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Alabama U.S. Senator Richard Shelby announces retirement

Shelby’s departure will likely spark Republican primary battle to be his successor

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Saying that “for everything there is a season,” Alabama Republican U.S. Senator Richard Shelby announced Monday that he will not seek re-election in 2022, bringing to a close a political career that has made him that longest-serving senator in his state’s history and triggering what is likely to be a pitched battle among Republicans to replace him.

“Serving in the U.S. Senate has been the opportunity of a lifetime,” Shelby said in a statement. “Although I plan to retire, I am not leaving today.  I have two good years remaining to continue my work in Washington.  I have the vision and the energy to give it my all. “

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, R-Alabama

Shelby, 86, was elected to the U.S. House in 1978 and to the Senate in 1986, serving at various times as the chair of the appropriations, banking, intelligence and rules committees.

He was a Democrat until switching parties in 1994, as Alabama was transitioning from being solidly Democrat to solidly Republican and the GOP won control of Congress.

He routinely won re-election by large margins, mostly recently a 28-point win in 2016.

While his decision to retire is unlikely to open up a pickup opportunity for Democrats in solidly red Alabama, it is expected to trigger a free-for-all among Republicans vying to succeed him.

U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks from Huntsville and Secretary of State John Merrill have both indicated they are considering the race. Brooks ran unsuccessfully for the state’s other Senate seat in a special election in 2017; Merrill dropped out of the race for the same seat in 2020.

Other candidates being mentioned include U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer from Hoover; Katie Boyd Britt, a former Shelby aide who now runs the Business Council of Alabama; former U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions, who served a stormy tenure as attorney general in the Trump administration; and Bradley Byrne from Mobile, who gave up his U.S. House seat in 2020 to make an unsuccessful Senate run.

On key to the eventual make-up of the Senate field will be Governor Kay Ivey’s decision whether to seek another term as governor in 2022; if she doesn’t, some possible Senate candidates may opt for the governor’s race instead.

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Texas U.S. Rep. Rob Wright dies after battle with COVID-19

Arlington Republican’s death opens up a potentially competitive House seat

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

DALLAS (CFP) — Three months after being elected to a second term in Congress, Texas Republican U.S. Rep. Ron Wright died Sunday after battling COVID-19 and lung cancer, become the first sitting member of Congress to die during the pandemic.

A statement from his office said Wright died peacefully at a hospital in Dallas with his wife, Susan, at his side. He had announced January 21 that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and had been hospitalized for the past two weeks.

U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, R-Texas

Wright, 67, had been diagnosed with lung cancer in July 2019, about seven months after arriving in Congress, but ran for re-election in November as he continued treatment. His final vote in Congress was against the impeachment of former President Donald Trump.

Wright’s death opens up a vacancy in Texas’s 6th U.S. House District in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs.

Democrats had targeted Wright’s seat as a pickup opportunity in 2020, but he defeated Democrat Stephen Daniel by nearly 9 points. However, the special election will present a new dynamic because candidates from all parties will run in the same race, with the top two vote-getters meeting in a runoff if no one gains a majority.

In the 2020 election, Trump only carried the district by 3 points over President Joe Biden. About 47% of the district’s residents identify as African American, Latino or Asian.

While Wright is the first sitting member of Congress to die from COVID-19, the pandemic claimed Republican U.S. Rep-elect Luke Letlow of Louisiana, who died in December before being sworn in.

Prior to his election to Congress, Wright had served as a city councilman in Arlington and as the tax assessor in Tarrant County. He was also chief of staff for his predecessor in the House, former U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, who retired in 2019.

The district includes southeast Tarrant County and Ellis and Navarro counties to the south.

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U.S. House votes to strip Georgia U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of committee assignments

Greene expresses regret for embracing conspiracy theories but does not address past support for violence against Democratic colleagues

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — On a largely party-line vote, the U.S. House Thursday took the unprecedented step of removing Georgia Republican U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene from her committee assignments after GOP leaders refused to do so in the wake of Greene’s past online support for conspiracy theories and violence against Democrats.

Eleven Republicans joined Democrats in support of the resolution, including three GOP members from South Florida, Carlos Giménez, Mario Diaz-Balart, and Maria Elvira Salazar.

Family members of victims of the deadly 2018 high school shooting in Parkland, Florida — which Greene has in the past questioned as a hoax — lobbied members to take action against Greene.

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, defends herself on the House floor

The move means that while Greene will remain a voting member of Congress, she won’t be able to participate in any of the committee work that is a key part of a member’s job.

The vote came after Greene took the floor to express regret about her past embrace of QAnon and conspiracy theories about school shootings and the 9/11 terror attacks, during which she also blamed the news media for mischaracterizing her views and lamented “cancel culture.”

“I think it’s important for all of us to remember that none of us is perfect,” she said, adding that if Democrats “want to condemn me and crucify me in the public square for words that I said and I regret a few years ago, then I think we’re in a real big problem.’

In her remarks, Greene did not address her past expressions of support for violence against Democrats, including liking a Facebook post in 2019 that called for putting “a bullet in the head” of Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Those threats were front and center in House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s impassioned argument for the resolution, during which he brandished a campaign poster showing Greene carrying a AR-15 rifle next to pictures of three Democratic women known as “The Squad,” over a caption reading “Squad’s Worst Nightmare.”

“I ask my colleagues to look at that image and tell me what message you think it sends,” he said. “These three faces are real people.”

The three members of The Squad are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. In 2019, Greene posted a video arguing that Omar and Tlaib could not serve in Congress because they are Muslim.

Greene — calling herself a “very regular person” and wearing a mask emblazoned with the phrase “Free Speech” — explained that she became interested in the QAnon conspiracy in 2018 due to her frustration about events in Washington, including “Russian collusion,” which she dismissed as a false conspiracy theory.

“I was allowed to believe things that weren’t true, and I would ask questions about them and talk about them, and that is absolutely what I regret because if it weren’t for the Facebook posts and comments that I liked in 2018, I wouldn’t be standing here today and you couldn’t point a finger and accuse me of anything wrong,” she said.

She also noted that she did not advance QAnon during her campaign for the House last year or since she was elected to represent Georgia’s 14th District, which covers the northwestern corner of the state.

Despite previous expressions of support for conspiracy theories holding that mass school shootings were staged and expressing skepticism about official accounts of the 9/11 attacks, she said she now believes that “school shootings are absolutely real” and that “9/11 absolutely happened.”

However, she also said the news media is “just as guilty as QAnon in presenting truth and lies.”

“You only know me by how Media Matters, CNN, MSNBC and the rest of the mainstream media is portraying me,” she said. “Big media companies can take teeny, tiny pieces of words that I’ve said, that you have said, any of us, and can portray us as someone that we’re not, and that is wrong.”

In her remarks Thursday, Greene did not address one of the more outlandish conspiracy theories that she supported in 2018, which posited that wildfires in California may have been ignited by lasers from outer space by a cabal that included a Jewish-owned bank.

The fuse leading to Thursday’s vote was lit when Republican leaders appointed Greene to the budget and education committees, with the latter appointment triggering particular outrage because of her past comments about school shootings.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has condemned Greene’s earlier comments but declined to strip her of her committee assignments, prompting Democrats to take action, which McCarthy dismissed as a “partisan power grab.”

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5 Southern senators, 79 U.S. House members support challenge to electoral vote count

Unsuccessful move to overturn Joe Biden’s win interrupted by mob insurrection at U.S. Capitol

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Despite an afternoon of violence that left four people dead and lawmakers running for cover, five Southern Republican U.S. senators and 79 of the region’s GOP U.S. House members persisted in supporting objections to President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College win that were overwhelmingly defeated once order was restored.

All of the Republican House members representing Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Virginia supported at least one of the objections to the counts of Biden’s win. By contrast, only a single member from both Kentucky and Arkansas voted yes.

Joint sessions of Congress counts electoral vote (From C-SPAN)

Five Southern senators voted in favor of at least one of the objections filed to electoral vote results from Arizona and Pennsylvania, two swing states Biden flipped in November: Ted Cruz of Texas, John Kennedy of Louisiana, Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, Rick Scott of Florida and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, who just took his seat on Sunday.

Cruz, the Senate sponsor of the Arizona challenge, voting in favor of objections to both states, along with Hyde-Smith and Tuberville. Kennedy only objected to Arizona, while Scott only objected to Pennsylvania.

The remaining 22 Southern Republican senators opposed both challenges, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had warned earlier in the day that challenging the will of voters would plunge American democracy into a “death spiral,” and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of President Donald Trump’s most fervent supporters, who told his fellow senators that “enough is enough.”

“When it’s over, it is over,” Graham said. “[Biden] won. He’s the legitimate president of the United States.”

Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, who had previously announced that she would support objections to the electoral vote, took the Senate floor to say that she changed her mind after Wednesday’s violent incursion into the Capitol. Her decision meant that a challenge to Georgia’s electoral votes failed for lack of a Senate sponsor.

Loeffler was defeated in Tuesday’s Senate runoff in Georgia, which means her votes on the Electoral College disputes could be among her last as a senator.

In the House, a majority of the Republican caucus voted to sustain the objections, including 79 out of 99 Southern members, a group that included the top-ranking Southerner, Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

However, among Kentucky’s five Republican members, only one, Hal Rogers, supported the objections. The rest of the delegation joined with McConnell and the Bluegrass State’s other senator, Rand Paul, in voting no: James Comer, Brett Guthrie, Thomas Massie and Andy Barr.

In the Arkansas delegation, only Rick Crawford supported the objections, which were opposed by both senators, Tom Cotton and John Boozman. French Smith, Bruce Westerman and Steve Womack all voted no.

Alone among their state Republican delegations in opposing the objections were Nancy Mace of South Carolina, who was elected in November to represent Charleston and the Low Country, and David McKinley of West Virginia.

Other Southern Republican House members who opposed the objections to Biden’s electoral vote count were Vern Buchanan and Michael Walz of Florida; Austin Scott and Drew Ferguson of Georgia; Patrick McHenry of NC; and Dan Crenshaw, Tony Gonzales, Michael McCaul, Chip Roy and Van Taylor of Texas.

Three members — Kay Granger and Kevin Brady of Texas and Maria Elvira Salazar of Florida — were in COVID-19 quarantine and did not vote.

Here is the list of Southern House members supporting the Electoral College objections, by state:

Alabama: Aderholt, Brooks, Carl, Moore, Palmer, Rogers
Arkansas: Crawford
Florida: Cammack, Diaz-Balart, Donalds, Dunn, Franklin, Gaetz, Giménez, Mast, Posey, Rutherford, Steube, Webster
Georgia: Allen, Carter, Clyde, Greene, Hice, Loudermilk
Louisiana: Higgins, Graves, Johnson, Scalise
Kentucky: Rogers
Mississippi: Guest, Kelly, Palazzo
North Carolina: Bishop, Budd, Cawthorn, Foxx, Hudson, Murphy, Rouzer
Oklahoma: Bice, Cole, Horn, Lucas, Mullin
South Carolina: Duncan, Norman, Rice, Timmons, Wilson
Tennessee: Burchett, DesJarlais, Fleischmann, Green, Harshbarger, Kustoff, Rose
Texas: Arrington, Babin, Burgess, Carter, Cloud, Fallon, Gohmert, Gooden, Jackson, Nehls, Pfluger, Sessions, Weber, Williams, Wright
Virginia: Cline, Good, Griffith, Wittmann
West Virginia: Miller, Mooney

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell makes impassioned plea against Electoral College vote challenge

McConnell says overturning will of voters would put American democracy in a “death spiral”

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky took to the Senate floor Wednesday to make a somber and impassioned plea against overturning President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College win, saying “nothing before us proves illegality anywhere near the massive scale” needed to overturn the election.

Video of McConnell’s speech at end of story

McConnell speaks against Electoral College challenge on Senate floor

“We cannot simply declare ourselves a national board of elections on steroids,” McConnell said. “If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral.”

“We’d never see the whole nation accept an election again. Every four years it would be a scramble for power at any cost.”

McConnell also decried the current level of contention in American politics, saying “we cannot keep drifting apart into two separate tribes with a separate set of facts and separate reality, with nothing in common except our hostility toward each other and distrust for the few national institutions that we all still share.”

McConnell’s remarks came less than an hour before the Senate had to be evacuated after pro-Trump protestors breached the Capitol.

In words that proved prescient, McConnell said, “I will not pretend such a vote will be a harmless protest gesture while relying on others to do the right thing.”

McConnell said he supported President Donald Trump’s right to use the legal system to challenge the election results, “but over and over, courts rejected these claims, including all-star judges whom the president himself has nominated.”

His remarks came on the day after Democrats appear to have won two U.S. Senate runoff races in Georgia, which will cost him his post as majority leader once both of those votes are confirmed.

McConnell, who was re-elected in November to a seventh term, called Wednesday’s vote “the most important vote I’ve ever cast” during his 36 years as a senator.

His remarks came during a debate triggered when Trump supporters in the House objected to certifying Arizona’s electoral votes and were joined by Texas Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz.

The session in both houses was suspended after protestors breached security and entered the U.S. Capitol building.

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