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Democrats taunt Mitch McConnell with Russia signs, chants at Kentucky political picnic

Crowd chants “Moscow Mitch” and waves Russian flags at Fancy Farm event

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

FANCY FARM, Kentucky (CFP) — In a sign that the derisive nickname recently attached to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may be taking hold in the political zeitgeist, a boisterous crowd of Democrats greeted him with chants of “Moscow Mitch” and waved Russian flags Saturday during his appearance at Kentucky’s famous Fancy Farm political picnic.

Robert Kellums lampoons Mitch McConnell at Fancy Farm picnic

Kentucky Democrats, who have been raising money by selling Russian-themed merchandise targeting the Senate leader, kept up the pressure at Saturday’s picnic, attended by a who’s who of Bluegrass politics, with shirts and signs connecting McConnell to Russia in the wake of his decision to derail election security bills in the Senate.

A popular poster on the picnic grounds showed McConnell in a Russian military uniform, above the tagline “Spread the Red, Comrade.” One woman was even sporting a Russian fur hat in the 90-degree heat.

Note: Video of McConnell’s remarks at Fancy Farm follows this story.

“That’s a rookie mistake from someone who’s not a rookie,” said Robert Kellems from Hancock County, who posed for photographs with a cartoon he was carrying showing McConnell as a turtle with an onion-dome shell. Kellems also noted the turnabout at play, pointing out that “the president seems to think name calling is OK.”

McConnell — who earlier in the week had pushed back against the “Moscow Mitch” gibe as “McCarthyism” — did not address the controversy in his remarks to the picnic, as the Democrats on hand booed and chanted throughout. He did gesture toward the protestors when he noted that “Washington liberals” angry with his role in pushing through Trump’s Supreme Court picks “responded by targeting me.”

Noting that he is the only top leader in Congress not from New York or California, McConnell told the crowd, “I’m the guy who sticks up for middle America and for Kentucky.”

“[Democrats] want to turn America into a socialist country. Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell are never going to let that happen,” he said. “That’s why I call myself the Grim Reaper — I’m killing their socialist agenda.”

McConnell also took a shot at his most high-profile Democratic opponent in his 2020 re-election race, referring to Amy McGrath as “Amy McGaffe” over her recent rocky campaign rollout in which she first said she would have voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court and later reversed herself.

McConnell then joked that McGrath, who did not attend the picnic “sends her regrets. She’s still working up an answer on Brett Kavanaugh with her friends at MSNBC.”

McConnell supporters wearing “Team Mitch” shirts warmed up the crowd by parading through with giant cutouts of Kavanaugh and President Trump’s other Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch, to be greeted with waves of the “Moscow Mitch” chant.

McGrath cited a previous commitment for not attending the Fancy Farm picnic. If she had, she would not have gotten the chance to address the crowd because under the rules for the event, only elected officials and candidates running for state offices in 2019 are invited to speak.

The picnic draws thousands of partisans from across Kentucky to Fancy Farm, a town of 500 on the far western side of the state that has hosted the event on the first Saturday in August every year since 1880.

The picnic is a fundraiser for St. Jerome Catholic Church in Fancy Farm, which was founded by Catholic settlers in the 1830s.

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Texas Republican U.S. Rep. Will Hurd bowing out of the House

In a surprise move, the chamber’s lone black Republican and sometime Trump critic says he plans “to help our country in a different way”

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Just two weeks after voting with Democrats to condemn President Donald Trump over his tweets about four liberal House members, Republican U.S. Rep. Will Hurd of Texas has announced that he will not seek re-election in 2020, opening up a prime pickup opportunity for Democrats in West Texas.

Hurd, a former undercover CIA agent who had been considered a rising star among House Republicans before his surprise announcement, said in a statement that he was leaving “in order to pursue opportunities outside the halls of Congress to solve problems at the nexus between technology and national security.”

U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas

While his statement did not indicate any future plans, Hurd told the Washington Post that he did intend to run for office again in the future — and that despite his criticism of the president, he planned to vote for Trump if he is the GOP nominee as expected in 2020.

“It was never my intention to stay in Congress forever, but I will stay involved in politics to grow a Republican Party that looks like America,” he said in his statement.

Of his six years in Congress, Hurd said. “There were times when it was fun and times when it wasn’t. When people were mad, it was my job to listen. When people felt hopeless, it was my job to care. When something was broken, it was my job to find out how to fix it.”

Hurd is the third Texas House Republican to forgo re-election next year, joining U.S. Reps. Pete Olson and Michael Conaway. Hurd’s seat, in Texas’s 23rd District, which he won by a mere 926 votes in 2018, is by far the most vulnerable.

Hurd, 41, was something of a political unicorn in Congress. Not only was he the only African-American Republican in the House — and one of only two in Congress — he was also a Republican representing a district that is more than 70 percent Latino, which he said gave him the opportunity to take “a conservative message to places that don’t often hear it. ”

“Folks in these communities believe in order to solve problems we should empower people not the government, help families move up the economic ladder through free markets not socialism and achieve and maintain peace by being nice with nice guys and tough with tough guys,” he said in his statement. “These Republican ideals resonate with people who don’t think they identify with the Republican Party.”

Hurd was also the last Southern Republican left in Congress representing a district Hillary Clinton carried, albeit narrowly, in 2016.

As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Hurd questioned special counsel Robert Mueller during his July 24 appearance to discuss his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, offering a less confrontational line of questioning than many of his fellow Republicans on the panel.

Last month, Hurd was the only Southern Republican — and one of only four in the House — who broke ranks to support a resolution condemning Trump over tweets he made about four far-left congresswomen known as “The Squad,” which were widely denounced as racist by the president’s critics.

The 23rd District is the largest geographically in Texas, stretching from the suburbs of San Antonio across rural West Texas toward El Paso, and one of the most consistently competitive seats anywhere in the country.

Hurd’s victory in 2014 marked the fourth time in a decade that the seat had switched between parties. He managed to hold it for three election cycles, although never winning by more than 3,000 votes.

The Democratic candidate for the seat in 2018, Gina Ortiz Jones, is running again in 2020, and Hurd was facing another difficult election fight to keep the seat, including, after his criticism of Trump, a possible primary challenge.

Conaway’s district, the 11th, which includes Midland, Odessa and San Angelo, is strongly Republican and will likely not change hands with his retirement. Olson’s district, the 22nd, in the suburbs of Houston, is more vulnerable to a Democratic challenge.

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Alabama U.S. House scramble: Roby retirement opens 2nd seat as reapportionment loss looms

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby’s surprise decision to leave Congress further upsets the state’s congressional apple cart

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

MONTGOMERY (CFP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Martha Roby surprised the political world Friday by announcing that she won’t seek re-election in 2020, leaving two of the Yellowhammer State’s seven House seats open during next year’s election.

And as large fields of Republicans scramble in primaries for those seats, they’ll do so with the expectation that one of them could have but a brief stay in Congress, depending on how the political cards fall following the 2020 U.S. Census.

Based on current population projections, Alabama is set to lose one of its seven seats during the next reapportionment. Because of the requirements of the Voting Rights Act, the lost seat is almost sure to be one of the six Republicans now hold, rather than the lone Democratic seat held by U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell in the majority black 7th District.

That will leave six Republicans competing for five seats, which means two of them will have to run against each other if none of them step aside. State legislators will draw new district lines in 2021, which will go into effect for the 2022 election.

In 2020, the 1st District seat, which includes Mobile and Lower Alabama, is open because U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is running for the U.S. Senate. Roby’s departure now opens the 2nd District seat, which includes Montgomery and the southeastern corner of the state.

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, R-Alabama

Roby, just 43 and in her fourth term in Congress, was elected in the GOP sweep in 2010. Her decision to leave Congress came just two days after she questioned special counsel Robert Mueller on national television during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

She is one of just 13 Republican women in Congress, the party’s lowest level of female representation in 25 years.

In a statement announcing her retirement, Roby thanked her constituents for the “tremendous privilege and honor” of representing them in Washington but did not offer an explanation for her decision to leave.

“Throughout my five terms in Congress, I have cast every vote with the guiding principle that Alabama always comes first,” she said. “While my name will not be on the ballot in 2020, I remain committed to continuing the fight for Alabama and the people I represent until I cast my last vote on the floor of the United States House of Representatives.“

Roby has faced unexpected competition in her last two re-election bids after she called on Donald Trump to drop out of the 2016 presidential race when the infamous Access Hollywood tape — in which he can be heard bragging about groping women — came to light

In the 2016 general election, Roby was held to less than 50 percent of the vote in her strongly Republican district after nearly 30,000 angry Trump fans wrote in someone else. In 2018, she was challenged in the GOP primary and forced into a runoff, which she won after getting Trump’s support.

Had she run in 2020, Roby would have been on the ballot with Trump — which would have prompted uncomfortable questions about her current and evolving views on the commander-in-chief.

Republicans will be heavily favored to keep both of the open seats in 2020. But after reapportionment, those two freshmen may need legislators to draw a favorable map and then defeat another incumbent in order to survive.

State legislators are required to draw districts that have equal populations. However, because there will be six seats instead of seven, the population of those districts will need to be larger, which could force a wholesale redrawing of the map statewide.

The Voting Rights Act requires the drawing of majority-minority districts whenever possible, which should protect much of Sewell’s district, although it will need to expand.

Federal law does not require a House candidate to actually live in the district where he or she runs. However, running in new territory is much more difficult and counteracts the benefits of incumbency.

Currently, there are four GOP districts centered on the state’s major population centers — Birmingham, Mobile, Montgomery and Huntsville. Two other districts cover more rural areas in eastern and western Alabama.

Given that urban areas of the state, particularly Huntsville, are growing faster than rural areas, the rural districts would seem to be more at risk. However, the two men who represent them — Mike Rogers in the 3rd District and Robert Aderholt in the 4th District — have been in Congress much longer than the other incumbents and could have more pull with state legislators when it comes time to draw new maps.

Aderholt was elected in 1996; Rogers, in 2002.

The 5th District Huntsville seat is held by Mo Brooks, elected in 2010. The 6th District seat metro Birmingham seat is held by Gary Palmer, elected in 2014.

Alabama is one of two Southern states expected to lose seats during the 2020 reapportionment, along with West Virginia. Texas is expected to pick up three seats; Florida, 2; and North Carolina, 1. The other Southern states will retain their current represenation.

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Texas U.S. Rep. Will Hurd is only Southern Republican to support condemning Trump

5 Southern Democrats from Trump districts voted to condemn his tweets about Democratic congresswomen

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — After a day of high drama and contentious debate, the U.S. House approved a resolution condemning President Donald Trump for “racist” tweets directed at four left-wing congresswomen with only a single Southern Republican — U.S. Rep. Will Hurd of Texas — voting in favor.

U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas

Ninety-four other Southern House Republicans voted against the resolution, which was supported by all 50 Southern House Democrats in the July 16 vote, including five members who represent districts Trump carried in 2016.

Those five members are Lucy McBath from Georgia, Kendra Horn from Oklahoma, Joe Cunningham from South Carolina, and Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria from Virginia.

Five Republicans from Texas — Kay Granger, Louie Gohmert, Roger Williams, Kenny Marchant and Michael Burgess — did not vote on the resolution. They also did not participate in other roll call votes held the same day.

The floor fight over the resolution was led on the GOP side by U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, who set off two hours of turmoil after objecting to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling Trump’s tweets “racist,” which he said violated House rules against offering personal criticism of the president.

After lengthy discussions between members and the chamber’s parliamentarians, the chair eventually ruled Pelosi’s comments out of order, but members, on a party-line vote, overturned that ruling.

Trump, who denied his criticism of the congresswomen was racist, had urged Republican members not to show “weakness” in supporting the resolution. In the end, only four Republicans broke ranks to support it.

The resolution said the House “strongly condemns” Trump’s “racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color by saying that our fellow Americans who are immigrants, and those who may look to the President like immigrants, should ‘go back’ to other countries.”

Over the weekend, Trump tweeted that a group of Democratic congresswomen should “go back” to their home countries if they were dissatisfied with life in America.

While he did not single out anyone by name, the tweets appeared to be a reference to four female members from the party’s left wing who have been among his sharpest critics — Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.

Of the four, only Omar, who came to the United States as a refugee from Somalia as a child, was not born in the United States. All four are U.S. citizens, which is a requirement to sit in Congress.

Critics attributed what they see as Trump’s racist intent to make-up of the group, dubbed The Squad. Omar and Pressley are black, Ocasio-Cortez is Latino, and Tlaib is of Palestinian descent.

Hurd represents a majority-Latino swing district in West Texas. He is the only Southern Republican in Congress who represents a district that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016 and is among the top targets for House Democrats next year.

In an interview with PBS, Hurd called the president’s tweets “racist and xenophobic” and “also inaccurate.”

“The four women he is referring to are actually citizens of the United States, three of the four were born here. It’s also a behavior that’s unbecoming of the leader of the free world,” Hurd said. “He should be talking about things that unite us, not divide us. And also, I think, politically, it doesn’t help.”

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Will South Carolina’s Mark Sanford pull the trigger on a 2020 primary challenge to President Trump?

Former governor and congressman tells Charleston newspaper he’s considering a run

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CHARLESTON, South Carolina (CFP) — Last summer, President Donald Trump reacted with some glee after helping take out then-U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, who went down to defeat in his Lowcountry district to a GOP primary challenger whom Trump endorsed.

Mark Sanford

Now, Sanford is considering trying to once again resurrect his political career — with a long-shot challenge to Trump himself for the Republican presidential nomination in 2020.

“Sometimes in life you’ve got to say what you’ve got to say, whether there’s an audience or not for that message,” Sanford said in an interview with the Post and Courier newspaper, where he teased his intentions. “I feel convicted.”

Sanford said the GOP “has lost its way on debt, spending and financial matters,” issues that he said would be central to his campaign. He told the newspaper that he expects to decide within the next month whether to join the race against Trump.

But even the possibility of a Sanford challenge to Trump set off the state’s Republican Party chairman, Drew McKissick, who released a statement saying “the last time Mark Sanford had an idea this dumb, it killed his Governorship. This makes about as much sense as that trip up the Appalachian Trail.”

The state Democratic Party took a more light-hearted tone, tweeting: “We look forward to seeing mark [sic] on the trail! Always nice to see a candidate with fewer extra marital affairs than the president.”

In 2009, Sanford, then the Palmetto State’s governor, touched off a messy personal scandal when he disappeared from public view after telling reporters that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail, when he was actually off canoodling with his Argentinian mistress.

He refused calls to resign and served out the rest of his term, then, in 2013, resurrected his political career by winning a special election in the 1st U.S. House District.

After Trump was elected in 2016, Sanford became one of a very small number of congressional Republicans willing to criticize the president, calling his behavior in office “weird,” criticizing his disparagement of Haiti and countries in Africa and calling his policy of imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum “an experiment with stupidity.”

Trump got his revenge in 2018 when State Rep. Katie Arrington defeated Sanford in the Republican primary, after getting a well-timed Twitter endorsement from the president on election day. However, the victory proved somewhat pyrrhic when Arrrington lost the seat to Democrat Joe Cunningham in November.

Sanford, 59, served a total of 13 years during his two stints in Congress and eight years as governor. He told the Post and Courier that if he doesn’t run against Trump, he won’t try to reclaim his former seat in Congress against Cunningham but might try to start a think tank focused on deficit issues.

The only Republican challenging Trump in 2020 so far is former Massachusetts Governor William Weld, who comes from the party’s moderate wing, unlike Sanford, who carved out a conservative record in Congress and as governor.

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Greg Murphy wins GOP nomination in North Carolina’s 3rd U.S. House District

Murphy defeats Joan Perry, who receive significant support from groups pushing to elect more Republican women

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

GREENVILLE, North Carolina (CFP) — In a setback for the cause of adding to the thin ranks of Republican women in the U.S. House, Republicans in North Carolina’s 3rd District have chosen State Rep. Greg Murphy as their nominee in a special election for one of two vacant seats in the state’s delegation.

State Rep. Greg Murphy

Murphy, a urologist from Greenville, won the July 9 runoff with 60 percent to defeat Joan Perry, a pediatrician from Kinston, who took 40 percent.

Perry, a political newcomer, had received significant financial support from outside groups pushing to elect more Republican women to the House. Her loss will leave the number of GOP women at 13, the party’s lowest ebb in female membership in the last 25 years.

Murphy will be a heavy favorite in the September 10 special election against the Democratic nominee, former Greenville Mayor Allen Thomas, in the Republican-leaning district, which takes in 17 mostly rural counties along the state’s Atlantic coast.

President Donald Trump carried the district by 24 points in 2016.

The seat has been vacant since U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, who held it for 24 years, died in February.

In the first round of voting in April, which drew 17 Republican candidates, Murphy took 23 percent to 15 percent for Perry. A runoff was required because neither candidate met the 30 percent threshold to win outright.

During the runoff, the contest between Perry and Murphy became a proxy war pitting advocates for electing more Republican women to the House, who supported her, against ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus members, who campaigned for him.

Winning for Woman, a PAC that supports election of female Republican candidates, spent $900,000 in the race on Perry’s behalf. The Susan B. Anthony List, which supports pro-life women, added another $350,000.

Currently,  the number of Republican women serving in the House, 13, is dwarfed by the number of Democrats, 89.

Perry was trying to join the tiny club of four Southern Republican women who serve in the House — Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, Martha Roby of Alabama, Kay Granger of Texas, and Carol Miller of West Virginia, the lone GOP female newcomer elected in 2018.

In addition to the race in the 3rd District, voters in the state’s 9th District will also vote September 10 to fill a seat that has been vacant since the State Board of Elections ordered a redo of last November’s election amid allegations of absentee ballot fraud.

In that district, which runs from the Charlotte suburbs east along the South Carolina line toward Fayetteville, Republican State Senator Dan Bishop will face Democrat Dan McCready, who narrowly lost in the district in November.

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McBattle 2020: Amy McGrath will run against Mitch McConnell in Kentucky

Race pits retired Marine fighter pilot with fundraising chops against the most powerful Republican in Congress

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

LEXINGTON (CFP) — After nearly unseating a sitting Republican congressman in 2018, Democrat Amy McGrath has set her sights on a much bigger target in 2020 — the most powerful Republican in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The retired Marine fighter pilot announced July 9 that she will challenge McConnell next year, setting the stage for a marquee Senate battle with national implications that will submerge 4.5 million Kentuckians in a sea of negative advertising.

McGrath announces Senate race on Twitter

McGrath pulled no punches in her opening campaign video, saying the senator “was elected a lifetime ago and has, bit by bit, year by year, turned Washington into something we all despise … a place where ideals go to die.”

“There is a path to resetting our country’s moral compass, where each of us is heard,” she said. “But to do that, we have to win this.”

McConnell’s campaign responded in kind, launching a website. “WrongPathMcGrath.com,” and posting a video on Twitter featuring comments McGrath made in her 2018 race, including saying that “I am further left, more progressive than anybody in Kentucky” and comparing her feelings after President Donald Trump’s election in 2016 to how she felt after seeing the towers fall on  9/11.

“Welcome to the race, Amy,” read the McConnell campaign’s tweet atop the video.

McGrath’s decision to take on McConnell was a win for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Senate Democratic leaders who had been recruiting her for the race. But she will face the most formidable force in Kentucky and national politics, who easily swatted away both primary and general election challenges in 2014.

McGrath, 44, who grew up in the Cincinnati suburbs in northern Kentucky, is a Naval Academy graduate who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq as a Marine fighter pilot. After retiring in 2017, she returned to Kentucky to seek the 6th District U.S. House seat against Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Barr.

She raised more than $8.6 million for that race, thanks in part to a video about her life story that went viral, and dispatched a better-known candidate in the Democratic primary before losing to Barr in November by less than 10,000 votes.

Her decision to run for the Senate is good news for Barr, who won’t face a rematch. He has yet to draw another major Democratic challenger.

McConnell, 77, is seeking his seventh term in the Senate; when he was first elected in 1984, McGrath was just 9 years old. He has led Senate Republicans since 2007 and became majority leader in 2015 after the GOP took control.

McConnell, a frequent object of wrath from Trump partisans and some Tea Party groups, has drawn a GOP primary challenge from former State Rep. Wesley Morgan, from Richmond, who has said McConnell “embodies everything that is perverted in Washington D.C.”

However, it is unlikely Morgan — who endorsed a Democrat for his House seat after losing a Republican primary in 2018 — will be able to mount a substantial primary challenge against McConnell, who in 2014 swatted away a much more serious challenge from now-Governor Matt Bevin.

In 2014, Democrats had high hopes of unseating McConnell with Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. But in the end, McConnell won by 15 points.

Given McConnell’s stature and McGrath’s fundraising prowess, the 2020 race is likely to feature an avalanche of outside advertising in a small state with just two large urban areas and four television markets.

In 2014, McConnell and Grimes spent a combined $50 million, or about $11 for every man, woman and child in the commonwealth. And those figures don’t include spending by outside groups.

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