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5 Southern Republicans break ranks to oppose House Obamacare repeal

But 5 GOP lawmakers in other potential swing districts help pass new health care law

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Five Republican members of the U.S. House defied party leaders and President Donald Trump to oppose a bill to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a new blueprint for U.S. health care, but five other GOP lawmakers holding potentially vulnerable seats took a different tack and voted to go along with the American Health Care Act.

Two of the Southern GOP no votes on May 4 came from Will Hurd of Texas and Barbara Comstock of Virginia, who both represent districts that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. A third lawmaker from a district Clinton carried, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, also voted no but is retiring in 2018.

Hurd

Hurd, whose district stretches across a wide swath of West Texas, issued a statement after the vote saying the plan pushed by GOP leaders “does not address the concerns of many of my constituents, including adequate protections for those with pre-existing conditions and the challenges faced by rural healthcare providers.”

Comstock

Comstock, whose district is anchored in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, said in a statement that her “goals on healthcare reform are to provide patient-centered reforms that provide better access to high quality, affordable care and cover pre-existing conditions without lifetime limits. ”

“I did not support the AHCA today because (of) the many uncertainties in achieving those goals,” she said.

The other two Republicans who voted against the bill, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Walter Jones of North Carolina, did so not out of any fear of Democratic competition but because they believe the repeal measure doesn’t go far enough.

“As recently as a year ago, Republicans argued that mandates were unconstitutional, bailouts were immoral and subsidies would bankrupt our country,” Massie said in a statement after the vote. “Today, however, the House voted for a healthcare bill that makes these objectionable measures permanent.”

Jones had earlier said the attempt by House Republican leaders to push an Obamacare bill repeal through the House on a rushed schedule was “shameful,” and he called for scrapping the bill in its entirety and starting over.

Of the 138 Southern Republicans in the House, 133 voted in favor of the AHCA. Five of those members represent districts where Democrats could conceivably use their votes for the new health care law to try to unseat them. In fact,  if any one of them had voted no, the bill — which passed by just a single vote — would have failed, which will allow Democrats to make the argument that each of them bears responsibility for its passage.

Curbelo

This group of members who supported the bill includes two of the region’s most vulnerable House Republicans, Carlos Curbelo and Brian Mast, both from Florida. Curbelo represents a district in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties that Clinton carried; Mast’s district, which includes St. Lucie, Martin and northern Palm Beach counties, has changed parties in three of the last four election cycles.

Mast

In a statement, Mast said the GOP health care plan “returns control of health care from Washington back to you and restores access to quality, affordable options that are tailored to your individual needs.” He also pushed back against Democratic criticism that a provision in the new law allowing states to waive mandates for coverage of pre-existing conditions would imperil coverage for the sickest Americans.

“This bill mandates that people cannot be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions and allocates almost $140 billion in additional funding that will subsidize coverage for people with pre-existing conditions to ensure they costs are low,” Mast said. “Those claiming otherwise are the same people who said ‘if you like your doctor, you can keep you doctor,” and they’re putting partisan politics ahead of the people in our community.”

Also voting yes were John Culberson of Texas, whose metro Houston House district was carried by Clinton; Mario Diaz-Balart, whose majority Latino district in metro Miami and southwest Florida went for Trump by less than 2 points; and Ted Budd of North Carolina, whose Greensboro-area district went for Trump by 9 points.

In a statement, Diaz-Balart conceded the AHCA was “far from perfect.” But he said the House needed to act because Obamacare “is collapsing,” leaving just one insurance provider in two of the three counties he represents.

“Knowing the people I represent could very well lose their coverage … is disturbing,” he said. “It would be irresponsible for Congress not to act in order to prevent this from happening.”

Budd also conceded in a statement that “the legislative process is a human process with all the flaws that entails. The results of that process are never perfect, and this bill isn’t either.”

“What I believe it will do is significantly reduce insurance premiums in our state, and help put the individual insurance marketplace on a more sound financial footing,” he said.

Also voting yes was Pete Sessions of Texas, whose metro Dallas district was also won by Clinton. However, Sessions, who has been in the House since 1997 and won re-election by more than 50 points in 2016, is not considered vulnerable to a Democratic challenge.

All 40 of the Democrats representing districts in the South voted against the AHCA.

Southern GOP, Democratic senators split on using “nuclear option” in Gorsuch fight

Senate eliminates filibusters of Supreme Court nominees in party-line vote

WASHINGTON (CFP) — With the support of all 24 Southern Republicans, the U.S. Senate has changed its rules to eliminate filibusters for Supreme Court nominations, clearing the way for confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to a lifetime seat on the high court.

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch

After Democrats blocked Gorsuch’s nomination with a filibuster, the Republican majority used a parliamentary maneuver to change Senate rules, eliminating the need to reach 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

That vote fell along party lines, with 52 Republicans in favor, 46 Democrats opposed and two independents who caucus with Democrats also voting against the move.

With the filibuster out of the way, Gorsuch was confirmed by a vote of 54 to 45, with just three Democrats supporting him, including Joe Manchin of West Virginia

Three of the four Southern Democratic senators — Bill Nelson of Florida and Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia — supported the filibuster and voted against confirming Gorsuch. While Manchin did not join the filibuster and voted for confirmation, he did not support the move by Republican leaders to eliminate filibusters for Supreme Court nominees.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia

Manchin released a statement blistering both sides for “hypocrisy” and charging that the filibuster fight illustrates “precisely what is wrong with Washington.”

“Frustratingly, both parties have traded talking points: Republicans say it’s about obstructionism and Democrats say it’s a power grab. Their shifting positions and hypocrisy is the one thing that unites them,” he said.

Manchin also noted that in 2013, when Democrats used their majority to end filibusters for executive branch nominees, “every Republican Senator joined me in opposing the rules change then, but now, they stand united to do exactly what they opposed.”

Manchin is up for re-election in 2018 in a state President Donald Trump carried by a whopping 32 points. Warner and Kaine’s opposition to Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee presents less political risk in Virginia, the only Southern state Trump failed to carry last November.

Nelson, however, is also up for re-election in 2018 in a state Trump won and could be facing a formidable Republican foe in Florida Governor Rick Scott.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida

In a statement announcing his decision to oppose Gorsuch, Nelson said he has “real concerns with (Gorsuch’s) thinking on protecting the right to vote and allowing unlimited money in political campaigns. In addition, the judge has consistently sided with corporations over employees.”

“I will vote no on the motion to invoke cloture (to end the filibuster) and, if that succeeds, I will vote no on his confirmation,” Nelson said.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee immediately released a statement noting that Nelson had opposed a previous Democratic filibuster of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito in 2006 and had previously voted to confirm Gorsuch to a seat on the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Nelson proved to Floridians today that he no longer shares their values, and instead is more politically aligned with the liberal elite of Washington,” said Katie Martin, an NRSC spokeswoman. “Nelson has been in Washington too long and his move to ignore the will of voters in Florida will cost him his job in 2018.”

U.S. Senator Tim Kaine

Kaine, who is also up for re-election in 2018, is also being pounded by Republicans, particularly over a remark he made during the 2016 campaign saying he would support the “nuclear option” if Republicans filibustered any of Hillary Clinton’s Supreme Court nominees. At the time, Kaine was Clinton’s running mate.

In a lengthy statement explaining his support for the filibuster, Kaine noted that Republicans refused to consider President Obama’s selection of Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016, for which Gorsuch was nominated. He also said the filibuster, which Gorsuch would need 60 votes to overcome, ensures that high court nominees “receive significant bipartisan support.”

“That is especially important now given the many important issues pending before the court and the clear need to fill a position long held vacant through blatant partisan politics with someone who can bring independence and non-partisanship to the job,” Kaine said.

3 of 4 Southern Senate Democrats supporting Gorsuch filibuster

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia sole supporter of Trump Supreme Court nominee

WASHINGTON (CFP) — With the U.S. Senate headed for an epic showdown over a Democratic filibuster of President Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, three of the four Democrats who represent Southern states in the Senate have lined up against Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation.

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch

Senators Bill Nelson of Florida and Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia have all announced they will support a Democratic filibuster designed to stop the Gorsuch nomination, which will likely prompt GOP leaders to end filibusters for Supreme Court nominees, a move that has come to be known as the “nuclear option.”

The lone supporter of Gorsuch left among Southern Democrats is Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. All 24 Southern Republicans in the Senate are expected to vote to end the filibuster and confirm Gorsuch.

Manchin — up for re-election in 2018 in a state Trump carried by a whopping 32 points — said in a statement that Gorsuch “has been consistently rated as a well-qualified jurist, the highest rating a jurist can receive, and I have found him to be an honest and thoughtful man.”

“I hold no illusions that I will agree with every decision Judge Gorsuch may issue in the future, but I have not found any reasons why this jurist should not be a Supreme Court Justice,” he said.

Warner and Kaine’s opposition to Trump’s nominee presents less political risk in Virginia, the only Southern state Trump failed to carry last November.  Nelson, however, is up for re-election in 2018 in a state Trump won and could be facing a formidable Republican foe in Florida Governor Rick Scott.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida

In a statement announcing his decision to oppose Gorsuch, Nelson said he has “real concerns with (Gorsuch’s) thinking on protecting the right to vote and allowing unlimited money in political campaigns. In addition, the judge has consistently sided with corporations over employees.”

“I will vote no on the motion to invoke cloture (to end the filibuster) and, if that succeeds, I will vote no on his confirmation,” Nelson said.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee immediately released a statement noting that Nelson had opposed a previous Democratic filibuster of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito in 2006 and had previously voted to confirm Gorsuch to a seat on the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Nelson proved to Floridians today that he no longer shares their values, and instead is more politically aligned with the liberal elite of Washington,” said Katie Martin, an NRSC spokeswoman. “Nelson has been in Washington too long and his move to ignore the will of voters in Florida will cost him his job in 2018.”

U.S. Senator Tim Kaine

Kaine, who is also up for re-election in 2018, is also being pounded by Republicans, particularly over a remark he made during the 2016 campaign saying he would support the “nuclear option” if Republicans filibustered any of Hillary Clinton’s Supreme Court nominees. At the time, Kaine was Clinton’s running mate.

In a lengthy statement explaining his support for the filibuster, Kaine noted that Republicans refused to consider President Obama’s selection of Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016, for which Gorsuch has now been nominated. He also said the filibuster, which Gorsuch would need 60 votes to overcome, ensures that high court nominees “receive significant bipartisan support.”

“That is especially important now given the many important issues pending before the court and the clear need to fill a position long held vacant through blatant partisan politics with someone who can bring independence and non-partisanship to the job,” Kaine said.

If Republicans are unable to get 60 votes to end the filibuster against Garland, Republican leaders are expected to change Senate rules to end filibusters for Supreme Court nominees and allow them to be confirmed by a simple majority.

In 2013 when Democrats controlled the Senate, they invoked the so-called “nuclear option” to end filibusters for nominees for positions in the executive branch, after minority Republicans thwarted several of President Obama’s appointments.

Virginia Governor 2017: Contested primaries shaping up in both parties

Northam, Gillespie face challenges from anti-establishment rivals

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

virginia mugRICHMOND (CFP) — Any hopes Democratic and Republican leaders in Virginia had of avoiding contentious primaries in the governor’s race this year have been dashed, with both parties facing the same establishment-versus-insurgent battles that characterized the 2016 presidential contest.

With two months to go before the filing deadline for the June primary, the Democratic race has already drawn two major contenders, while the Republican race has four. All are vying to replace Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe, who is barred by state law from seeking re-election.

On the Democratic side, Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam appeared to be cruising to his party’s nomination unmolested until January, when former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello jumped into the race and began casting himself as anti-establishment, in contrast to the well-connected Northam.

On the Republican side, Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman who ran a surprisingly strong race for U.S. Senate in 2014, is being challenged by Donald Trump’s former Virginia campaign chairman, a veteran state senator who also worked for Trump, and a Tea Party-aligned distillery owner who has hired the campaign manager who helped take down Eric Cantor in 2014.

A poll from the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, released February 2, shows both primary races are fluid, with Gillespie and Northam leading but most voters undecided.

The governor’s battle takes place amid changing political currents in the Old Dominion. Once reliably Republican, Democrats have carried the state in the last three presidential elections and hold both U.S. Senate seats. Three of the last four governors have been Democrats.

Virginia also doesn’t have primary runoffs, which means that on the Republican side, the winner is likely to have garnered significantly less than 50 percent of the vote.

Ed Gillespie

Ed Gillespie

Gillespie, 55, from Fairfax County, is a former top lieutenant to President George W. Bush who has run both the national and state GOP. In 2014, he came within 18,000 votes of unseating Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Warner, in what was considered one of the biggest surprises of that election cycle.

Standing in Gillespie’s road to the nomination are Corey Stewart, 48, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, who ran Trump’s campaign in Virginia until being fired a month before the 2016 election; State Senator Frank Wagner, 61, from Virginia Beach, a former U.S. Navy officer who has served in the the state legislature for 25 years; and Denver Riggleman, a distillery owner and former Air Force intelligence officer from Afton.

County Supervisor Corey Stewart

County Supervisor Corey Stewart

Stewart, who instigated a crackdown on undocumented immigrants as county chairman, has boasted that “I was Trump before Trump was Trump.” However, he was removed from the Trump campaign last October after organizing a protest outside of Republican National Committee headquarters demanding that the GOP hierarchy not abandon Trump in the wake of the release of an audiotape in which Trump made sexually suggestive comments.

A key question in the GOP primary will be the extent to which Trump might assist Stewart — and how much good that would actually do in a state Trump lost.

State Senator Frank Wagner

State Senator Frank Wagner

Stewart will also have competition for the pro-Trump banner from Wagner, who was co-chair of Trump’s campaign in southeast Virginia. He has remained a Trump defender, endorsing the president’s controversial ban on refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries and criticizing Gillespie for not following suit.

In his campaign, Wagner is also touting his legislative experience and the fact that he is the only Republican candidate who is a native Virginian.

Denver Riggleman

Denver Riggleman

Riggleman, the least well-known among the Republican candidates, has hired the campaign manager used by U.S. Rep. Dave Brat in his upset win over then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a GOP primary 2014. Backed by Tea Party activists and talk radio hosts, Brat tossed the powerful Cantor from Congress, in what is now seen as a prelude to the political earthquake that brought Trump to power two years later.

The Wason Center poll found that Gillespie was the choice of 33 percent of Republican or Republican-learning voters, with Wagner at 9 percent, Stewart at 7 percent and Riggleman at 1 percent. However, 50 percent remain undecided.

Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam

Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam

On the Democratic side, Northam, 57, a doctor and former U.S. Army major from Norfolk, served in the state senate before winning the lieutenant governorship in 2013. He has the backing of most of the commonwealth’s Democratic leadership, including McAuliffe, Warner and U.S. Senator Tim Kaine.

Perriello, 42, from Charlottesville, served a single term in Congress before being swamped in the Tea Party wave of 2010. His tenure was noteworthy for his vote in favor of Obamacare, which didn’t go down well in the more conservative parts of his central Virginia district.

Former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriollo

Former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello

After leaving Congress, Perriello worked at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, and was appointed by President Obama as a State Department envoy to Africa.

While Perriello’s voting record in Congress was moderate for a Democrat, he has been staking out ground on the progressive left in the governor’s race, saying he wants to make Virginia “a firewall against hate, corruption and an assault on the Virginia values of decency and progress.” He has also changed his position on using federal funds to pay for abortions, which he once voted against but now supports.

The Democratic primary race is likely to feature some of the remaining currents from the bruising 2016 battle between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Northam’s most prominent backer, McAufliffe, is a close confidant of the Clintons, and Northam endorsed Clinton over Sanders in the commonwealth’s presidential primary. That could provide an opening for Perriello, who is also close to Obama and members of the former president’s political brain trust.

The Wason Center poll shoed Northam at 26 percent and Perriello at 15 percent among Democratic and Democratic leaning voters, with 59 percent undecided.

Virginia is one of four Southern states that hold gubernatorial elections in off years but is the only one voting in 2017. Louisiana, Kentucky, and Mississippi will have elections in 2019.

13 Southern U.S. House Democrats bow out of Trump inaugural

All of the no-shows represent districts carried by Hillary Clinton

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern states smWASHINGTON (CFP) — Thirteen of the 40 Southern Democrats in the U.S. House have announced that they will not take part in the January 20 inauguration of Donald Trump.

Lawmakers from Florida, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia are among the no-shows. All of the boycotting members represent urban or black-majority districts that were carried by Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s tweets castigating U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, for announcing an inauguration boycott seemed to particularly rankle some of the members opting not to attend; Trump’s reaction was called “repugnant,” “ignorant,” and “insensitive and foolish.”

“We are sending a message to Mr. Trump. Respect, like Pennsylvania Avenue, is a two-way street,” said U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, who will be among the no-shows.

However, none of the three other Democrats in Lewis’s own Georgia delegation have joined the boycott. Also not joining so far is U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who, as head of the Democratic National Committee during the presidential campaign, had been a sharp Trump critic.

As for the contention by Trump supporters that the inauguration is a celebration not of him but of the peaceful transfer of power, U.S. Rep. Julian Castro, D-Texas, said, “Every American should respect the office of the presidency and the fact that Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States. But winning an election does not mean a man can show contempt for millions of Americans and then expect those very people to celebrate him.”

U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Virginia, said Trump’s “behavior and harmful words during and after the campaign have left the country I love with open, bleeding wounds. Instead of binding those wounds, he has poured salt on them. Instead of unifying us, he has reveled in driving wedges between us.”

Trump won 108 of the 154 congressional districts across the South in the November election; none of them are represented by Democrats.

Lawmakers boycotting the inaugural are unlikely to pay a political price, as all but two of them represent districts that Clinton carried with at least 60 percent of the vote. However, U.S. Reps. Darren Soto, D-Florida, and John Yarmuth, D-Kentucky, come from districts where Clinton’s share was just 55 percent.

The list of boycotting Democrats includes:

Georgia

Florida

Kentucky

Mississippi

North Carolina

Tennessee

Texas

Virginia

Electoral College: Despite protests, Southern electors stick with Trump

Trump carried 165 of the region’s 180 votes; two ‘faithless’ electors in Texas vote for Kasich, Ron Paul

♦By Rich Shumate, Chicken Fried Politics.com editor

southern states sm(CFP) — Members of the Electoral College have met at 14 Southern statehouses and, as expected, gave the overwhelming majority of the region’s electoral votes to President-elect Donald Trump, ignoring calls by anti-Trump protestors to stop his elevation to the nation’s highest office.

Candidate Donald Trump

Donald Trump

Trump carried 165 of the South’s 180 electoral votes in the December 19 vote. Hillary Clinton won the 13 electoral votes from Virginia, which was the only Southern state she carried.

The only place where Republican electors broke ranks was in Texas, where the defections of two Republican electors did not stop Trump from securing the 270 votes he needed to win the White House.

Chris Suprun, a Dallas paramedic who had previously announced he would not vote for Trump, cast his ballot for Ohio Governor John Kasich. Elector Bill Greene, who represented the 34th District, which takes in the Gulf Coast between Brownsville and Corpus Christi, voted for former Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul.

Afterward, Texas Governor Greg Abbott tweeted his support for a bill that would preclude so-called “faithless” electors by requiring them to vote for the candidate who carried the state on election day, in this case, Trump.

“This charade is over.,” Abbot said. “A bill is already filed to make these commitments binding. I look forward to signing it & ending this circus.

Twenty-nine states have laws binding electors to the popular vote winner in their states, including the Southern states of Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. Currently in Texas, state law doesn’t bind electors, although the Texas GOP required them to take an oath pledging to vote for the popular vote winner.

The Electoral College vote is usually a formality to which scant public attention is paid. However, Trump’s surprise win on November 8, coupled with his loss to Clinton by more than 2.8 million votes in the popular vote, galvanized anti-Trump protests at state capitols around the country.

Small groups of protestors gathered in Tallahassee, Atlanta, Nashville, Raleigh, Austin, Oklahoma City and Montgomery.

In Austin, shouts from protestors were audible inside the State House chamber where electors met, according to local media reports.

In Little Rock, anti-Trump activists took many of the seats in the old Supreme Court chamber in the State Capitol, where the vote took place. According to local media reports, one protestor was removed, although the electors also chatted amiably with the demonstrators before the vote took place.

Democratic VP nominee Tim Kaine rules out 2020 White House run

Kaine tells Richmond newspaper he is content representing Virginia in the Senate

♦By Rich Shumate, Chicken Fried Politics.com editor

virginia mugRICHMOND (CFP) — U.S. Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia says he is through with presidential-level politics and will not run for the Democratic nomination in 2020.

Tim Kaine

Tim Kaine

Kaine made those remarks in a November 17 interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, his first in-depth interview since he and Hillary Clinton went down to defeat on November 8.

“I want to run and serve in the Senate for a long time,” Kaine said. “I was really honored to be asked by Hillary, and it was a history-making race to be the first woman nominated. And for her to do well in Virginia and win the popular vote, that is all to her credit. And I was really proud to be part of it. But I think the Catholic in me likes to go to the place where there is the most work to be done.”

Kaine told the newspaper that he would like to emulate the career path of former U.S. Senator John Warner, who represented Virginia in the Senate for 30 years before retiring in 2009. Warner never sought the presidency.

Had Kaine been willing to seek the presidency in 2020, he would have been a leading contender on the Democratic side, given his name recognition from the 2016 race.

Kaine is up for re-election in 2018. While Republicans would likely make a charge at him, Virginia has been trending Democrat in statewide races, with the governorship and both U.S. Senate seats in Democratic hands.

The Clinton-Kaine ticket carried Virginia by 5 points. It was the lone Southern state that they won.

Kaine was the only Southerner to make the ticket of either major political party this year, although 10 Southerners unsuccessfully sought their party’s nomination, including two Virginians, former Democratic U.S. Senator Jim Webb and former Republican Governor Jim Gilmore.

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