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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.

South Carolina U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney named Trump’s budget chief

Mulvaney opposed Boehner, led the charge against 2013 bi-partisan budget deal

♦By Rich Shumate, Chicken Fried Politics.com editor

south-carolina mugWASHINGTON (CFP) — U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, an ardent proponent of deep cuts in federal spending, is President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to lead the the Office of Management and Budget.

U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-SC

U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-SC

Should Mulvaney be confirmed by the Senate, a special election will be triggered in the Palmetto State’s 5th District, which Mulvaney has represented since 2011. The district, which covers the north-central part of the state, is unlikely to change hands, as Mulvaney carried it by 20 points in the November election.

In a December 17 statement announcing his selection of Mulvaney, Trump called him “a very high-energy leader with deep convictions for how to responsibly manage our nation’s finances and save our country from drowning in red ink.”

“With Mick at the head of OMB, my administration is going to make smart choices about America’s budget, bring new accountability to our federal government, and renew the American taxpayer’s trust in how their money is spent,” Trump said.

In the same statement, Mulvaney said the new administration “will restore budgetary and fiscal sanity back in Washington after eight years of an out-of-control, tax-and-spend financial agenda.”

“Each day, families across our nation make disciplined choices about how to spend their hard earned money, and the federal government should exercise the same discretion that hardworking Americans do every day,” Mulvaney said.

Mulvaney, 49, from Lancaster, was elected to the House in the Tea Party wave of 2010, defeating former Democratic U.S. Rep. John Spratt, who had held the 5th District seat for 28 years.

Mulvaney is a member of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative lawmakers who have often been at odds with their own GOP leadership. In 2013, he refused to support the re-election of John Boehner as House speaker, and later that year, he also opposed a bi-partisan budget deal hammered out by congressional leaders that was designed to prevent a government shutdown.

In 2015, Mulvaney endorsed one of Trump’s presidential rivals, U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. But after Paul dropped out of the race, he switched his support to Trump.

Mulvaney is the second South Carolinian named to a major post in the incoming Trump administration. Governor Nikki Haley has been nominated to be the ambassador to the United Nations.

Ted Cruz drops out of presidential race after Indiana loss

Departure of the last Southerner in the White House contest hands nomination to Donald Trump

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern-states-lgINDIANAPOLIS (CFP) — After a crushing loss to Donald Trump in the Indiana primary, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has dropped out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination, ending a 13-month quest for the nation’s highest office.

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz

“From the beginning, I’ve said that I would continue on as long as there was a viable path to victory. Tonight, I’m sorry to say, it appears that path has been foreclosed,” Cruz told incredulous supporters in Indianapolis after the May 3 vote. “Together, we left it all on the field in Indiana. We gave it everything we’ve got, but the voters chose another path.”

Spectators in the audience shouted “No!” as it became clear that Cruz would bow out of the race.

Cruz was the last of the 10 Southerners still in the presidential contest, a field that one point included nine Republicans and one Democrat from the region. His departure came after losing to Trump by 16 points in Indiana and getting shut out in the hunt for delegates.

Trump’s win in the Hoosier State extinguished any hope of denying him a majority of the delegates to this summer’s Republican National Convention.

Cruz, 45, is in his first term representing the Lone Star State. He ran for president hoping to harness the support of religious conservatives and Tea Party forces that had carried him to the Senate.

Cruz won the first presidential contest, narrowly defeating Trump in Iowa. However, Cruz struggled to find traction with his base in the face of the Trump phenomenon. That was particularly true in the South, an evangelical-heavy region where he won just two states, Texas and Oklahoma.

As the field began to dwindle, Cruz tried to position himself as the alternative to stop Trump, which worked in early April with a victory in Wisconsin. But then Trump rolled through New York and several Northeastern states, giving him a delegate lead that became insurmountable after Cruz’s loss in Indiana.

Cruz was not helped by his deep unpopularity with his colleagues in Congress, one of whom, former House Speaker John Boehner, described him as “Lucifer in the flesh.” But Cruz wore their opprobrium as a badge of honor, saying it proved he was a genuine outsider.

U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster’s bid for speaker crushed by Paul Ryan wave

Webster received only nine votes, eight from his fellow Southerners

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

florida mugWASHINGTON (CFP) — Florida U.S Rep. Daniel Webster’s longshot bid for House speaker has come up short — 227 votes short, to be exact.

U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster

U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster

Webster, a Winter Haven Republican, garnered just nine votes in the October 29 vote, which saw the rise of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin into the top leadership spot.

Ryan received support from 236 of the chamber’s 247 Republicans. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, received support from 184 out of the 188 Democrats.

Webster, 66, launched his campaign for speaker September 28, after former House Speaker John Boehner stepped down amid a rebellion by conservatives in the GOP caucus.

Initially, members of the House Freedom Caucus–made up of the House’s most conservative members–endorsed Webster, a former speaker of the state House in Florida. However, after Ryan entered the race, that support began to melt away.

Of the 38 Freedom Caucus members, only six stuck with Webster on the final vote.

Among the nine House members who supported Webster, eight were Southerners: Dave Brat of Virginia; Curt Clawson, Bill Posey and Ted Yoho of Florida; Louie Gohmert and Randy Weber of Texas; Walter Jones of North Carolina; and Thomas Massie of Kentucky.

U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster enters contest for House speaker

Florida Republican calls for decentralizing power, empowering backbenchers

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

florida mugWASHINGTON (CFP) — U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida has announced he will run for House speaker to replace outgoing Speaker John Boehner on a platform of decentralizing the GOP leadership’s control of the House agenda by pushing down “the pyramid of power.”

U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster

U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster

“What I want to see is a principle-based, member-driven Congress,” Webster said in a September 28 appearance on Fox News where he announced his candidacy. “We don’t have that now. I’d like to have us have it.”

“We can show ourselves as leaders by opening up the process, by allowing lots of debate and lots of amendments and lost of opportunities for members,” he said.

Webster, 66, from Winter Haven in Central Florida, is serving his third term in the House. Prior to his service in Congress, Webster served 28 years in the Florida legislature and was state House speaker from 1996 to 1998.

Webster is running to replace Speaker John Boehner, who announced September 25 that he was stepping down amid conflict within the Republican House conference between Boehner’s allies and conservative backbench critics.

Earlier this year, Webster ran against Boehner in an unsuccessful attempt to bounce him from the speaker’s chair. Afterward, Boehner removed Webster from the powerful House Rules Committee.

Conservative critics of Boehner have complained about attempts to punish members who defied the House GOP leadership.

Webster will face one of those leaders, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, in the race for speaker.

Southern revolt against House Speaker John Boehner fails

Boehner defeats  GOP U.S. Reps. Louie Gohmert and Ted Yoho in leadership vote

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern states smWASHINGTON (CFP) — U.S. House Speaker John Boehner has turned back a leadership challenge from two Southern congressman who assailed him for being insufficiently conservative and too willing to deal with Democrats.

House Speaker John Boehner

House Speaker John Boehner

The House re-elected Boehner to a third term January 6, thwarting challenge from within his party by U.S. Reps. Louie Gohmert of Texas and Ted Yoho of Florida.

The final vote was 216 for Boehner, 164 for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, three for Gohmert and two for Yoho.

U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida — who launched a last minute campaign against Boehner just hours before the vote — received 12 votes, including his own, while other candidates received 16 votes.

The vote for the speakership is normally a routine affair, with Republican Boehner pitted against Democrat Pelosi on a party-line vote.

But because Boehner had to win a majority among House members present and voting, the conservative insurrection threatened to force the balloting into a second round — something that hadn’t happened in more than 90 years and would have been a a significant embarrassment for the speaker.

Still, the defection of 25 Republicans left Boehner two votes shy of the 218 needed to command an absolute majority of House members.

Boehner was helped by the fact that 27 House members didn’t vote, including a number of Democrats in New York attending the funeral of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo.

Gohmert, 61, is a six-term lawmaker who represents a district in East Texas. Yoho, 59, is beginning just his second term representing a district in north-central Florida. Both men announced their challenges to Boehner the weekend before the vote.

The challenge comes despite a 13-seat gain by Republicans in the 2014 midterm elections, giving the GOP its largest majority since 1928.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise calls appearance at racist rally “a mistake”

Louisiana Republican says appearance was part of a campaign against a tax referendum

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

louisiana mugNEW ORLEANS (CFP) — House Majority Whip Steve Scalise is expressing regret over a 2002 appearance before a  group founded by white supremacist David Duke, saying he rejects the group’s “hateful bigotry.”

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise

“It was a mistake I regret, and I emphatically oppose the divisive racial and religious views groups like these hold,” Scalise said in a statement released December 30. “I am very disappointed anyone would try to infer otherwise for political gain.”

Scalise’s purported appearance before the European-American Unity and Rights Organization at a hotel in Metairie, a New Orleans suburb, was first reported by liberal blogger Lamar White, Jr., who attributed the allegation to Stormfront, a white supremacist Web site.

Scalise, 49, who represents a suburban New Orleans district in the House, was a state legislator at the time. He said the address to EURO was one of a number of speeches he gave to groups in opposition to a ballot initiative that shifted Louisiana’s tax base from sales to income taxes.

Scalise had initially said he did not remember speaking to the group and had no records indicating whether he had. However, in his latest statement, he conceded that he had spoken to the group.

The revelation of Scalise’s speech, coming just a week before Congress comes back into session, drew fire from Democrats, who called on the House GOP leadership to condemn the man they elected whip just last August.

However, both House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy released statements supporting Scalise.

While Boehner said Scalise made “an error in judgment,” the speaker said Scalise “was right to acknowledge it was wrong and inappropriate.”

“He has my full confidence as out whip,” Boehner said.

Democrats blasted Scalise’s original explanation, insisting that he must have known the group was affiliated with Duke, who served in the Louisiana legislature and ran for governor in 1991.

“There were media reports running up to the event that made it crystal clear who was going to be the highlight — David Duke,” said Stephen Handwerk, executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party, in a statement. “If someone in Louisiana didn’t know about David Duke’s beliefs in 2002, they must have been hiding under a very large rock somewhere.”

Duke, 64, a former Nazi and KKK member, remade himself as less confrontational, far-right Republican in the 1980s and won a seat in the Louisiana House in 1989, representing Jefferson Parish, which Scalise also represents.

In the 1991 race for governor, he advanced to a runoff, where he was defeated by Democratic Governor Edwin Edwards. In late 2002 — after Scalise’s purported appearance in front of his group — Duke pleaded guilty to tax and mail fraud and was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison.

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