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7 new Southern U.S House Democrats who ousted Republicans support Nancy Pelosi for speaker

Cunningham of South Carolina and Spanberger of Virginia keep vow to oppose Pelosi; North Carolina’s 9th District remains vacant

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Seven Southern Democratic U.S. House freshmen who ousted GOP incumbents in November supported Nancy Pelosi’s bid to reclaim the gavel as speaker of the U.S. House — handing Republicans an issue to use against them in 2020.

Incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi accepts gavel from GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (From Twitter)

Colin Allred and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher of Texas, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, Lucy McBath of Georgia, Elaine Luria and Jennifer Wexton of Virginia, and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Florida all supported Pelosi in the January 3 vote.

Two other freshmen Democrats who had vowed during their campaign that they would not support Pelosi — Joe Cunningham of South Carolina and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia — kept that promise, voting instead for Cheri Bustos of Illinois.

And despite signing a letter in November calling for new leadership in the House, Filemon Vela of Texas switched course to vote for Pelosi.

Meanwhile, as the new Congress convened in Washington with 29 new Southern  members, one seat sat empty — the representative from North Carolina’s 9th District, where state elections officials have refused to certify Republican Mark Harris’s narrow win over Democrat Dan McCready amid allegations of absentee ballot fraud.

In the vote for speaker, just three Southern Democratic members did not support Pelosi — Cunningham and Spanberger, who voted for Bustos, and Jim Cooper of Tennessee, who voted present.

Cooper, who has been in Congress since 1983, had been a long-time opponent of Pelosi’s speakership, having voted against her five times previously.

After the November election, a group of 16 Democratic members, including Cooper, Cunningham and Vela, signed a letter calling for “new leadership” in the Democratic caucus.

Vela changed course after Pelosi agreed to support term limits for the House Democratic leadership, which will limit her speakership to no more than four years.

Pelosi needed a majority of the 430 votes cast for speaker. In the end, she got 220 votes, four more than necessary.

Of the seven Southern Democrats who ousted Republicans and voted for Pelosi, McBath, Horn and Luria represent districts carried by President Donald Trump in 2016, while Allred and Fletcher represent districts he lost by less than 2 points.

Hillary Clinton carried Murcasel-Powell’s district in South Florida by 16 points and Wexton’s district in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. by 10 points.

Three other Southern Democratic newcomers who won open seats in November also supported Pelosi — Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia of Texas, and Donna Shalala of Florida. All three represent districts Clinton carried handily.

Among Southern Republicans, only three did not support their candidate for speaker, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California.

Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Jody Hice of Georgia supported Jim Jordan of Ohio, one of the founders of the House Freedom Caucus, a grouping of the most conservative Republican members.

Walter Jones of North Carolina did not vote. He has been absent from Congress since September because of an undisclosed illness.

Of the 29 new Southern members of the House, 17 are Republicans and 12 are Democrats. Republicans hold 101 Southern seats, compared to 50 for Democrats, with North Carolina’s 9th District vacant.

The 9th District seat is likely to remain vacant until after the state elections board completes its investigation into the allegations of absentee ballot irregularities, which has been delayed until February because of a new law revamping the board.

Harris has filed a lawsuit seeking for force certification of the election.

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Four Southern Democrats among rebels opposing Nancy Pelosi for U.S. House speaker

Four incoming freshmen have not taken a position on Pelosi’s tenure as Democratic leader

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — After an election season in which Republicans used the specter of Nancy Pelosi’s speakership as a weapon against their Democratic opponents, four Southern Democrats, including two incoming freshman, have signed on to an effort to replace her as Democratic leader.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi

Two incumbents — Jim Cooper of Tennessee and Filemon Vela of Texas — and one newcomer, Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, are among 16 House members who signed a letter calling for “new leadership” in the Democratic caucus, which will take control of the House in January.

“Our majority came on the backs of candidates who said that they would support new leadership because voters in hard-win districts, and across the country, want to see real change in Washington,” the letter said. “We promised to change the status quo, and we intent to deliver on that promise.”

The anti-Pelosi rebels said they would oppose her as speaker both in the vote in which Democrats will select a speaker candidate on November and on the House floor, where Pelosi will need a majority of 218 votes to defeat the Republicans’ expected candidate, Kevin McCarthy, in January.

Democrats are on track to have 234 seats in the new House, which means Pelosi can lose a maximum of 16 Democratic votes.

In addition to the three Southern Democrats who signed the letter, another incoming freshman, Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, has said she will oppose Pelosi.

In an interview with CNN, Spanberger said that while she has “tremendous respect” for Pelosi, “one of the things that I talked about frequently on the campaign trail was the need to have new voices in Congress, the need to turn a new page in the way we engage across the aisle, and really to be able to work on the priorities that were most important to the people in my district.”

Four other incoming members — Colin Allred of Texas, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, Lucy McBath of Georgia, and Elaine Luria of Virginia — have not taken a position on Pelosi’s speakership. All four narrowly won their races over Republican incumbents who highlighted their possible support for Pelosi in their campaigns.

The six remaining Southern Democratic freshmen — Veronica Escobar, Sylvia Garcia and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher of Texas, Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Florida, and Jennifer Wexton of Virginia — have all said they will support Pelosi.

Escobar and Garcia won open Democratic seats. Fletcher, Shalala, Mucarsel-Powell and Wexton flipped Republican seats.

Pelosi, 78, has represented San Francisco in the House since 1987 and has led House Democrats since 2002. She served as speaker from 2007 until 2011, the first woman to hold the post.

Her long tenure as leader — 16 years and counting — and her usefulness as a bogeyman for Republicans are driving the opposition to her, which is generally not a fight over policy or ideology.

However, the rebellion against Pelosi within the Democratic caucus is not widespread, including among Southern members. Only Cooper and Vela are opposing her; 116 other returning Southern Democratic members are expected to support her.

Cooper’s opposition is not a surprise. The Nashville Democrat, who has opposed Pelosi five times in the past, told The Tennessean that new Democratic members “won their districts by tiny margins and are in danger of losing in 2020 unless we prove to voters that we are working hard to get America back on track.”

Vela, from Brownsville, had supported Pelosi’s bid for Democratic leader after the 2016 election. But he called for her to step down after the party lost a high-profile special election in Georgia in 2017 in which Republicans relentlessly tied the Democratic candidate to her.

Republican Karen Handel, the winner of that special election, in Georgia’s 6th District in suburban Atlanta, lost her seat to McBath.

No one has so far stepped forward to run against Pelosi for Democratic leader. Given that party members are highly unlikely to vote for McCarthy on the floor, it remains unclear for whom the anti-Pelosi rebels might cast their votes.

One option would be to vote “present” instead of for another candidate, which would not imperil Pelosi because she only has to win a majority of those members actually voting. However, in their letter, her opponents said they were “committed to voting for new leadership both in our Caucus meeting and on the House floor.”

Should Pelosi survive, the lone Southerner in the House Democratic leadership, Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, is expected to become the House majority whip, the No. 3 position. He is currently the only candidate for the position.

Should Pelosi be unable to secure a majority for the speakership, the scramble to replace her could upset the entire Democratic hierarchy in the House.

North Carolina voters bounce Renee Ellmers from Congress

Ellmers ends campaign with disparaging comment about a female GOP official’s weight

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

north-carolina mugRALEIGH (CFP) — Running in a redrawn district and facing a tsunami of outside spending aimed squarely at her, U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers of North Carolina has lost her bid for a fourth term, becoming the first GOP lawmaker to fall in a primary in 2016.

U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers

U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers

Ellmers lost the June 7 GOP primary to U.S. Rep. George Holding, who opted to run against Ellmers after a court-ordered redraw of the Tar Heel State’s U.S. House map moved his district to another part of the state.

Her campaign ended on a bizarre note when a television camera captured Ellmers making a disparaging remark about Maggie Sandrock, a former chair of the Harnett County Republican Party, as she made her way into a polling place to vote.

“You’re eating a little too much pork barbecue. Woo,” Ellmers said in an exchange captured by Raleigh TV station WNCN.

Reacting to the comment, Sandrock, a former Ellmers supporter who now backs one of her opponents, said the congresswoman had “become a mean girl on steroids.”

Holding took 53 percent of the vote in the the 2nd District primary. Ellmers managed just 24 percent, edging past Greg Brannon, who jumped into the race after losing a U.S. Senate primary back in March.

The House primary was delayed three months after a federal court panel ordered state lawmakers to redraw the map passed after the 2010 Census. The judges ruled that two districts were improperly gerrymandered using racial considerations.

Ellmers’s district in suburban Raleigh was substantially redrawn in the new map, forcing her to run in unfamiliar territory. Her task became more difficult after Holding decided to give up his 13th District seat, which had been moved west to the Greensboro area, and run against Ellmers instead.

Ellmers, 52, a nurse, was first elected in the 2010 Tea Party wave as a critic of Obamacare, with the support of outside conservative groups such as the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity.

But those groups turned on Ellmers with a vengeance this year, spending more than $1 million to paint her as a Washington insider who supported wasteful spending.

In her concession speech, Ellmers said she was “disappointed” that the outside spending derailed her re-election bid, despite a high-profile endorsement from Donald Trump.

“The special interest groups with their deep pocks in Washington, unfortunately, have won today,” she said. “I hold my head up high. I’ve done what is necessary to serve the people of the (district).”

Ellmers also ran afoul of anti-abortion groups when she forced Republican leaders to carve out a rape exception in a bill outlawing abortions after 20 weeks.

In October 2015, Ellmers publicly denied rumors that she was having an extramarital affair with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, which came to light after McCarthy abruptly abandoned a run for House speaker.

Holding will now face Democrat John McNeil, a Raleigh lawyer, in November, in a district with a strong Republican tilt.

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.

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.

Louisiana U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise wins majority whip

Scalise is the only Southern member in the House GOP leadership

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.editor

louisiana mugWASHINGTON (CFP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana has been elected as House majority whip, making him the sole Southerner in the House GOP hierarchy.

Scalise, 48, who represents the Pelican State’s 1st District anchored in the New Orleans suburbs, defeated U.S. Reps. Peter Roskam of Illinois and Martin Stutzman of Indiana in the June 19 vote.

House Majority Whip-elect Steve Scalise

House Majority Whip-elect Steve Scalise

The final vote total wasn’t announced, but Scalise won a majority among the 233 House Republicans on the first ballot. He will take office August 1 as the No. 3 Republican in the House.

“I’m looking forward to bringing a fresh new voice to our leadership table and joining with this team to help confront the challenges that people all across this country are facing,” Scalise said after the vote.

“We’ve got solid conservative solutions that are going to solve the problems facing our country.”

Scalise’s ascension was made possible by the defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia in his June 10 GOP primary race.

Cantor resigned as majority leader, and the current majority whip, U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, claimed Cantor’s spot, opening up the whip’s post for Scalise.

Despite the fact that nearly half of the 233 members of the House Republican caucus represent Southern states, Scalise is the only Southerner in the party’s leadership. Cantor had also been the only Southern leader.

Southerner members also hold nine of the 21 committee chairmanships in the House.

Scalise was elected to the House in 2008. He was previously a state legislator in Louisiana.

Embattled GOP Rep. Scott DesJarlais faces primary struggle in central Tennessee

State Senator Jim Tracy, DesJarlais’s challenger, has outraised the incumbent more than 4-to-1

By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics editor

tennessee mugMURFREESBORO, Tennessee (CFP) — The Republican primary battle in Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District is shaping up to be one of the most contentious of the 2014 cycle, with incumbent Rep. Scott DesJarlais trying to hold his seat amidst an avalanche of negative personal publicity.

U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais

U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais

DesJarlais, 49, first elected in the GOP landslide of 2010, is facing State Senator Jim Tracy, 57, of Shelbyville, who is telling anybody who will listen that voters in the district “deserve a strong and effective voice in Congress, which right now they do not have.”

Tracy’s not-so-veiled reference is to revelations from the case file from DesJarilais’s bitter 2001 divorce from his first wife. In it, the congressman admitted having a string of extra-martial affairs and — perhaps even more damaging for an avowed right-to-life lawmaker — encouraging his then-wife to have two abortions.

DesJarlais (pronounced Dez-yar-lay), a medical doctor, also admitted having relationships with two female patients, which prompted the Tennessee State Board of Medical Examiners to reprimand him for unprofessional conduct and fine him $500.

Details about DesJarlais’s divorce became an issue in his contentious 2012 re-election campaign, which he won with just 56 percent of the vote in the heavily Republican district. However, DesJarlais successfully fought to prevent release of the full transcript of the case file until after the election.

After the transcript contradicted some of DesJarlais’s previous explanations about his behavior, his political support began to crumble. Two months later, Tracy jumped in to run against him.

To combat the damage, DesJarlais has been campaigning around the district, which includes 15 counties in central Tennessee, with his second wife, Susan, by his side. His campaign Web site also features a picture of him with his wife and three children.

DesJarlais has tried to deflect questions about his past by noting that his messy divorce happened nearly 13 years ago, long before he got involved in politics. However, fundraising figures show how much damage has been done.

State Senator Jim Tracy

State Senator Jim Tracy

During the first nine months of 2013, Federal Election Commission reports show that DesJarlais raised about $273,000, with $182,000 in cash on hand. By contrast, Tracy has raised nearly $922,000, with $768,000 on hand.

During the 2012 election cycle, DesJarlais raised $1.26 million.

A number of prominent conversative activist groups have lined up behind Tracy, including the Citizens United Political Victory Fund, the Concerned Women for America’s political action committee and the Tea Party Leadership Fund.

However, DesJairlais has held on to some conservative support. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California has given him $2,500, and the National Rifle Association tossed in another $1,000.

Rep. Darrell Issa of California, who is leading a number of congressional investigations into the Obama administration, appeared at a DesJarlais fundraiser back in March.

In November, DesJarlais announced that he would introduce legislation to impeach Attorney General Eric Holder, a stance that should play well in his district.

The congressman also defended remarks he made during a town hall meeting in Murfreesboro in August when an 11-year-old girl asked what she could do to help her father, an undocumented immigrant, stay in the country with her.

“We have laws, and we need to follow those, too,” DesJarlais responded, to cheers from the crowd. After he came under attack from liberal groups, he put a YouTube video of the exchange on his Web site, accompanied with a fundraising pitch.

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