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Georgia U.S. Rep. Doug Collins gets into U.S. Senate race, igniting GOP squabble

Trump champion will challenge Republican U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed to the seat in December

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — Georgia Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Colllins, one of President Donald Trump’s staunchest defenders in Congress, will run in a November special election against the state’s newly minted U.S. senator, Kelly Loeffler, defying the man who appointed her, Governor Brian Kemp, and triggering an intra-party squabble with potential implications for Senate control.

“We’re getting ready for a good time down here to keep defending this president, keep him working for the people of Georgia,” Collins said in a Wednesday morning appearance on “Fox & Friends” where he confirmed his candidacy. “We just need to have a process that let’s the people decide. Let them choose for themselves how they want to see this vision.”

In December, Kemp appointed Loeffler, a wealthy Atlanta business executive who had not previously held political office, to the seat vacated by veteran Republican Johnny Isakson, rebuffing furious lobbying by conservatives who preferred Collins, a Gainesville Republican serving his fourth term in the House who has led the charge against Trump’s impeachment as ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Georgia, announces Senate bid on “Fox & Friends” (From Fox News Channel)

The question that will now hang over the race is whether Trump will buck Kemp and the Senate Republican establishment and endorse Collins over Loeffler, the incumbent. The president was reportedly cool to Loeffler’s appointment before it was made, although he has since singled her out for praise.

Asked if he expected Trump’s support, Collins said, “I think that’s up the president.”

Even with Trump’s support, Collins will have to battle against what is likely to be Loeffler’s significant financial advantage. He starts the race with less than $1.4 million in his campaign account, while she is expected to tap $20 million from her own fortune for the campaign.

Collins decision to run against Loeffler immediate drew fire from the Senate Republicans’ campaign organization and a political action committee allied with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“The shortsightedness in this decision is stunning,” said Kevin McLaughlin, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, in a statement. “Doug Collins’ selfishness will hurt (Georgia U.S. Senator) David Perdue, Kelly Loeffler, and President Trump. Not to mention the people of Georgia who stand to bear the burden of it for years to come. All he has done is put two senate seats, multiple house seats, and Georgia’s 16 electoral votes in play.”

“It’s so selfish of Doug Collins to be promoting himself when President Trump needs a unified team and Senator Loeffler is such a warrior for the President,” said Steven Law, president of the McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund, in a statement. “As we’ve said before, Senator Loeffler is an outsider like Trump, not just another D.C. politician. We’ll have her back if she needs us.”

Collins fired right back on Twitter, employing one of Trump’s favorite phrases to deride McLaughlin’s comments: “This is FAKE NEWS coming from the head of a Washington-based group whose bylaws require him to support all incumbents, even unelected ones.”

In addition to Loeffler’s seat, Perdue is also up for election in 2020. The two Republican-held seats in Georgia will be key in Democratic efforts to overturn the GOP’s three-seat Senate majority.

The next act in the Collins-Loeffler race may take place in the Georgia legislature, where Collins supporters — with the backing of Democrats — may try to change the rules governing the November special election to his advantage.

As state law now stands, candidates from all parties will run in November, with the top two vote-getters advancing to a runoff if no one gets a majority. However, some Republicans in the House, with the support of Speaker David Ralston, are pushing to create regular party primaries for seat, which would set up a one-on-one match-up between Collins and Loeffler in a Republican-only electorate.

Kemp has threatened to veto the bill. However, House Democrats have indicated they may support the change, which could create a veto-proof majority with just 45 out of the 104 Republicans in the House.

In addition to possibly helping Collins, a party primary would ensure that a Democrat would get a clean shot at either Loeffler or Collins, rather than battling them both.

Democrats, not surprisingly, were gleeful about Collins’s decision to enter the race and upset Kemp’s best-laid plans.

“This expensive, protracted brawl — already playing out on the front page — will force unelected mega-donor Senator Loeffler and Trump ally Congressman Collins into a race to the right that reveals just how out-of-touch both are with Georgia voters,” said Helen Kalla, a spokesperson for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, in a statement.

Four Democrats have already gotten into the race against Loeffler, including Matt Lieberman, a businessman from Cobb County and son of former Connecticut U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman; Ed Tarver, a former state senator and federal prosecutor from Augusta; Richard Winfield, a philosophy professor at the University of Georgia; and Tamara Johnson-Shealey, a nail salon owner and law student from DeKalb County.

Raphael Warnock, the high-profile senior pastor of Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, is also expected to join the race.

Collins, 53, was a lawyer and Baptist pastor before being elected to Congress in 2012. He is also a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force reserves.

His 9th District, which covers the state’s northeastern corner, is heavily Republican and is likely to stay in GOP hands after his departure, though his pursuit of the Senate will likely trigger a competitive primary in the five weeks remaining before the filing deadline.

Before being appointed to the Senate, Loeffler, 49, worked as an executive at Intercontinental Exchange, the parent company of the New York Stock Exchange; she is married to Jeffrey Sprecher, the company’s founder and CEO.

Loeffler is also co-owner of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, which she purchased with a partner in 2010.

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GOP’s Alabama headache returns: Roy Moore running for U.S. Senate

Former chief justice ignores Donald Trump’s plea not to seek a rematch of 2017 loss

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

MONTGOMERY (CFP) — Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore will try again in 2020 to get elected to the U.S. Senate, three years after his campaign for the same office imploded amid sexual misconduct allegations — and despite a Twitter plea from President Donald Trump to stay out of the race.

“Can I win? Yes, I can win. Not only can I, they know I can. That’s why there’s such opposition,” Moore said at his June 20 announcement, referring to Republican leaders who will now face the headache of dealing with Moore in the GOP primary as they try to reclaim the seat from Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones.

Roy Moore announces Senate run in Montgomery (WKRG via YouTube)

“Why does the mere mention of my name cause people just to get up in arms in Washington, D.C.?” Moore said. “Is it because I believe in God and marriage and in morality in our country, that I believe in the right of a baby in the womb to have a life? Are these things embarrassing to you?”

Moore’s candidacy is being opposed by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the campaign arm of GOP senators, as well as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Alabama’s Republican U.S. Senator, Richard Shelby.

But it is the opposition of Trump — hugely popular in the Yellowhammer State — that may be the most formidable Republican obstacle in Moore’s path.

In a May 29 tweet, as speculation swirled that Moore might run, Trump said, “If Alabama does not elect a Republican to the Senate in 2020, many of the incredible gains that we have made during my Presidency may be lost, including our Pro-Life victories. Roy Moore cannot win, and the consequences will be devastating.”

Asked about the president’s opposition during his campaign announcement, Moore reiterated his support for Trump’s agenda and said he believed the president was being pressured to come out against him.

“I think President Trump has every right to voice his opinion. I think he’s being pushed by the NRSC,” Moore said.

Moore, 72, once again denied allegations made by five women that he pursued them sexually when they were teenagers in the 1970s — allegations that proved devastating to his 2017 campaign against Jones.

“I’ve taken a lie-detector test. I’ve take a polygraph test. I’ve done everything I could do,” he said.

Moore also said Jones’s win in 2017 — the first by a Democrat in an Alabama Senate race in 25 years — was “fraudulent” because he was the victim of a “false flag operation using Russian tactics.”

In late 2018, several news organizations reported that a group financed by a Democratic operative used Twitter and Facebook to spread disinformation against Moore, who lost to Jones by just 1 percent of the vote.

Jones, who has said he was not aware of what the group was doing, repudiated what he termed “deceptive tactics” and called for a federal investigation.

In his 2020 announcement, Moore said he suspected “Republican collusion” in the Democratic disinformation campaign, although he didn’t offer specifics.

Moore will be running in the Republican primary against a field that already includes U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne of Mobile, former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville, Secretary of State John Merrill from Tuscaloosa, and State Rep. Arnold Mooney from suburban Birmingham.

The two top vote getters in the March 2020 primary will advance to a runoff.

The challenge for the NRSC and Senate Republican leaders will be finding a way to work against Moore while remaining neutral among the other candidates. In 2017, their open support of Luther Strange backfired when Moore turned his ties with the Washington establishment into a potent campaign issue.

Moore first gained national notoriety as a local judge in 1995 after battling the ACLU over his practice of opening court sessions with a prayer and hanging the Ten Commandments in his courtroom.

He parlayed that prominence into election as Alabama’s chief justice in 2000 but was forced out in 2003 after he had a display of the Ten Commandments installed in the rotunda of the state judicial building and then defied a federal judge’s order to remove it.

Moore was once again elected chief justice in 2012, but in 2016, he was suspended by a judicial disciplinary panel for the rest of his term for ethics violations after telling local officials that they didn’t have to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

After losing an appeal of his suspension, Moore resigned from the Supreme Court to run for the Senate vacancy created when Jeff Sessions resigned to become Trump’s attorney general.

In 2017, Moore was able to use his base of support from his tenure as chief justice to get into the runoff, where he defeated Strange, who had been appointed to the seat temporarily by disgraced former Governor Robert Bentley.

Trump had backed Strange in the runoff but quickly got on board with Moore once he won. But after the sexual misconduct allegations surfaced, McConnell, Shelby and other Republican Senate leaders abandoned their wounded nominee, even announcing that they would expel him from the Senate if he won.

Jones, who now faces the formidable challenge of trying to hang on to his Senate seat in deep red Alabama, is considered to be the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent in the Senate in 2020.

Jones greeted Moore’s announcement with a tweet: “So it looks like my opponent will either be extremist Roy Moore or an extremist handpicked by Mitch McConnell to be part of his legislative graveyard team. Let’s get to work so we can get things done!”

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Stacey Abrams won’t challenge U.S. Senator David Perdue in Georgia in 2020

Decision deprives Democrats of their top prospect to unseat Republican incumbent

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — Withstanding intense lobbying from Democratic leaders to run, Stacey Abrams has announced she will not challenge Georgia Republican U.S. Senator David Perdue in 2020, leaving Democrats without a top-tier candidate for a seat they hope to flip.

“I am so grateful for all the support and encouragement that I’ve received,” Abrams said in a video posted on Twitter. “However, the fights to be waged require a deep commitment to the job, and I do not see the U.S. Senate as the best role for me in this battle for our nation’s future.”

Stacey Abrams announces she won’t run for Senate in 2020 (From Twitter)

Addressing her political future, Abrams said, “I still don’t know exactly what’s next for me” — leaving open the possibility of seeking the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, a idea she has discussed openly in recent months.

Abrams also took a parting shot at Perdue, saying she would work in 2020 to elect “a Georgian who cares more about protecting our farmers and our families than protecting the Trump administration.”

Abrams, 45, the former minority leader of the Georgia House, burst on to the national political stage in 2018 in the Georgia governor’s race, hoping to make history as the first African American woman ever elected governor of a U.S. state. Despite an avalanche of media attention, she lost to Republican Governor Brian Kemp by 55,000 votes.

Abrams, complaining that Kemp had mismanaged the election as secretary of state, refused to concede, although she eventually acknowledged him as the winner. She then founded a group called Fair Fight Action, which filed a federal lawsuit challenging Georgia’s election processes and demanding changes before the 2020 election.

Since her defeat, Abrams had been courted by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to run against Perdue, who is seeking his second term in 2020. She was selected to give the Democratic response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address in February.

Democrats haven’t won a Senate race in Georgia since 1996, but Abrams’s near victory over Kemp made her the party’s top prospect to take on Perdue. With Abrams out, that mantle falls, for the moment, on former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson.

Abrams’s decision was met with some glee at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which fired off a statement from NRSC spokesman Jesse Hunt:

“Stacey Abrams handed Chuck Schumer his most embarrassing recruiting fail of the cycle, leaving Georgia Democrats stuck with an assortment of second-tier candidates,” Hunt said. “Her decision is the latest in a string of high-profile Democrats who have rejected Schumer’s pitch out of fear of facing formidable Republican Senators next fall.”

A spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Stewart Boss, fired back: “Stacey and Georgia Democrats laid a strong foundation for 2020, and Senator Perdue will be held accountable for driving up health care costs, giving big corporations and millionaires like himself a tax break, and putting the president ahead of what’s right.”

Republicans currently hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, which means Democrats will need to flip four seats in 2020 to take control, unless Trump loses, in which case they can control the Senate with a shift of three seats and the vice presidency.

Of the seats up next year, 21 are held by Republicans and just 13 by Democrats. However, most of those GOP seats are in states that tilt Republican; Democrats are hoping to add Georgia to a short list of GOP targets that includes seats in Colorado, Maine, Arizona and Iowa.

Democrats will also have to defend seats in heavily Republican Alabama and Michigan, which Trump carried in 2016.

A total of 13 Southern seats — 11 Republican and two Democratic — are up in 2020. Incumbents are expected to run for re-election for all of those seats except Tennessee, where Lamar Alexander is retiring.

Races in Texas, Tennessee, Alabama and North Carolina are likely to be competitive, while in Kentucky, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could face both primary and Democratic opposition.

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McConnell: I believe Roy Moore’s accusers

Head of Senate GOP campaign arm says Moore should be expelled; fifth woman alleges sexual misconduct

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

MONTGOMERY (CFP) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he believes the women who have come forward to accuse Alabama Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexual misconduct, while the head of the Senate GOP’s campaign arm says Moore should be expelled from the Senate if he wins a December special election.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

“I believe the women, yes, ” McConnell told reporters after attending a tax reform event November 12 in Louisville. “I think he should step aside.”

McConnell also said Republican leaders are looking into the feasibility of supporting a write-in candidate in the race, although he was non-committal on whether that candidate would be the man Moore defeated in the Republican primary, U.S. Senator Luther Strange.

U.S. Senator Cory Gardner, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, took to Twitter to suggest that Republican senators might refuse to let Moore take his seat in the Senate even if he wins.

“I believe the individuals speaking out against Roy Moore spoke with courage and truth, proving he is unfit to serve in the United States Senate and he should not run for office,” Gardner said. “If he refuses to withdraw and wins, the Senate should vote to expel him, because he does not meet the ethical and moral requirements of the United States Senate.”

Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore

Moore fired back on Twitter: “The person who should step aside is @SenateMajLdr Mitch McConnell. He has failed conservatives and must be replaced.”

GOP leaders are in a difficult spot. The deadline has passed for replacing Moore on the ballot, so, if he withdraws, the only option for Republicans to win would be a write-in campaign. However, if he refuses to go, a write-in campaign could split the Republican vote and clear the way for Democrat Doug Jones to win. And that would cut the GOP majority in the Senate to a single vote.

Strange, who has been filling the seat on a temporary basis since February, would be problematic as a write-in candidate because he lost to Moore in September after an acrimonious primary, leaving him an unlikely figure to unify Republicans in a battle against Jones.

Even as Republican leaders grappled over how to deal with Moore, a fifth woman came forward to allege that Moore tried to force himself on her when she was just 16 and he was a local prosecutor in Alabama. Beverly Young Nelson said she managed to fight off Moore’s advances after he offered her a ride home from a restaurant where she worked.

On November 9, The Washington Post published an allegation from another woman, Leigh Corfman, who said Moore initiated sexual contact with her back in 1979, when she was just 14 and he was 32. Three other women also told the Post that Moore pursued them when they were teenagers, although none of those women allege that any sexual contact beyond kissing took place.

Moore has strenuously denied the allegations, insisting that they are a politically motivated attack to keep him out of the Senate.

“We do not intend to let the Democrats, or establishment Republicans or anybody else behind this story stop this campaign.” Moore during an appearance at a Veteran’s Day event where he addressed the allegations. “We fully expect the people of Alabama to see through this charade.”

Suggestions of sexual impropriety pose a special problem for Moore, 70, because his legal and political careers have been built on unapologetic Christian conservatism, which is frequently on display in most of his speeches.

He was twice elected and removed as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court after defying federal court orders to stop displaying the Ten Commandments on public property and encouraging local officials not to license same-sex marriages after the U.S. Supreme Court had legalized them.

The allegations have further eroded Moore’s already shaky relationship with fellow Republicans in the Senate, all of whom backed Strange in the primary. Given the current climate of heightened sensitivity to allegations of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, Republicans have been quick to put daylight between themselves and Moore.

However, Moore — who twice put his job as chief justice on the line to defy federal courts — is unlikely to heed calls to step aside, especially coming from McConnell. Moore has said loudly and often that he would vote against McConnell as Republican leader if he gets to Washington.

The imbroglio surrounding Moore marks the second time in a year that a sex scandal has rocked politics in the Yellowhammer State.

In April, former Governor Robert Bentley resigned under threat of impeachment after pleading guilty to two misdemeanors stemming from his efforts to extricate himself from a scandal over his relationship with former aide.

Strange was appointed to the Senate seat in February by Bentley after Jeff Sessions left to become U.S. attorney general. Although state law mandates that Senate vacancies be filled “forthwith,” Bentley delayed a special election until November 2018, which would have given Strange nearly two years of incumbency before he had to face voters.

But after Bentley resigned, new Alabama Governor Kay Ivey reversed course and ordered a special election this year. Moore went on to defeat Strange in a September primary runoff.

Southern GOP, Democratic senators split on using “nuclear option” in Gorsuch fight

Senate eliminates filibusters of Supreme Court nominees in party-line vote

WASHINGTON (CFP) — With the support of all 24 Southern Republicans, the U.S. Senate has changed its rules to eliminate filibusters for Supreme Court nominations, clearing the way for confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to a lifetime seat on the high court.

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch

After Democrats blocked Gorsuch’s nomination with a filibuster, the Republican majority used a parliamentary maneuver to change Senate rules, eliminating the need to reach 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

That vote fell along party lines, with 52 Republicans in favor, 46 Democrats opposed and two independents who caucus with Democrats also voting against the move.

With the filibuster out of the way, Gorsuch was confirmed by a vote of 54 to 45, with just three Democrats supporting him, including Joe Manchin of West Virginia

Three of the four Southern Democratic senators — Bill Nelson of Florida and Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia — supported the filibuster and voted against confirming Gorsuch. While Manchin did not join the filibuster and voted for confirmation, he did not support the move by Republican leaders to eliminate filibusters for Supreme Court nominees.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia

Manchin released a statement blistering both sides for “hypocrisy” and charging that the filibuster fight illustrates “precisely what is wrong with Washington.”

“Frustratingly, both parties have traded talking points: Republicans say it’s about obstructionism and Democrats say it’s a power grab. Their shifting positions and hypocrisy is the one thing that unites them,” he said.

Manchin also noted that in 2013, when Democrats used their majority to end filibusters for executive branch nominees, “every Republican Senator joined me in opposing the rules change then, but now, they stand united to do exactly what they opposed.”

Manchin is up for re-election in 2018 in a state President Donald Trump carried by a whopping 32 points. Warner and Kaine’s opposition to Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee presents less political risk in Virginia, the only Southern state Trump failed to carry last November.

Nelson, however, is also up for re-election in 2018 in a state Trump won and could be facing a formidable Republican foe in Florida Governor Rick Scott.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida

In a statement announcing his decision to oppose Gorsuch, Nelson said he has “real concerns with (Gorsuch’s) thinking on protecting the right to vote and allowing unlimited money in political campaigns. In addition, the judge has consistently sided with corporations over employees.”

“I will vote no on the motion to invoke cloture (to end the filibuster) and, if that succeeds, I will vote no on his confirmation,” Nelson said.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee immediately released a statement noting that Nelson had opposed a previous Democratic filibuster of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito in 2006 and had previously voted to confirm Gorsuch to a seat on the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Nelson proved to Floridians today that he no longer shares their values, and instead is more politically aligned with the liberal elite of Washington,” said Katie Martin, an NRSC spokeswoman. “Nelson has been in Washington too long and his move to ignore the will of voters in Florida will cost him his job in 2018.”

U.S. Senator Tim Kaine

Kaine, who is also up for re-election in 2018, is also being pounded by Republicans, particularly over a remark he made during the 2016 campaign saying he would support the “nuclear option” if Republicans filibustered any of Hillary Clinton’s Supreme Court nominees. At the time, Kaine was Clinton’s running mate.

In a lengthy statement explaining his support for the filibuster, Kaine noted that Republicans refused to consider President Obama’s selection of Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016, for which Gorsuch was nominated. He also said the filibuster, which Gorsuch would need 60 votes to overcome, ensures that high court nominees “receive significant bipartisan support.”

“That is especially important now given the many important issues pending before the court and the clear need to fill a position long held vacant through blatant partisan politics with someone who can bring independence and non-partisanship to the job,” Kaine said.

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