democrat running for re-election in 2020, in a state Trump carried by 28 points — said he concluded that “the evidence clearly proves that the president used the weight of his office … to coerce a foreign government to interfere in our election for his personal political benefit.”

“I fear that moral courage, country before party, is a rare commodity these days. We can write about it and talk about it in speeches and in the media, but it is harder to put into action when political careers may be on the line,” Jones said in a floor speech announcing his vote. “I did not run for the Senate hoping to take part in the impeachment trial of a duly elected president. But I cannot and will not shrink from my duty to defend the Constitution and to do impartial justice.”

Watch full video of Jones’s floor speech at end of story

Manchin didn’t disclose his decision in the impeachment trial until moments before the Senate began voting, with each senator standing and pronouncing Trump either “guilty” or “not guilty.”

“Voting whether or not to remove a sitting President has been a truly difficult decision, and after listening to the arguments presented by both sides, I have reached my conclusion reluctantly,” Manchin said in a statement released on Twitter. “I have always wanted this President, and every President to succeed, but I deeply love our country and must do what I think is best for the nation.”

Trump carried West Virginia by 41 points in 2016. However, unlike Jones, Manchin isn’t up for re-election again until 2024, which means he’s unlikely to face any immediate political consequences from his decision.

In the days before the final vote, Manchin had floated the idea of a Senate censure of Trump, which would have condemned his conduct without acquitting him on the impeachment charges. But the idea failed to gain traction among senators in either party.

Both Jones and Manchin also criticized the refusal by Senate Republicans to agree to introduce additional witnesses and documents into the trial, which Jones said “would have provided valuable context, corroboration or contradiction to what we have heard.”

The first article of impeachment, which accused Trump of abuse of power, failed to get the necessary two-thirds majority to remove Trump from office, with 48 senators voting guilty and 52 not guilty. The second article, accusing Trump of obstruction of Congress, failed on a 47-to-53 vote.

Mitt Romney of Utah was the only Republican to vote for conviction on the first article, joined by all 47 Democrats. The vote on the second article fell along party lines.

In 2017, Jones, a former federal prosecutor, won a special election to become the first Democrat to represent the Yellowhammer State in the Senate in 27 years. With the November election looming, he had been under considerable pressure to vote to acquit Trump, with Republicans organizing demonstrations outside of his Alabama offices.

Terry Lathan, chair of the Alabama GOP, said the senator’s decision showed that he “continues to take his marching orders from Chuck Schumer and his liberal California campaign donors.”

“Senator Jones once again is demonstrating his contempt for the majority of Alabamians who are opposed to impeachment,” Lathan said in a statement. “The voters of Alabama will keenly remember this day on November 3rd and replace Senator Jones with someone who will truly represent Alabama’s values.”

One of Jones’s GOP opponents, Bradley Byrne, called his vote the “final straw.”

“I’ve never been so fired up to take back this seat & send Trump a conservative fighter,” Bryne said on Twitter.

Another Republican competitor, Jeff Sessions, in an interview with Breitbart News, said Jones “clearly revealed himself to be a part of the Schumer team, the liberal team, that would create a majority in the Senate, that would make every committee chairman a Democrat—some of them radical Democrats—and all of which is contrary to the values of Alabama.”

Sessions held the Senate seat now held by Jones for 20 years before resigning in 2017 to become Trump’s attorney general. He is now trying to make a comeback by wrapping himself in the Trump mantle, despite a frequently frosty relationship with the president that led to his ouster from the Justice Department in 2018.

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2 Southern Democrats named as House impeachment managers for Trump Senate trial

U.S. Reps. Val Demings of Florida and Sylvia Garcia of Texas among group of 7 managers

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Two Southern U.S. House Democrats — Val Demings of Florida and Sylvia Garcia of Texas — have been selected to present the case for impeaching President Donald Trump in his Senate trial, which begins next week.

The selections were announced Wednesday by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as the House approved a resolution to send over two articles of impeachment to the Senate accusing Trump of abusing his power and obstructing Congress.

At a news conference where she unveiled the seven impeachment managers, Pelosi said the “emphasis is on litigators, the emphasis is on comfort level in the courtroom, the emphasis is on making the strongest possible case to protect and defend our Constitution, to seek the truth for the American people.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveils impeachment managers with Sylvia Garcia at far left and Val Demings at far right. (From Washington Post Live)

Demings, 62, who represents an Orlando area district in the House, is the only non-lawyer among the managers. However, she has a background in law enforcement, serving 27 years as a police officer in Orlando, where she worked her way up to chief before retiring in 2011. She was elected to Congress in 2016.

In a statement, Demings said she was “honored to have the opportunity to help defend our republic in this incredible moment in history.”

“I hope that every American who believes in democracy will take a stand,” she said. “The president has been given an incredible responsibility and opportunity to serve the American people. Instead, he has abandoned his oath of office and the Constitution, choosing to put his interest before the national interest.”

Garcia, 69, who represents a Houston-based district, is one of just two freshmen House members selected as a manager.  She is a former municipal judge in Houston.

In a tweet, Garcia said she was “honored” to be named as a manager.

“The Constitution will be our guide,” she said. “We won’t waver in our commitment to democracy. And we’ll present the truth to the American people.”

The impeachment articles allege that Trump withheld military aide from Ukraine in an effort to pressure Ukrainian officials to launch investigations into a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, and then obstructed efforts by Congress to investigate those allegations.

The president has insisted that he did nothing improper in urging Ukraine to investigate possible corruption.

While the prospects for an impeachment conviction in the Republican-controlled Senate would be appear dim, Demings said she has “not written off the Senate.”

“Each senator still has the power to do the right thing,” she said in her statement. “I know that as each senator considers whether to side with justice or corruption, the voices of the American people will matter.”

The other impeachment managers are Adam Schiff of California, Jerry Nadler and Hakeem Jeffries of New York, Zoe Lofgren of California, and Jason Crow of Colorado.

Schiff chairs the House Intelligence Committee, which took the lead in investigating the Ukrainian controversy, and Nadler chairs the House Judiciary Committee, which drew up the articles of impeachment. Crow joins Garcia as the only freshmen legislators among the group.

Chief Justice John Roberts will preside over the Senate trial, which will operate under rules passed by the Senate. A two-thirds majority — 67 senators — is required to convict Trump and remove him from office, something that has never happened before in American history.

Trump is just the third president in history to be impeached by the House, following Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998; neither was convicted by the Senate. The House was preparing to impeach Richard Nixon before he resigned in 1974.

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Georgia’s new Republican U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler takes oath of office

Loeffler, appointed by Governor Brian Kemp, will have to defend her seat in November special election

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

ATLANTA (CFP) — Kelly Loeffler, a multi-millionaire Atlanta finance executive and Republican mega-donor who co-owns the city’s WNBA franchise, is now officially Georgia’s newest U.S. Senator.

Loeffler (pronouced LEFF-ler) took the oath of office from Vice President Mike Pence on January 6 to replace Johnny Isakson, a veteran GOP lawmaker who resigned his seat due to declining health.

She will seek the remaining two years of Isakson’s term in a special election in November.

Loeffler is sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence (From C-SPAN)

Loeffler, who has no previous elected political experience, was picked for the Senate seat by Republican Governor Brian Kemp in December after a public, two-month search in which he accepted applications from more than 500 would-be senators.

She joins the Senate just in time to participate in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

Loeffler’s appointment had initially received a lukewarm reception from the White House and vocal opposition from some of Trump’s most fervent partisans, although that opposition has dissipated over the past month as Loeffler held a series of private meetings with conservative activists around the state.

Loeffler, 50, will become just the second woman to represent the Peach State in the Senate; the first, Rebecca Felton, was appointed to serve a single day back in 1922.

In addition to bringing gender diversity and an outsider persona to the GOP ticket, Loeffler will also be able to tap her personal fortune for the special election, in which candidates from all parties run against each other, with a runoff between the top two vote-getters if no one wins a majority.

Among the applicants passed over by Kemp was U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville, one of Trump’s most vocal supporters in the House who has said he may challenge Loeffler in the special election. A Collins run could pit the president against Kemp, who won the governorship in 2018 after Trump backed him in the GOP primary.

So far, only one Democrat has entered the special election race — Matt Lieberman, the son of former U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the party’s vice presidential nominee in 2000.

Georgia’s other U.S. Senate seat will also be on the ballot in 2020, with Republican incumbent David Perdue trying to fend off a field of Democratic challengers.

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Georgia U.S. Rep. John Lewis diagnosed with pancreatic cancer

Atlanta Democrat tells constituents, “I am going to fight it.”

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the dean of Georgia’s congressional delegation and an icon of the civil rights movement, has been diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer, a disease which has a very low survival rate.

Lewis announced his cancer diagnosis in a news release from his office. He said the cancer was detected during a routine exam earlier in December.

“While I am clear-eyed about the prognosis, doctors have told me that recent medical advances have made this type of cancer treatable in many cases,” Lewis said. “So I have decided to do what I know to do and do what I have always done: I am going to fight it.”

U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia

Lewis said his cancer is Stage 4, which means that it is has spread to other organs outside the pancreas. The five-year survival rate for Stage 4 pancreatic cancer is just 3 percent, according to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

Lewis said he plans to return to Washington and begin treatment while continuing to serve in Congress.

“I may miss a few votes during this period, but with God’s grace I will be back on the front lines soon,” he said.

Lewis, 79, has represented the Atlanta-based 5th District since 1987, routinely winning re-election with little opposition from the Peach State’s most Democratic district.

During the 1960s, as student leader in the civil rights movement, Lewis was among the first Freedom Riders who desegregated interstate bus transportation, and he also helped coordinate the 1963 March on Washington.

In 1965, Lewis was beaten and seriously injured while leading a group of marchers in Selma, Alabama, an event that helped spur passage of the Voting Rights Act.

News of Lewis’s cancer diagnosis prompted a bipartisan outpouring of support on Twitter.

“John, know that generations of Americans have you in their thoughts & prayers as you face this fight,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Georgia GOP Rep. Doug Collins called Lewis “a hero to Georgians and all Americans, including me. My respect and prayers are with this fighter as he faces a new battle.”

“John has never backed down from a fight, and I know he will battle cancer with the same courage and toughness he has always demonstrated,”said House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

Former President Barack Obama said “if there’s one thing I love about @RepJohnLewis, it’s his incomparable will to fight. I know he’s got a lot more of that left in him. Praying for you, my friend.”

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