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Mick Mulvaney’s biting comments about Trump resurface after he’s named acting White House chief of staff

Former South Carolina congressman called Trump “a terrible human being” during 2016 debate

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Just hours after President Donald Trump took to Twitter to name Mick Mulvaney acting White House chief of staff, a national news outlet resurrected a video from a 2016 congressional debate in South Carolina in which Mulvaney calls Trump “a terrible human being.”

The Daily Beast posted a short clip from video taken during a debate in York shortly before the 2016 election.

Mick Mulvaney at 2016 congressional debate (Photo from Daily Beast)

“Yes, I am supporting Donald Trump. I’m doing so as enthusiastically as I can despite the fact that I think he’s a terrible human being. But the choice on the other side is just as bad,” Mulvaney said.

Mulvaney’s comments were reported at the time of the debate by The State newspaper in Columbia. In that story, Mulvaney also called Trump and his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, “perhaps two of the most flawed human beings running for president in the history of the country.”

The Daily Beast did not say where it obtained the video clip, which did not contain the rest of the debate.

Mulvaney’s comments in 2016 stand in contrast to his December 14  tweet after Trump installed him as chief of staff, albeit in an acting capacity.

“This is a tremendous honor,” he said. “I look forward to working with the President and the entire team. It’s going to be a great 2019!”

Neither the White House nor Trump have responded to the video. But a spokeswoman for Mulvaney called it “old news” and noted that Mulvaney had not yet met the president when he made those remarks.

Mulvaney, 51, represented South Carolina’s 5th District from 2011 until he was named by Trump as director of the Office of Management and Budget in 2017. The White House has said he will not give up the OMB job while serving temporarily as chief of staff.

Neither Trump nor the White House indicated how long Mulvaney might serve in the interim role.

Mulvaney will replace John Kelly, who Trump announced would be leaving the White House by the end of the year.

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Blackburn, Bredesen clash over immigration, guns and Kavanaugh in U.S. Senate debate

Tennessee candidates meet for the final time before November vote.

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

Click photo to watch full debate (Courtesy: Nexstar Broadcasting)

KNOXVILLE (CFP) — With polls showing a tight U.S. Senate race in Tennessee, Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen tangled over health care, immigration, gun rights and the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh in their second and final debate.

Throughout the October 10 event at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Blackburn sought to tie Bredesen to Hillary Clinton and other national Democrats, noting several times that he had donated $33,400 to her 2016 presidential campaign and insisting that if he gets to the Senate, he would support Democratic priorities on immigration, health care and gun control.

Bredesen shot back by with a call to “stop with all the ideological stuff and setting people against each other.”

“You seem to have a crystal ball about talking all the time about what I’m going to do when I’m a U.S. Senator,” Bredesen said to Blackburn. “I’m going to act when I’m a senator exactly the same way I acted when I was a governor, which is independently. I was an equal-opportunity offender of both parties in Washington.”

Both Blackburn and Bredesen supported the Kavanaugh nomination, which became mired in controversy after a woman alleged that Kavanaugh had assaulted her when they were teenagers in the 1980s. But Blackburn noted that Tennesseans supported the nomination and that had Hillary Clinton won the 2016 election with Bredesen’s support, “you would not have had a Judge Kavanaugh.”

“It took Phil a while to make his mind up on this issue. And he finally did. It could have been because of the sexual harassment claims in his administration when he was governor,” she said.

The reference was to a controversy over how sexual harassment claims were handled in the governor’s office during Bredesen’s tenure, including an episode in 2005 in which an aide accused of sexual misconduct was moved out of the governor’s office and into a different state job and a state investigator shredded his interview notes.

“There was a path for friends of Phil where sexual harassment claims were handled, and there was also the path for everyone else,” she said. “The voices of those women were shredded. They died in that shredder.”

Bredense, took issue with Blackburn’s characterization of the incident, insisting that the allegations had been handled appropriately.

“The individual who performed these acts was gone the next day from the governor’s office,” he said. “That woman was protected in every way we know how.”

Bredesen and Blackburn disagreed on President Donald Trump’s proposed physical wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, which he dismissed as “political theater.”

“I believe very strongly in controlling our borders,” he said. “But I think there are much better ways of doing this than building a wall.”

At that, Blackburn pounced, saying Democrats “have advocated for open borders, for abolishing (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).”

“He thinks that building the wall is political theater? Well, let me tell you something, Tennesseans want to see that wall built because open border policies have made every town a border town and every state a border state,” she said. “Walls work. Just ask Israel.”

On health care, Bredesen criticized Blackburn for voting “time and time again to repeal the Affordable Care Act without having anything to replace it,” which he said would “remove any ability of someone with pre-existing conditions to obtain health insurance.”

“I think that is just plain wrong,” he said.

But Blackburn insisted that Republican plans to replace Obamacare did protect pre-existing conditions, and she again sought to tie Bredensen to his party’s 2016 standard-bearer.

“Hillary Clinton is the mother of government-run health care. That is a concept that Phil supports,” she said. “Tennesseans don’t want government-controlled health care.”

Both candidates agreed that people who are a danger to themselves or others because of mental illness should not have access to firearms. But Blackburn noted that she has an A rating from the National Rifle Association to Bredesen’s D, and she highlighted a recent trip Bredesen took to New York to meet with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is a prominent gun control advocate.

“If you had Democrats in control, and Hillary Clinton who he wanted to be president was president, you would see them taking away your guns,” she said.

But Bredesen said he was a lifelong gun owner who supports the Second Amendment and “got crossways with the NRA because I vetoed a bill that allowed people to carry guns in bars.”

“I thought that was crazy. It was stupid,” he said.

Recent public polling has put the Tennessee Senate race between Bredesen and Blackburn within the margin of error. A Democrat has not won a Senate race in the Volunteer State since 1990.

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Insight: Republicans find themselves playing defense in Southern U.S. House races

Across the region, at least 30 House seats are potentially competitive, all of them now in GOP hands

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

A month away from the 2018 midterm election, Republicans in the South are finding themselves in a situation they haven’t faced in several election cycles.

Namely, playing defense in U.S. House races.

Currently, at least 30 seats are either highly or potentially competitive across the 14 Southern states. And not one of those seats is now held by a Democrat.

Of course, this disparity is to be expected, given that Republicans hold 114 Southern House seats to just 40 for Democrats. With such a dominant majority, the GOP has more of the field to defend.

However, the fluid situation in 2018 stands in stark contrast to 2016, when Democrats managed to take away just two seats anywhere in the South, and in 2014, when Democrats suffered a net loss of three seats.

Democratic opportunities have opened up across the region, including a few isolated districts in states such as Arkansas, West Virginia, Kentucky and South Carolina, where President Donald Trump won massive victories in 2016.

But the Democrats’ biggest hopes of trying to chip away at the Republicans’ Southern hegemony lie in suburban swing districts in the largest Southern states, including Florida, Texas, Virginia and North Carolina.

Of the 11 highly competitive districts, three are in Virginia and two each are in Florida, Texas and North Carolina. There are also two seats in metro Atlanta where Republicans are currently favored but Democrats are within striking distance.

Of the six Republican-held seats that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, the Republican candidate is currently ahead in just one, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd’s seat in West Texas.

Those five seats are perhaps the most endangered. But Democrats also have a decent shot at seats in the Kentucky Bluegrass, metro Little Rock and the coalfields of southern West Virginia.

And in Texas, which has been a wasteland for Democrats for the better part of three decades, at least eight House seats are competitive in 2018.

What has made the difference for Democrats in this election cycle as opposed to 2014 and 2016? Part of the answer may be money.

According to Federal Election Commission reports, 16 Democratic House nominees have raised more than $1 million, led by Amy McGrath in Kentucky’s 6th District, who raised more than $3 million. Another nominee, Clarke Tucker in Arkansas’s 2nd District, is likely to break the million dollar barrier before all is said and done.

Money does not, by itself, make a seat competitive. But anyone who has a million dollars to spend on a House race has to be taken seriously, no matter the traditional partisan lean of the district.

Having to play defense in the South also has significant implications for Republican chances of keeping control of the House.

The region has been the GOP’s big red wall, supplying nearly 60 percent of its House majority. So any erosion in that wall is an unwelcome development, particularly in an election where polls show Democrats with a lead in the generic congressional ballot.

Still, one should be careful not to overstate Democratic prospects in the South in 2018. If Democrats take half of the current seats that are toss-ups and Republicans hold all the seats where they are now ahead, the net Democratic gain across the region would only be six seats.

However, given that Democrats only need to shift a net of 24 seats nationally to take control of the House, the loss of six seats in the GOP heartland could prove problematic. A blue wave in Texas or Virginia — the states where Democratic hopes are highest — could be catastrophic.

The one thing we can be sure of is that on election night, the political class will be paying more attention to the results of House races in the South than has been paid in quite some time.

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Southern congressmen join effort to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein

Effort to oust official overseeing investigation of 2016 Russian election meddling fizzles after opposition from House leaders

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Four Southern U.S. House members are part of a group of 11 Republicans who introduced articles of impeachment against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the official overseeing the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election — only to back down after the plan ran into opposition from House Speaker Paul Ryan and other GOP leaders.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein

Now, instead, the group will seek to hold Rosenstein in contempt of Congress if the Justice Department does not fully comply with requests for documents about the Russia probe.

U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina was one of the primary sponsors of the impeachment resolution filed July 25, along with Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio. Three other Southern members — Jody Hice of Georgia, Matt Gaetz of Florida and Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee — signed on as co-sponsors.

However, the impeachment resolution was tabled the next day, after Meadows and Jordan met with House GOP leaders, including Ryan, who had said he did not support Rosenstein’s impeachment and would not bring it forward for a vote.

The congressmen who pushed the impeachment are all members of the Freedom Caucus, a group of about three dozen of the most conservative House Republicans that emerged in 2015 out of the Tea Party movement.

Members of the caucus have been among President Donald Trump’s strongest defenders in Congress — and among the harshest critics of Mueller’s investigation of possible coordination between Russian agents and Trump’s campaign, which the president has dismissed as a “witch hunt.”

The impeachment articles fault Rosenstein for not producing documents subpoenaed by a House committee and for approving a warrant request for surveillance of Carter Page, who was a national security adviser to the 2016 Trump campaign.

U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina

In a joint statement with Jordan and the other co-sponsors, Meadows said Rosenstein — who has been overseeing the Mueller probe since Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself after acknowledging contacts with the Russian ambassador — “has made every effort to obstruct legitimate attempts of Congressional oversight.”

“The stonewalling over this last year has been just as bad or worse than under the Obama administration,” he said. “It’s time to find a new Deputy Attorney General who is serious about accountability and transparency.”

Meadows represents North Carolina’s 11th District, which takes in the state’s far western panhandle.

Hice, who represents the 10th District in east-central Georgia, decried “a culture of stonewalling and misdirection” that he said has “permeated the highest levels” of the Justice Department and the FBI.

Gaetz, who represents the 1st District that in the western Florida Panhandle, said the request to put Page under surveillance was “likely improper” and that Rosenstein’s actions have “weakened Americans’ faith in the intelligence community and in seeing justice served.”

DesJarlais accused Rosenstein of refusing to produce documents “because they implicate top Department of Justice and FBI officials, including himself.”

“His own role in fraudulent warrants and wiretapping the President’s campaign is a major conflict of interest that renders him unfit to oversee the Special Counsel or DOJ,” said DesJarlias, who represents the 4th District in south-central Tennessee.

Rosenstein and the Justice Department have not commented on the impeachment articles.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana

While Ryan and other GOP leaders were cool to the idea of impeaching Rosenstein, the effort did get support from the  highest-ranking Southerner in the House GOP caucus — Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who told Fox News that “putting impeachment on the table is one more tool” to get the Justice Department to provide documents.

Scalise, who represents the 1st District in suburban New Orleans, is reportedly considering a bid to succeed Ryan as speaker after he retires in January — a contest in which members of the Freedom Caucus will play a key role.

But another Southern Republican — U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida — had harsh words for the impeachment effort, taking to Twitter to denounce it as a “reckless publicity stunt.”

“No different from Dems who filed articles of impeachment against the President some months ago. What a sad, pathetic game of ‘how low can you go?'” Curbelo said.

Curbelo, who represents a South Florida district Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, is considered one of the most endangered House Republicans in the 2018 cycle.

South Carolina U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy bowing out of Congress

Gowdy, chair of the House Oversight Committee, won’t seek re-election in 2018

WASHINGTON (CNN) — U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, who drew national attention for leading a congressional investigation into the 2012 terror attacks in Benghazi, Libya, has announced he is retiring from Congress after four terms.

U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina

In a January 31 statement announcing his departure, Gowdy, a former federal and state prosecutor, said he planned to return to work in the criminal justice system, although he gave no specifics.

“Whatever skills I may have are better utilized in a courtroom than in Congress, and I enjoy our justice system more than our political system,” the Republican lawmaker said in his statement. “As I look back on my career, it is the jobs that both seek and reward fairness that are most rewarding.”

“The book of Ecclesiastes teaches us there is a time and a season for all things. There is a time to start and a time to end. There is a time to come and a time to go. This is the right time, for me, to leave politics and return to the justice system.”

Gowdy, who was named chairman of the House Oversight Committee last summer, becomes the eighth Republican committee chair overall, and the sixth Southern chair, to forgo a re-election bid this year.

His election will open up a seat in South Carolina’s 4th District, in metro Greenville-Spartanburg. The district is solidly Republican, so Gowdy’s successor is likely to be picked in the June primary. Filing for office begins March 30.

Gowdy, 53, was elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010. He quickly rose to prominence after former House Speaker John Boehner appointed him to head a special investigative committee that looked into a terror attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead.

The most lasting impact from that investigation was the disclosure that than-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had used a private email server during her tenure at the State Department, an issue which dogged her throughout the 2016 presidential campaign.

Gowdy joins a growing list of Southern House committee chairs who are leaving Congress, which includes Jeb Hensarling of Texas, chair of the Financial Services Committee; Diane Black of Tennessee, chair of the House Budget Committee, who is running for governor; Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, chair of the House Judiciary Committee; Joe Barton of Texas, chair of the House Energy Commitee; and Gregg Harper of Mississippi, chair of the House Administration Committee.

So far, 15 Southern House Republicans have announced they won’t seek re-election in 2018, including six from Texas and two each from Tennessee and Florida. Only two Southern Democrats aren’t running, both in Texas.

Democrats roll in state elections in Virginia

Northam elected governor; Democrats sweep statewide races and make big gains in legislature

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

RICHMOND (CFP) — In a huge night for Democrats, Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam easily defeated Republican Ed Gillespie to claim Virginia’s governorship.

Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam

Democrats also won two other statewide offices, and the GOP lost its once-comfortable majority in the lower house of the state legislature, a stunning feat that included election of the nation’s first-ever transgender legislator.

Northam’s 54-45 percent victory over Gillespie in the November 7 vote was nearly twice as large as Hillary Clinton’s margin of victory over Donald Trump in 2016 and was built on 20-point victories in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and Richmond.

Holding the governorship in Virginia is a boon for Democrats frustrated by a string of heartbreaking defeats in special and off-year elections since Trump took the White House. The result, however, was a hold, not a takeaway, and it came in the lone Southern state Clinton carried.

Speaking to jubilant supporters in Fairfax, Northam offered a thinly veiled rebuke to the president’s take-no-prisoners style of politics.

“It was said that the eyes of the nation are on the commonwealth,” Northam said. “Today, Virginians have answered and have spoken. Virginia has told us to end the divisiveness, that we will not condone hatred and bigotry and to end the politics that have torn this country apart.”

After Northam was declared the winner, Trump, visiting South Korea, sent a tweet taking issue with Gillespie’s decision to distance himself from the president: “Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for.”

The specter of Trump hovered over the governor’s race. Gillespie did not invite the president to cross the Potomac to campaign for him, angering some in his party’s pro-Trump base, but Northam still tried to hang Trump around Gillespie’s neck, accusing the GOP nominee of figuratively “standing right next” to the president, even if literally he had not.

Ed Gillespie

In his concession speech, Gillespie thanked his campaign workers and supporters but did not mention the president.

“I felt called to serve. I hope I’ll discern what (God’s) calling is for me next,” Gillespie said.

Gillespie’s loss is his second statewide defeat in four years. In 2014, he challenged Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Warner, coming to within 18,000 votes of beating him.

In the race for lieutenant governor, Democrat Justin Fairfax, an attorney and former federal prosecutor from the D.C. suburbs, defeated Republican State Senator Jill Vogel. Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring also won his re-election race over Republican John Adams.

Perhaps the most shocking result of the night came in the races for the House of Delegates, the lower house of Virginia’s legislature. Republicans entered election day holding a 66-34 majority; Democrats ousted at least 11 incumbents and picked up three open seats that the GOP had held.

With five races still too close to call, Democrats had 48 seats and Republicans 47. Of the five races left outstanding, Republicans were ahead in three and Democrats in two. If those results hold, the chamber would be evenly divided, 50-50.

In four of the five House races still to be decided, the leads are less than 125 votes, making recounts likely.

Virginia Delegate-Elect Danica Roem

Among the winners was Danica Roem, a transgender woman who won a seat in Prince William County by defeating veteran GOP Delegate Bob Marshall, a 14-term social conservative who had described himself as Virginia’s “chief homophobe” and insisted on referring to Roem with male pronouns.

When Roem takes office, she will be the the first transgender person in the United States to be elected and serve in a state legislature while openly acknowledging her gender identity.

Northam’s win in the South’s lone off-year governor’s election gives Democrats three of the region’s 14 governorships, with Northam joining Louisiana Governor Jon Bell Edwards and North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper. The incumbent Democrat in Virginia, Governor Terry McAuliffe, was barred by state law from seeking re-election.

Northam, 58, comes to the governorship after 10 years in elected office, first as a state senator and then lieutenant governor.  A former U.S. Army doctor, he has practiced pediatric neurology at a children’s hospital in Norfolk since 1992.

With his win, Democrats have now won three of the last four governor’s races in Virginia, a once solidly Republican state that has trended Democratic in recent years, primarily due to an influx of new voters into the Washington, D.C. suburbs.

Republican Corey Stewart promises “vicious, ruthless” campaign to unseat U.S. Senator Tim Kaine

Stewart enters race just a month after losing race for governor

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WOODBRIDGE, Virginia (CFP) — Just a month after narrowly losing a Republican primary for Virginia governor, Corey Stewart started a new race against U.S. Senator Tim Kaine with an unapologetic vow to “run the most vicious, ruthless campaign” he can to unseat the Democratic incumbent.

GOP Senate candidate Corey Stewart

“I’m going to go after him very, very hard,” said Stewart, who gained national prominence while serving as President Trump’s Virginia state chairman during the 2016 presidential campaign. “I think that Republicans have been playing by the Marquess of Queensberry rules for too long, and Democrats have been fighting a UFC fight.”

In his opening campaign salvo at his home in suburban Washington, D.C. on July 13, Stewart also made it clear that he would wrap himself in the Trump mantle in the Senate race, as he did in his unsuccessful race for governor.

“Tim Kaine is doing everything in his power to stop the president of the United States from making the economy great again, from bringing back jobs, from reforming health care and from making America great again,” he said, accusing Kaine of having a “blind hatred” for Trump that makes him “so focused on taking down the president of the United States that he is ignoring the true needs of Virginians and other Americans.”

However, Stewart didn’t stop with attacking Democrats. He began his announcement by saying how “disgusted” he had been by the 1989 inaugural address of President George H.W. Bush, a pillar of the GOP establishment.

“I was disgusted at the phrase kinder, gentler nation,” he said. “I knew right then that it was the end of the Reagan revolution.”

Stewart, 48, has been chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors since 2006. He was Trump’s state chairman in Virginia until a month before the 2016 election, when he was sacked 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 lewd sexual comments.

In the June 13 GOP gubernatorial primary, Stewart nearly defeated former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie, a one-time aide to President George W. Bush who had been seen as a presumptive favorite. Stewart said his surprisingly strong showing in that race, which he lost by only 4,500 votes, was part of the reason he decided to set his sights on unseating Kaine.

In the governor’s race, Stewart ran as an anti-establishment candidate and vowed to resist efforts to remove monuments honoring the Confederacy. He is not, however, a native Southerner, having been born in Minnesota.

Running as a Trump champion could be problematic in Virginia, which was the only Southern state Hillary Clinton carried in 2016.

Kaine — Clinton’s vice presidential running mate — also has a venerable political pedigree in the Old Dominion, having served as governor and lieutenant governor before being elected to the Senate in 2012. And no Republican has won a Senate race in the commonwealth since 2002.

Stewart’s vow of viciousness at the starting line drew a rebuke from Susan Swecker, chair of the Virginia Democratic Party, who called him “more extreme than Donald Trump.”

“Corey has completely ignored the needs of families in Prince William County to instead spend his time name calling, bashing immigrants and re-litigating the Civil War,” she said in a statement. “When he rarely turns his attention to the county he was elected to represent, he calls his colleagues ‘slimeballs’ and pushes an anti-immigrant, backwards agenda that has left working families behind.”

“The last thing Virginians need in the Senate is a rubber stamp for President Trump,” she said.

And before he gets to Kaine, Stewart will likely have to face down a primary challenge. Among the Republicans considering the race is Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard executive who sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

Fiorina ran for the U.S. Senate in California in 2010 but later relocated to Virginia, where she had lived earlier in her business career.

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