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Phil Bredensen says he won’t support Chuck Schumer for Democratic leader if elected

Democratic candidate for Tennessee’s open U.S. Senate seat makes announcement during debate with Republican rival

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

NASHVILLE (CFP) — Former Governor Phil Bredesen has announced that if elected to Tennessee’s open U.S. Senate seat, he will not support Chuck Schumer of New York to continue as his party’s Senate leader.

Former Governor Phil Bredesen

Bredesen, locked in a close race with Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, told the audience at a September 25 debate that he thinks Congress needs “new leadership.”

“I think a lot of the problem in Washington is with the leadership that we have there now. Whether it be (House Speaker Paul) Ryan or (House Minority Leader Nancy) Pelosi or (Senate Majority Leader Mitch) McConnell or Schumer, they’re not doing the job,” Bredensen said.

Bredensen took specific issue with charges by Blackburn and other Republicans claiming that he would be a rubber stamp for the current Senate Democratic leader.

“You’ve heard a lot recently of this campaign about me, about these crazy ideas about if somehow I’m elected and go to Washington, suddenly I’m going to turn my back on a whole lifetime of thinking for myself and being independent and suddenly become some kind of a political lackey,” Bredesen said. “That’s not going to happen.”

But Blackburn continued to press the line of attack, saying Bredensen’s campaign had been “bought and paid for” by Schumer.

“We all know that Phil had a choice. He could have run as a Republican or independent,” she said. “He’s running as a Democrat, so he will be with Chuck Schumer if he were to go to Washington.”

Bredesen, a former two-term governor, is trying to become the first Democrat to win a Senate seat in the Volunteer State since 1990. The four most recent public polls have shown the race within the margin of error, indicating the closeness of the race.

The seat is open due to the retirement of Republican U.S. Senator Bob Corker.

Bredesen’s stance on Schumer’s tenure is unlikely to threaten the New Yorker’s grip on the Democratic leadership, which requires support from a majority of the Democratic caucus in a non-public vote. Only one other Democratic Senate candidate, U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona, has come out against Schumer.

Democrats need to make a net gain of two seats in the Senate to take control, which would make Schumer majority leader. Four GOP-held seats being targeted include Tennessee, Texas, Arizona and Nevada.

Watch the full Bredesen-Blackburn debate:

Florida GOP U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross will not run for re-election

Decision opens up another potential Democratic target in the Sunshine State

♦By Rich Shumate,

LAKELAND, Florida (CFP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross has announced he will not seek a fifth term in November, opening up a congressional seat in Tampa’s eastern suburbs.

U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Florida

Ross’s announcement came shortly after House Speaker Paul Ryan announced he too was retiring from Congress, amid projections of a Democratic wave that could flip control of the House this year.

“I never viewed this amazing opportunity as a job or a career,” Ross said in a statement announcing his retirement. “My home has been and will continue to be in Lakeland, Florida.”

Ross said he would resume his law practice and pursue “opportunities to increase civic education for our youth, and young adults, and with that encourage more engagement and participation of future generations in government.”

Before the announcement, Ross, 58, first elected in the Republican wave of 2010, had been considered a prohibitive favorite to retain the 15th District seat, which includes the eastern suburbs of Tampa and northwestern Polk County, including Lakeland. The district tilts Republican, and Ross won 57 percent in 2016.

With filing for primary elections set to begin on May 4, the question for Democrats will be finding a candidate with enough statute to make the 15h District race competitive. Six Democrats are currently running, but none has any political experience.

While 54 incumbent House members are not running in 2018 — a retirement rate of 12 percent– Ross is just the second House member from Florida to forgo re-election in 2018. The other is Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who represents a Miami-area district that is considered a likely Democratic pickup.

Florida U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen breaks ranks with GOP leaders on health care bill

Florida congresswoman says Obamacare replacement would leave too many of her constituents uninsured

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

MIAMI (CFP) — U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has become the first House Republican to break ranks with her party’s leadership to oppose a new plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.

R0s-Lehtinen, who represents the 27th District in Miami-Dade County, announced her decision to oppose the bill March 14 on her Twitter feed:

“I plan to vote NO on the current ACHA bill. As written the plan leaves too many from my SoFla district uninsured. As AHCA stands, it will cut much needed help for SoFla’s poor (and) elderly populations. Need a plan that will do more to protect them.”

ACHA stands for the American Health Care Act, which is the formal name of the GOP bill.

In a subsequent statement, Ros-Lehtinen said that after studying the bill and hearing from her constituents, she concluded “too many of my constituents will lose insurance and there will be less funds to help the poor and elderly with their health care.” However, she made it clear that she would support changes in the existing Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

“I voted to repeal Obamacare many times because it was not the right fix for our broken healthcare system and did not live up to its promise to the American people, but this plan is not the replacement South Florida needs,” she said. “We should work together to write a bipartisan bill that works for our community and our nation without hurting the elderly and disadvantaged among us.”

Democrats have not participated in crafting the Republican health care replacement bill, being pushed by House Speaker Paul Ryan. The plan has also run into opposition from his own caucus, both from more conservative members who feel it keeps too many features of Obamacare and more moderate members who fear its impact on Americans who have managed to gain coverage under the existing plan.

Ros-Lehtinen falls into the latter category. She is also one of only six Southern Republicans who represent a House district that Democrat Hillary Clinton carried in the presidential election last year.

Clinton carried the district by nearly 20 points, her largest margin of victory in any Southern GOP-held district. The majority-Latino district is anchored by Miami’s Cuban-American community.

Ros-Lehtinen became the first Cuban-American to serve in Congress when she was elected in 1989. She has broken with her party leadership in the past, most notably in her support for same-sex marriage.

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, 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.

Kentucky GOP okays switch to 2016 caucus to help U.S. Senator Rand Paul

Decision to change presidential selection process clears way for Paul to seek both re-election and the White House

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

kentucky mugBOWLING GREEN Kentucky (CFP) — Republican Party leaders in Kentucky have agreed to switch their presidential nominating contest in 2016 from a primary to a caucus, clearing a potential hurdle in U.S. Senator Rand Paul’s expected run for the GOP presidential nomination.

U.S. Senator Rand Paul

U.S. Senator Rand Paul

After a closed-door meeting March 7, the state party’s executive committee approved the change, which must still be approved by the full party central committee in August.

Paul appeared at the executive committee meeting in Bowling Green to meet with party leaders and lobby for the change. His campaign has agreed to raise money to cover the costs associated with holding a caucus.

However, the proposed change was blasted by the Bluegrass State’s top elections official, Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who said the switch to a caucus would introduce “chaos” into the process by disenfranchising voters who would not be able to attend.

“I call on the Republican Party of Kentucky to provide details on how all their voters would be able to participate and how the party intends to uphold the integrity of the process,” she said.

Paul has already kicked off his Senate re-election campaign and is expected to make a decision on the presidential race this spring.

Grimes, who ran unsuccessfully against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2014, has been insisting that a state law prohibiting a candidate from appearing for two different offices on the same ballot precludes Paul from seeking re-election to the Senate while also running in the May 2016 presidential primary.

Kentucky Democrats, who control the state House and the governorship, have blocked efforts by Paul’s allies to change the state law against political double-dipping

The switch to a caucus, which would be held on a different day earlier in the year, would get around the problem, although if Paul were to win the GOP presidential nomination, he would face the same problem in the November 2016 general election.

Paul maintains the law is unconstitutional because of a 1995 Supreme Court ruling that a state can’t impose its own restrictions in races for federal offices. He has hinted that he may file a federal lawsuit if any attempt is made to keep him from seeking both offices.

A Bluegrass/Survey USA poll last September showed 66 percent of state voters and 54 percent of Republicans were opposed to changing the law.

There is historical precedent for running for both the presidency or vice presidency and Congress at the same time, most recently in 2012 when U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP’s vice presidential nominee, was re-elected to his House seat in Wisconsin.

Vice President Joe Biden also won Senate re-election in 2008 on the same day he was elected vice president, as did Lyndon Johnson in 1960.

The only other senator up for re-election in 2016 considering a White House bid, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, has said he will give up his Senate seat if he pursues the Republican presidential nomination.

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