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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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Joe Biden sweeps to another victory in Florida Democratic presidential primary

Biden has now gone 10-for-10 in Southern primaries; Trump clinches GOP nomination

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

MIAMI (CFP) — Former Vice President Joe Biden easily vanquished his last major Democratic rival, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, in Florida’s Democratic presidential primary Tuesday, in a race overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden took 62 percent of the vote, sweeping every one of the state’s 67 counties. Sanders took just 23 percent.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump’s victory in the state’s Republican primary, against minor opposition, put him across the delegate threshold to clinch his party’s 2020 nomination. The president changed his residency to Florida earlier last year.

Florida election officials opted to proceed with Tuesday’s primary despite the national coronavirus shutdown. The run-up to election day was subdued, with neither Democratic candidate holding any rallies or campaign events. Trump has also called a halt to rallies with his supporters.

Biden speaks via video after Florida win

Biden’s win in Florida was wide and deep, taking his string of Southern victories to 10. His delegate margin over Sanders from the Sunshine State alone was more than 80 delegates.

The closest Sanders came to Biden was in Alachua County, home to the University of Florida. where Biden won by 11 points. But Sanders was pummeled in the heavily Democratic counties in South Florida, failing to clear 20 percent of the vote in either Broward or Palm Beach counties and getting just 22 percent in Miami-Dade.

Despite the concerns about coronavirus, the total turnout of Democratic voters was 1.7 million, about the same as it was in 2016, when Sanders took 33 percent of the vote in a race against Hillary Clinton. However, Florida makes extensive use of early voting that was less impacted by the pandemic.

Sanders, who was in Washington as the Senate considers emergency legislation to deal with the pandemic, did not make any public appearance after the vote.

With traditional election night celebrations canceled, Biden had to make do with a web video shot in his home in Wilmington, Delaware.

“We’ve moved closer to securing the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, and we’re doing it by building a broad coalition that we need to win in November,” Biden said.

As he did when he swept through the primaries a week ago, Biden also out an olive branch to Sanders and his supporters.

“Senator Sanders and I may disagree on tactics, but we share a common vision,” he said. “Our goal as a campaign, and my goal as a candidate for president, is to unify this party and then unify the nation.”

Four Southern states have yet to vote in the presidential race — Georgia, Louisiana, Kentucky, and West Virginia.

Georgia’s primary, scheduled from March 24, has been moved to May 19; Louisiana’s has been moved from April 4 to June 20; and Kentucky’s has been moved from May 19 to June 23. West Virginia’s primary is still scheduled for May 12.

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Andrew Gillum withdraws from politics, enters rehab after encounter with police in hotel room

Gillum, the Democratic candidate for Florida governor in 2018, was found “inebriated” in a Miami Beach hotel room where drugs were present

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

MIAMI (CFP) — Andrew Gillum, who narrowly lost a bid for Florida governor in 2018, has announced he will withdraw from political life and enter a rehab program for alcoholism after after police found him “inebriated” Friday night in a Miami Beach hotel room where paramedics had been called to treat a man for a drug overdose.

Police found what they believe was crystal methamphetamine in the room with Gillum and his companion, Travis Dyson, who was taken for treatment at a local hospital.

Andrew Gillum

Gillum, 40, was not arrested or charged and denied he was using drugs.

He announced Sunday that he would enter an undisclosed treatment facility for “alcohol abuse,” which he attributed to depression in the wake of his defeat in the governor’s race.

“This has been a wake-up call for me,” he said in a statement. “I am committed to doing the personal work to heal fully and show up in the world as a more complete person”

Gillum said he would be “stepping down from all public facing roles for the foreseeable future,” including working as a political analyst for CNN and leading an organization he set up to help his gubernatorial run, Forward Florida Action, which has been working to register 1 million new voters ahead of the 2020 election.

According to the police report of the incident, paramedics and police were called to a hotel in South Beach by a man identified as Aldo Mejias, who told them he arrived at the room to find Dyson and Gillum “under the influence of an unknown substance.”

Dyson was having trouble breathing, and Gillum was vomiting in the bathroom, the report said.

When police arrived, Gillum “was unable to communicate with officers due to his inebriated state,” according to the report. Gillum left the hotel on his own, police said.

Police found three small baggies of what is believed to be crystal meth in the room, according to the report.

Mejias told police he had given Dyson his credit card to rent the hotel room. The report does not describe what connection, if any, he had with Gillum.

In 2018, Gillum, then mayor of Tallahassee, surged to a surprise win in the Democratic primary for Florida governor. He lost to Republican Governor Ron DeSantis by 34,000 votes in November.

Last year 2019, a federal grand jury subpoenaed records from Forward Florida and Gillum’s gubernatorial campaign. The scope of the federal investigation is still unclear, and no charges have been brought.

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Joe Biden crushes Bernie Sanders in Mississippi

Magnolia State’s large African American population gives former vice president his biggest win of the campaign season

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

JACKSON, Mississippi (CFP) — Former Vice President Joe Biden crushed Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders in Mississippi’s Democratic presidential primary Tuesday, extending his string of victories across the South to nine.

Biden won 81 percent of the vote; Sanders came in at just under 15 percent, below the threshold needed to win statewide delegates.

Biden’s 66-point margin was the biggest winning margin so far for Biden in any state, eclipsing his 47-point victory in neighboring Alabama.

The former vice president has now gone nine-for-nine in Southern primaries, with Florida and Georgia on tap next.

Joe Biden addresses supporters after Mississippi win (From Fox News via YouTube)

As in the rest of the South, Biden’s win was due to a strong performance among African American voters, who made up two-thirds of the Democratic electorate in Mississippi.

Exit polls showed that Biden was the choice of 87 percent of black voters, compared to 10 percent for Sanders.

Speaking to his campaign staff in Philadelphia after a public rally in Ohio was canceled over concerns about coronavirus, Biden called the success of his campaign “a comeback for the soul of this nation.”

“Tonight, we are a step closer to restoring decency, dignity and honor to the White House,” Biden said.

He also praised Sanders and his supporters for bringing “energy” to the party and made a plea for unity.

“We share a common goal, and together, we’ll defeat Donald Trump,” Biden said.

Sanders’s defeat is the latest in a long string of Southern setbacks, stretching back to his 2016 run against Hillary Clinton. In 2016, he won in just two Southern states; this time around, he hasn’t won any.

Sanders did not make a public appearance after Tuesday’s results. His campaign also canceled a planned rally in Cleveland.

Florida, on tap next week, is the second biggest prize in the South after Texas, with 219 delegates up for grabs. Recent public polling shows Biden with a wide lead over Sanders in the Sunshine State, where his past comments about Israel and embrace of socialism have gone down less than well with Jewish and immigrant voters, both key voting blocks.

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Mississippi Democrats vote Tuesday in 2020 White House race

The Magnolia State’s demographics favor Joe Biden, although no public polling has been done

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

JACKSON, Mississippi (CFP) — Mississippi Democrats will weigh in Tuesday on what has now become a two-man race between former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, with the state’s large African American population pointing toward a Biden win.

Mississippi is the only Southern state holding a primary on Tuesday, and it comes a week after Biden swept seven Southern states, including neighboring Arkansas and Tennessee. Other states holding primaries or caucuses Tuesday include Idaho, Michigan, Missouri, North Dakota and Washington.

Polls will be open in Mississippi from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. CT.

Sanders and Biden compete in Mississippi

Biden’s previous wins across the South have been based on rolling up large margins over Sanders among African American voters, and Mississippi has the nation’s largest black voting age population, at 37 percent. In 2016, Hillary Clinton crushed Sanders in the Magnolia State by 66 points.

Although no public polling has been done in Mississippi, the candidates’ schedules may point to how the campaigns feel about the state of the race.

Sanders canceled a planned visit on Friday to campaign in Michigan, while Biden was in Jackson Sunday to speak to the congregation of New Hope Baptist Church, where he was introduced by the state’s lone African American congressman, U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, who endorsed the former vice president earlier in the week.

“If I’m the comeback kid, there is only one reason — the African American community all around the country,” Biden said.

Republicans will also hold a primary Tuesday, with President Donald Trump facing only token opposition.

After Mississippi, the next Southern stop on the primary calendar is Florida on March 17, followed by Georgia on March 24.

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