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Amtrak promising more Southern train service as part of Biden infrastructure bill

12 cities in 8 Southern states could gain train service as part of $2.5 trillion infrastructure package

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — As the Biden administration tries to cobble together political support for its massive $2.5 trillion infrastructure program, Amtrak has announced that it plans to use its share of the money to expand its national rail network, including significant additions across the South.

In a plan unveiled April 1, Amtrak said it would add service to 12 Southern cities, as well as enhancing existing service in Texas, Florida and the corridor between Birmingham, Atlanta and Charlotte.

New Amtrak routes shown in light blue

Kentucky — the only state east of the Mississippi River currently without any Amtrak service — will finally be connected to the national network with a rail link between Louisville and Indianapolis.

The Bluegrass State is the home of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who has said no one in his caucus is likely to vote for the infrastructure package the contains the additional Amtrak funding.

Plans also call for a new line to run from Nashville to Savannah, which will extend service to Chattanooga and Macon, Georgia.

Service would also be restored between Mobile and New Orleans, which has been suspended since 2005 because of damage to rail lines from Hurricane Katrina. A new route would connect Baton Rouge to New Orleans.

Currently, Amtrak’s service coming north out of Texas stops at Oklahoma City. That line would be extended to Wichita, Kansas, providing more direct rail links from the Gulf Coast to the Midwest.

Dallas and Houston would also be connected by a direct route, which would bring service to College Station.

In Alabama, Auburn and Montgomery would be connected to Atlanta, while in North Carolina, both Asheville and Wilmington would pick up service. Rail would also be extended further west from Roanoke to Christiansburg, Virginia.

In all, Amtrak would be expanding service in all but three Southern states — Arkansas, Mississippi and West Virginia — which could become an administration talking point as it tries to sell the infrastructure plan to reluctant Southern Republicans.

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Southern Republican U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy, Richard Burr vote to convict Donald Trump

All 5 Southern Democrats join unsuccessful effort to convict and disqualify Trump from future office

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Richard Burr of North Carolina broke with most of their Republican colleagues to vote to convict former president Donald Trump Saturday on charges of inciting the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol on January 6.

U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy and Richard Burr

Cassidy and Burr were the only Southern Republicans to vote for conviction in Trump’s impeachment trial; all five Southern Democrats voted to convict, including U.S. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a state Trump carried by nearly 40 points in November.

While a majority of 57 senators voted to convict Trump, the number was not enough to clear the two-thirds majority required for conviction under the Constitution.

“Our Constitution and our country is more important than any one person,” Cassidy said in a statement. “I voted to convict President Trump because he is guilty.”

In his own statement, Burr said, “I do not make this decision lightly, but I believe it is necessary.”

“By what he did and by what he did not do, President Trump violated his oath of office to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States,” Burr said.

Cassidy was elected in November to a six-year term and won’t face voters again until 2026. Burr has announced he isn’t seeking re-election in 2022 and will retire from the Senate at the end of his current term.

Machin, in a statement, said he voted to convict Trump “to hold him accountable for his seditious actions and words that threatened our democracy.”

“It is time to move forward as one nation to focus on helping Americans suffering from the pandemic,” Manchin said. “Now more than ever, it is on each of us to seek unity over division and put partisanship aside for the good of our country.”

Twenty-one Southern Republicans voted to acquit Trump, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who had denounced Trump’s claim of election fraud on the Senate floor less than an hour before a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol on January 6.

However, in remarks after the vote, McConnell delivered an extensive and passionate rebuke of Trump in which he excoriated his behavior as a “disgraceful dereliction of duty,” said he bears direct responsibility for the assault on the Capitol, and suggested that he could face criminal prosecution.

But McConnell said the Constitution prevented the Senate from convicting Trump of impeachment now that he’s left office.

“We have no power to convict and disqualify a former officeholder who is now a private citizen,” McConnell said. “Impeachment was never meant to be the final forum for American justice. Impeachment, conviction and removal are a specific intra-governmental safety valve.”

Also voting to acquit was U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, whose phone call from Trump during the siege of the Capitol became a focus of the impeachment case brought by House managers.

Tuberville told reporters that he had informed Trump that Vice President Mike Pence had been evacuated from the Capitol, contradicting statements from Trump’s defense attorneys that he did not know of the peril in which Pence had been placed by the pro-Trump mob.

The Southern senators who joined Cassidy, Burr and Machin in voting to convict included Georgia’s two new Democratic members, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, and two Democrats from Virginia, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner.

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5 Southern senators, 79 U.S. House members support challenge to electoral vote count

Unsuccessful move to overturn Joe Biden’s win interrupted by mob insurrection at U.S. Capitol

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Despite an afternoon of violence that left four people dead and lawmakers running for cover, five Southern Republican U.S. senators and 79 of the region’s GOP U.S. House members persisted in supporting objections to President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College win that were overwhelmingly defeated once order was restored.

All of the Republican House members representing Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Virginia supported at least one of the objections to the counts of Biden’s win. By contrast, only a single member from both Kentucky and Arkansas voted yes.

Joint sessions of Congress counts electoral vote (From C-SPAN)

Five Southern senators voted in favor of at least one of the objections filed to electoral vote results from Arizona and Pennsylvania, two swing states Biden flipped in November: Ted Cruz of Texas, John Kennedy of Louisiana, Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, Rick Scott of Florida and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, who just took his seat on Sunday.

Cruz, the Senate sponsor of the Arizona challenge, voting in favor of objections to both states, along with Hyde-Smith and Tuberville. Kennedy only objected to Arizona, while Scott only objected to Pennsylvania.

The remaining 22 Southern Republican senators opposed both challenges, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had warned earlier in the day that challenging the will of voters would plunge American democracy into a “death spiral,” and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of President Donald Trump’s most fervent supporters, who told his fellow senators that “enough is enough.”

“When it’s over, it is over,” Graham said. “[Biden] won. He’s the legitimate president of the United States.”

Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, who had previously announced that she would support objections to the electoral vote, took the Senate floor to say that she changed her mind after Wednesday’s violent incursion into the Capitol. Her decision meant that a challenge to Georgia’s electoral votes failed for lack of a Senate sponsor.

Loeffler was defeated in Tuesday’s Senate runoff in Georgia, which means her votes on the Electoral College disputes could be among her last as a senator.

In the House, a majority of the Republican caucus voted to sustain the objections, including 79 out of 99 Southern members, a group that included the top-ranking Southerner, Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

However, among Kentucky’s five Republican members, only one, Hal Rogers, supported the objections. The rest of the delegation joined with McConnell and the Bluegrass State’s other senator, Rand Paul, in voting no: James Comer, Brett Guthrie, Thomas Massie and Andy Barr.

In the Arkansas delegation, only Rick Crawford supported the objections, which were opposed by both senators, Tom Cotton and John Boozman. French Smith, Bruce Westerman and Steve Womack all voted no.

Alone among their state Republican delegations in opposing the objections were Nancy Mace of South Carolina, who was elected in November to represent Charleston and the Low Country, and David McKinley of West Virginia.

Other Southern Republican House members who opposed the objections to Biden’s electoral vote count were Vern Buchanan and Michael Walz of Florida; Austin Scott and Drew Ferguson of Georgia; Patrick McHenry of NC; and Dan Crenshaw, Tony Gonzales, Michael McCaul, Chip Roy and Van Taylor of Texas.

Three members — Kay Granger and Kevin Brady of Texas and Maria Elvira Salazar of Florida — were in COVID-19 quarantine and did not vote.

Here is the list of Southern House members supporting the Electoral College objections, by state:

Alabama: Aderholt, Brooks, Carl, Moore, Palmer, Rogers
Arkansas: Crawford
Florida: Cammack, Diaz-Balart, Donalds, Dunn, Franklin, Gaetz, Giménez, Mast, Posey, Rutherford, Steube, Webster
Georgia: Allen, Carter, Clyde, Greene, Hice, Loudermilk
Louisiana: Higgins, Graves, Johnson, Scalise
Kentucky: Rogers
Mississippi: Guest, Kelly, Palazzo
North Carolina: Bishop, Budd, Cawthorn, Foxx, Hudson, Murphy, Rouzer
Oklahoma: Bice, Cole, Horn, Lucas, Mullin
South Carolina: Duncan, Norman, Rice, Timmons, Wilson
Tennessee: Burchett, DesJarlais, Fleischmann, Green, Harshbarger, Kustoff, Rose
Texas: Arrington, Babin, Burgess, Carter, Cloud, Fallon, Gohmert, Gooden, Jackson, Nehls, Pfluger, Sessions, Weber, Williams, Wright
Virginia: Cline, Good, Griffith, Wittmann
West Virginia: Miller, Mooney

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell makes impassioned plea against Electoral College vote challenge

McConnell says overturning will of voters would put American democracy in a “death spiral”

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky took to the Senate floor Wednesday to make a somber and impassioned plea against overturning President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College win, saying “nothing before us proves illegality anywhere near the massive scale” needed to overturn the election.

Video of McConnell’s speech at end of story

McConnell speaks against Electoral College challenge on Senate floor

“We cannot simply declare ourselves a national board of elections on steroids,” McConnell said. “If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral.”

“We’d never see the whole nation accept an election again. Every four years it would be a scramble for power at any cost.”

McConnell also decried the current level of contention in American politics, saying “we cannot keep drifting apart into two separate tribes with a separate set of facts and separate reality, with nothing in common except our hostility toward each other and distrust for the few national institutions that we all still share.”

McConnell’s remarks came less than an hour before the Senate had to be evacuated after pro-Trump protestors breached the Capitol.

In words that proved prescient, McConnell said, “I will not pretend such a vote will be a harmless protest gesture while relying on others to do the right thing.”

McConnell said he supported President Donald Trump’s right to use the legal system to challenge the election results, “but over and over, courts rejected these claims, including all-star judges whom the president himself has nominated.”

His remarks came on the day after Democrats appear to have won two U.S. Senate runoff races in Georgia, which will cost him his post as majority leader once both of those votes are confirmed.

McConnell, who was re-elected in November to a seventh term, called Wednesday’s vote “the most important vote I’ve ever cast” during his 36 years as a senator.

His remarks came during a debate triggered when Trump supporters in the House objected to certifying Arizona’s electoral votes and were joined by Texas Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz.

The session in both houses was suspended after protestors breached security and entered the U.S. Capitol building.

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Decision 2020: Republicans’ red wall holds across the South

Though Joe Biden appears to have carried Georgia, Democrats failed to make gains in U.S. Senate, House

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) — Republican political dominance across the South largely held up in Tuesday’s election, winning 12 states in the presidential race, most of the contested U.S. Senate contests, and taking down four U.S. House Democratic freshmen who had flipped seats in 2018.

However, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden holds a small lead in Georgia, pending a recount, and carried Virginia.

Republican incumbents appeared to have held on to Senate seats in Texas, Kentucky, and South Carolina and North Carolina, as well as flipping a seat in Alabama, where Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones lost to Republican Tommy Tuberville.

Two Senate seats in Georgia will be heading to January 5 runoffs. Republican incumbent David Perdue won a plurality against Democrat Jon Ossoff but not the majority he needed to avoid a runoff. In the other race, incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler will face Democrat Raphael Warnock.

Among the GOP senators who will return are two who were prime targets for Democrats — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who won a seventh term in Kentucky, and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, who won in South Carolina despite more than $100 million spent to defeat him by his Democratic opponent, Jaime Harrison.

McConnell defeated Democrat Amy McGrath by 20 points; Graham beat Harrison by 22.

Incumbents won both of the governor’s races in the South: Democrat Roy Cooper won in North Carolina and Republican Jim Justice won in West Virginia.

Republicans also retook several U.S. House seats that Democrats had won in 2018, ousting U.S. Reps. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala in Florida; Joe Cunningham in South Carolina; and Kendra Horn in Oklahoma.

Mucarsel-Powell and Shalala, whose districts are in based in metro Miami-Dade, were swept up in a Republican wave of Cuban-American voters, who were also key to Trump’s victory in the Sunshine State.

Republican Tony Gonzales also picked up an open GOP-held seat in West Texas, defeating Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones

The news was better in Georgia, where Democrat Lucy McBath kept her seat in the northwest Atlanta suburbs and and Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux was leading in a Republican-held district in the northeast suburbs.

In the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, Democrat Elaine Luria also kept her seat, and Abigail Spanberger held a small lead in her district in the Richmond suburbs. Democrats also picked up two seats in North Carolina that had become more Democratic after a court-ordered redraw of the state’s map.

But Democrats came up bone dry in Texas, where they had targeted 10 seats and lost them all. They also failed to flip targeted seats in North Carolina, Florida and Arkansas.

Overall across the South, Democrats lost a net of two seats, which would put the balance of power at 103 Republicans and 48 Democrats.

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