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Doug Jones of Alabama and Joe Manchin of West Virginia likely to face blowback back home for supporting Trump’s removal
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — Two Southern Democrats in the U.S. Senate who represent states President Donald Trump carried in 2016 — Doug Jones of Alabama and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — voted to find Trump guilty on two articles of impeachment, a decision that will subject them to significant blowback in their home states.
The other two Southern Democrats in the Senate — Tim Kaine and Mark Warner of Virginia — also voted to convict Trump, while all 24 Republicans representing Southern states voted no. Both impeachment articles failed to get the two-thirds majority necessary to remove the president from office.
Jones — considered to be the most vulnerable Democrat running for re-election in 2020, in a state Trump carried by 28 points — said he concluded that “the evidence clearly proves that the president used the weight of his office … to coerce a foreign government to interfere in our election for his personal political benefit.”
“I fear that moral courage, country before party, is a rare commodity these days. We can write about it and talk about it in speeches and in the media, but it is harder to put into action when political careers may be on the line,” Jones said in a floor speech announcing his vote. “I did not run for the Senate hoping to take part in the impeachment trial of a duly elected president. But I cannot and will not shrink from my duty to defend the Constitution and to do impartial justice.”
Watch full video of Jones’s floor speech at end of story
Manchin didn’t disclose his decision in the impeachment trial until moments before the Senate began voting, with each senator standing and pronouncing Trump either “guilty” or “not guilty.”
“Voting whether or not to remove a sitting President has been a truly difficult decision, and after listening to the arguments presented by both sides, I have reached my conclusion reluctantly,” Manchin said in a statement released on Twitter. “I have always wanted this President, and every President to succeed, but I deeply love our country and must do what I think is best for the nation.”
Trump carried West Virginia by 41 points in 2016. However, unlike Jones, Manchin isn’t up for re-election again until 2024, which means he’s unlikely to face any immediate political consequences from his decision.
In the days before the final vote, Manchin had floated the idea of a Senate censure of Trump, which would have condemned his conduct without acquitting him on the impeachment charges. But the idea failed to gain traction among senators in either party.
Both Jones and Manchin also criticized the refusal by Senate Republicans to agree to introduce additional witnesses and documents into the trial, which Jones said “would have provided valuable context, corroboration or contradiction to what we have heard.”
The first article of impeachment, which accused Trump of abuse of power, failed to get the necessary two-thirds majority to remove Trump from office, with 48 senators voting guilty and 52 not guilty. The second article, accusing Trump of obstruction of Congress, failed on a 47-to-53 vote.
Mitt Romney of Utah was the only Republican to vote for conviction on the first article, joined by all 47 Democrats. The vote on the second article fell along party lines.
In 2017, Jones, a former federal prosecutor, won a special election to become the first Democrat to represent the Yellowhammer State in the Senate in 27 years. With the November election looming, he had been under considerable pressure to vote to acquit Trump, with Republicans organizing demonstrations outside of his Alabama offices.
Terry Lathan, chair of the Alabama GOP, said the senator’s decision showed that he “continues to take his marching orders from Chuck Schumer and his liberal California campaign donors.”
“Senator Jones once again is demonstrating his contempt for the majority of Alabamians who are opposed to impeachment,” Lathan said in a statement. “The voters of Alabama will keenly remember this day on November 3rd and replace Senator Jones with someone who will truly represent Alabama’s values.”
One of Jones’s GOP opponents, Bradley Byrne, called his vote the “final straw.”
“I’ve never been so fired up to take back this seat & send Trump a conservative fighter,” Bryne said on Twitter.
Another Republican competitor, Jeff Sessions, in an interview with Breitbart News, said Jones “clearly revealed himself to be a part of the Schumer team, the liberal team, that would create a majority in the Senate, that would make every committee chairman a Democrat—some of them radical Democrats—and all of which is contrary to the values of Alabama.”
Sessions held the Senate seat now held by Jones for 20 years before resigning in 2017 to become Trump’s attorney general. He is now trying to make a comeback by wrapping himself in the Trump mantle, despite a frequently frosty relationship with the president that led to his ouster from the Justice Department in 2018.
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4 Southern GOP senators defy Trump on border emergency; North Carolina’s Thom Tillis makes about face to support president
Rubio, Paul, Wicker and Alexander break with Trump in voting to overturn emergency declaration
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — With the support of four Southern Republicans and all four Southern Democrats, the U.S. Senate has voted to overturn President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency in order to find money for a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.
But one GOP senator who had come out publicly in favor of overturning the declaration — Thom Tillis of North Carolina — reversed course and voted no, after intense lobbying from the White House and an avalanche of criticism from Trump partisans back home.
Trump has vowed to veto the resolution overturning the declaration, which passed by a 59-41 margin in the Republican-controlled Senate on March 14. The House passed it in late February by a vote of 254-182.
However, opponents of the declaration do not have enough support in either House to override Trump’s veto, which will be the first of his presidency.
Frustrated by the unwillingness of the Democrat-controlled House to vote money for the border wall, Trump declared a national emergency on February 15, which will allow him to shift $8 billion from other federal programs and use it for wall construction. Most of the money will come from appropriations for military construction and drug interdiction.
In a floor speech before the vote, Alexander said he objected to Trump’s use of an emergency declaration to provide border wall funding after Congress failed to appropriate the money.
“The problem with this is that after a Revolutionary War against a king, our nation’s founders gave to Congress the power to approve all spending so that the president would not have too much power. This check on the executive is a crucial source of our freedom,” Alexander said.
Rubio said he agreed with Trump that an emergency exists at the border but said he objected to shifting money out of the military construction budget to finance the border barrier.
“This would create a precedent a future president may abuse to jumpstart programs like the Green New Deal, especially given the embrace of socialism we are seeing on the political left,” he said in a statement on Twitter.
Paul and Wicker also cited constitutional considerations as the reason for their vote to overturn the declaration.
“I stand with President Trump on the need for a border wall and stronger border security, but the Constitution clearly states that money cannot be spent unless Congress has passed a law to do so,” Paul said in a statement.
Wicker said he regretted “that we were not able to find a solution that would have averted a challenge to the balance of power as defined by the Constitution.”
“The system of checks and balances established by the Founders has preserved our democracy. It is essential that we protect this balance even when it is frustrating or inconvenient,” he said in a statement.
Tillis made a splash when he published an op-ed piece in the Washington Post on February 25 saying he would vote to overturn the emergency declaration because it would set a precedent that “future left-wing presidents will exploit to advance radical policies that will erode economic and individual freedoms.”
Tillis faced an avalanche of criticism from the president’s supporters in the Tar Heel State and was facing the likelihood of a primary challenge in his 2020 re-election race.
“A lot has changed over the last three weeks — a discussion with the vice president, a number of senior administration officials … a serious discussion about changing the National Emergencies Act in a way that will have Congress speak on emergency actions in the future,” Tillis said.
Republican senators had considered changing the National Emergencies Act to make it more difficult to declare emergencies in the future, but the plan faltered when House Democrats came out against it.
Tillis said he concluded that the crisis at the border was sufficiently serious to warrant the emergency declaration.
“We have narcotics flooding our country, poisoning our children and adults of all ages, and a lot of it has to do with the porous border and the seemingly out of control crossings,” Tillis said.
But Democrats back home pounced on Tillis for his change of heart.
“Tillis again reminded the entire state who he is — a spineless politician who won’t keep his promises and looks out for himself instead of North Carolina,” said Democratic Party spokesman Robert Howard in a statement.
Rubio and Paul do not face re-election until 2022; Wicker’s current term lasts through 2024.
Among the Democrats who voted against Trump, Jones is the only one who is running for re-election in 2020. Warner isn’t up for re-election until 2022, and Manchin and Kaine’s current terms last through 2024.
Jones is considered among the most vulnerable Democrats up for election in 2020, in a state where Trump remains popular.
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Political support for Virginia lieutenant governor collapses, with impeachment threat on the table
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
RICHMOND (CFP) — Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax’s political problems have gone from bad to worse after a second woman stepped forward Friday to accuse him of sexual assault, with his political support in free fall as his fellow Democrats desert him.
Fairfax is now calling for an FBI investigation into claims of sexual assault made by Meredith Watson, who says he raped her in 2000, and Vanessa Tyson, who says he forced her to perform oral sex on him in 2004.
In a statement issued Saturday, he acknowledged having consensual sexual encounters with both women but urged Virginians not to “rush to judgment” before the claims are investigated.
“I say again without reservation: I did not sexually assault or rape Meredith Watson, Vanessa Tyson or anyone else,” he said in a statement released late Saturday. “Our American values don’t just work when it’s convenient — they must be applied at the most difficult of times.”
But Fairfax is facing momentum growing against him, including a call for his resignation by the Democratic Party of Virgina, which put out a statement on Twitter calling the sexual assault allegations “credible” and saying the lieutenant governor “no longer has our confidence or support.”
Fairfax — the only African American holding statewide office — has even lost the support of the members of the Legislative Black Caucus, who said in a statement that “we can’t see it in the best interest of the Commonwealth of Virginia for the Lieutenant Governor to remain in his role.”
Meanwhile, Democratic Delegate Patrick Hope of Arlington said he will introduce articles of impeachment to remove Fairfax if he does not step down by Monday.
“As the father of three young girls, I cannot stand by silently while the lieutenant governor is facing multiple, credible allegations of sexual assault,” Hope told reporters at a news conference Friday night. “My sincere hope is that this will not be necessary and the lieutenant governor will heed the calls of many to resign this weekend.”
The latest allegations are a stunning reversal in the political fortunes of Fairfax, who just a week ago was poised to take over as governor with Governor Ralph Northam under pressure to resign over a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page.
Should Fairfax resign, Northam — or whoever is sitting in the governor’s chair — will pick a replacement, with an election in November to fill the final two years of Fairfax’s term. Impeachment would be a decision for the Republican-controlled legislature.
In a statement released Friday, lawyers for Watson alleged that Fairfax raped her in 2000, when they were both students at Duke University. The statement did not give details of the attack but described it as “premeditated and aggressive.”
Her attorneys also indicated that she has emails and Facebook posts that document that she told other people about the attack right after it happened. She decided to come forward after learning of a claim made earlier in the week by Tyson, a California college professor who said Fairfax sexually assaulted her during the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004, according to her attorneys.
“Ms. Watson was upset to learn that Mr. Fairfax raped at least one other woman after he attacked her,” the statement said. “(She) is reluctantly coming forward out of a strong sense of civic duty and her belief that those seeking or serving in public office should be of the highest character. She has no interest in becoming a media personality or reliving the trauma that has greatly affected her life.”
Democratic leaders largely stood by Fairfax after Tyson’s allegation. But the dam burst once Watson came forward, imperiling the political future of a man who had been seen as a rising star in Democratic politics.
“The allegations against Justin Fairfax are serious and credible,” McAuliffe said on Twitter. “It is clear to me that he can no longer effectively serve the people of Virginia.”
“The allegations against him detail atrocious crimes, and he can no longer effectively serve the Commonwealth,” Kaine tweeted. “We cannot ever ignore or tolerate sexual assault.”
Virginia’s other Democratic U.S. senator, Mark Warner, and the dean of its U.S. House delegation, Democrat Bobby Scott, both stopped short of calling for Fairfax’s immediate resignation, although they said he should resign if the charges are substantiated.
Several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates also called for Fairfax to resign, including Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand and both African Americans in the race, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.
“The allegations … are corroborated, painful stories of sexual assault and rape. It’s clear Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax should resign his office,” Harris said on Twitter.
The new allegations against Fairfax cap a week of turmoil in the Old Dominion, with all three top statewide Democratic elected officials enmeshed in controversy, a little over a year after they were swept into office in a Democratic wave
The turmoil began when Big League Politics, a conservative website, published a photo from Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook page showing a man wearing blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan regalia.
After first appearing to concede that he was in the photo and apologize, Northam then said he does not be believe he is one of the men in the photo.
But after apologizing for allowing the photo to be published on his page, he compounded his problems by admitting that he darkened his face to impersonate Michael Jackson in a dance contest while serving as an Army doctor.
In his first interview since the scandal broke, with the Washington Post, Northam said he will not resign and would spend the remaining three years of his term working for racial reconciliation in the commonwealth. He also said he “overreacted” in quickly issued his initial apology that he later walked back.
Adding to the meltdown in Richmond was an admission by Attorney General Mark Herring that he wore blackface while impersonating a rapper when he was an undergraduate at the University of Virginia.
However, Democratic leaders have so far not bailed on Herring, which prompted the Republican Party of Virginia to accuse them of hypocrisy and giving the attorney general “a hall pass.”
“What is the difference between Governor Northam’s blackface and AG Herring’s?” said Jack Wilson, state GOP chairman, in a statement. “If there is no difference, shouldn’t Democrats call for both to resign?”
Wilson said Democrats were protecting Herring to maintain “their stranglehold” on state government. If Northam, Fairfax and Herring were to all depart, House Speaker Kirk Cox from Colonial Heights would take over as governor — flipping the office from Democrat to Republican.
However, that would only be possible if Northam left first. If he were still governor when Fairfax resigned, he could pick a replacement who would supplant Cox in the line of gubernatorial succession.
If Herring resigns, the legislature would pick his replacement if lawmakers in session; if not, then Northam would pick a replacement who would serve until the legislature reconvenes.
The current legislative session is scheduled to end on February 23.
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Northam’s amended narrative comes after growing number of Democrats pressure him to step down
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
RICHMOND (CFP) — A day after saying he was “deeply sorry” for a photo on his medical school yearbook page in which two men are shown wearing racist costumes, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam now says he believes he is not pictured in the photo and will not resign.
But while addressing reporters Saturday with his political career hanging by a thread, Northam admitted to another incident that could compound his difficulties — that he darkened his face with shoe polish to impersonate Michael Jackson in a dance contest in 1984, the same year the offensive photo was published.
After the news conference, during which the governor offered a frequently disjointed narrative under questioning from reporters, his political position deteriorated further.
“I cannot condone the actions from his past that, at the very least, suggest a comfort with Virginia’s darker history of white supremacy, racial stereotyping, and intimidation,” said Fairfax, who is African American. “At this critical and defining moment in the history of Virginia and this nation, we need leaders with the ability to unite and help us rise to the better angels of our nature.”
The Democratic governor said his initial statement on Friday — made after the photo appeared on a conservative website, Big League Politics — was an apology directed at people who were offended by the photo, not an admission that he had participated in it.
“When my staff showed the photo in question yesterday, I was seeing it for the first time,” Northam said the news conference in the Executive Mansion, standing next to his wife, Pam. “When I was confronted with these images yesterday, I was appalled that they appeared on my page. But I believe now and then that I am not either of the people in this photo.”
“I stand by my statement of apology to the many Virginians who were hurt by seeing this content,” he said. “It is disgusting. It is offensive. It is racist. And it was my responsibility to recognize and prevent it from being published in the first place.”
The photo was published in a yearbook for students at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, from which Northam graduated in 1984.
The yearbook page is headlined with Northam’s name and contains two pictures of him, along with a third photo in which one man is wearing blackface and another is dressed in Ku Klux Klan regalia.
Northam said that after looking more closely at the photo and talking to his medical school classmates overnight, he does not believe he is the man in blackface and that “there is no way I have ever been” in a KKK uniform.
He also said he had no recollection of attending the party where the photo was taken.
The governor conceded that he understands “that many people will find this difficult to believe.”
Northam has come under intense pressure to resign, not only from Republicans but from within his own party. But he said he would stay as governor and try to repair relationships with those offended by the photo.
“If I were to listen to the voices calling on my to resign my office today, I could spare myself from the difficult path that lies ahead. I could avoid an honest conversation about harmful actions from my past,” he said. “I cannot in good conscience chose the path that would be easier for me in an effort to duck my responsibility to reconcile.”
However, Northam indicated he might revisit the issue of resignation if the controversy affected his ability to serve as governor.
The lengthening list of Democrats calling for Northam to step aside includes his predecessor as governor, Terry McAuliffe; Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee; and six Democrats seeking the party’s 2020 presidential nomination, including U.S. Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, both African Americans.
During the news conference, Northam said in 1984, while an Army doctor in San Antonio, he “darkened” his face with shoe polish while impersonating Michael Jackson in a dance contest, which he said he won because he could moonwalk.
He said he recalled the episode years later while talking about blackface with an African-American aide, which made him realize how offensive his conduct had been.
“In the time and place where I grew up, many actions that we rightfully recognized as abhorrent today were commonplace,” he said.
Northam — who ran for state office four times without anyone making the yearbook photo an issue — also said “there was an agenda involved” with whomever provided the yearbook page to Big League Politics, although he declined to speculate on a possible motive.
The website did not reveal the source of the photo.
The photo’s release came amid a firestorm of criticism aimed at Northam over comments he made in support of a bill easing restrictions on late-term abortions, which led conservative critics to accuse him of endorsing infanticide.
Describing a late-term abortion procedure, Northam said, “so in this particular example if a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen, the infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”
Northam, 59, grew up on a farm on Virginia’s southeastern shore. After graduating from medical school, he served as a physician in the Army before entering private practice as a pediatric neurologist.
He was elected as governor in 2017, after serving a term as lieutenant governor and six years in the Virginia Senate.
Fairfax, 39, an attorney from the Washington D.C. suburbs, was elected lieutenant governor in 2017, after making an unsuccessful run for attorney general in 2013.
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Hyde-Smith, appointed to the seat in April, defeats Democrat Mike Espy
JACKSON, Mississippi (CFP) — After a racially charged three-week runoff campaign, Republican U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith has held on to her seat in Mississippi, defeating Democrat Mike Espy in the nation’s last remaining Senate contest.
With Hyde-Smith’s win, Republicans will hold 53 seats in the next Senate, to 45 for Democrats and two independents who caucus with the Democrats.
Hyde-Smith took 54 percent in the November 27 vote to 46 percent for Espy, a former congressman who was trying to make a return to politics after a 20-year absence. She is the first woman ever elected to the Senate from the Magnolia State.
“The reason we won is because Mississippians know me and they know my heart,” Hyde-Smith told supporters in Jackson. “This victory, it’s about our conservative values.”
In his concession speech at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Espy told supports that his showing — the best by a Democrat in a Senate race in the state in 30 years — was “the beginning, not the end” of efforts to change Mississippi’s politics.
“When this many people show up, when this many people stand up, when this many people speak up, it is not a loss. It is a moment,” he said.
Hyde-Smith and Espy were facing in a special election to fill the remaining two years of the term of Republican Thad Cochran, the Mississippi icon who resigned in April due to ill health. She was appointed by Governor Phil Bryant to serve in the Senate temporarily until voters picked a permanent replacement in the special election.
During both the primary and special election, Hyde-Smith enjoyed the support of President Donald Trump, who tweeted on her behalf and made two appearances in the state on the day before the runoff vote.
Hyde-Smith, 59, from Brookhaven, was Mississippi’s agriculture commissioner until being appointed to the Senate. She was originally elected to the state Senate in 2000 as a Democrat but switched parties in 2010.
Espy, 64, from Jackson, served three terms in the U.S. House before being picked by President Bill Clinton as agriculture secretary in 1993.
During the first round of voting November 6, Hyde-Smith and Espy tied at 41 percent, with another Republican in the race, State Senator Chris McDaniel, coming in third.
Given the state’s overwhelming Republican tilt, Hyde-Smith was seen as a prohibitive favorite in the runoff. Indeed, McDaniel, who nearly beat Cochran in 2014, was seen as the biggest hurdle to her continued tenure in the Senate. However, she became ensnared in a series of controversies during the runoff campaign that gave Democrats hope for an upset.
Five days after the first election, a video surfaced in which Hyde-Smith is heard telling a supporter that if he invited her to a public hanging, she would be in the front row. She insisted the remark was a joke, but her critics charged it was a racially insensitive remark to make in a state with a history of lynchings of African-Americans.
During their only campaign debate, Hyde-Smith apologized “to anyone who was offended by my comments,” insisting there was “no ill will” and that her record as senator and agriculture commissioner shows she harbors no racial animus.
“This comment was twisted, and it was turned into a weapon to be used against me — a political weapon used for nothing but personal, political gain by my opponent,” she said.
Another video surfaced November 15 in which Hyde-Smith says it would be a “great idea” to make it more difficult for liberals to vote, which her campaign insisted was a joke made to supporters and not advocacy of voter suppression.
Then a week before the runoff, news organizations began reporting on a photo posted in 2014 on Hyde-Smith’s Facebook account, where she is seen donning a Confederate cap and carrying a rifle while visiting Jefferson Davis’s home in Biloxi.
The Jackson Free Press also reported that Hyde-Smith had attended a high school in the 1970s originally founded to allow white parents to avoid sending their children to segregated schools.
Hyde-Smith’s campaign accused news organizations of practicing “gotcha” journalism in an attempt to paint her as a racist. But the controversies put race front and center in the campaign, in the state with the largest African-American population in the country.
The election results illustrated those racial divisions. Espy easily carried Jackson and the majority African-American counties in the Mississippi Delta; Hyde-Smith won lopsided victories in majority white areas — up to 80 percent in some counties in the northeastern and southeastern corners of the state.
With Hyde-Smith’s victory, Republicans will hold 24 out of the 28 Senate seats in the South, to just four Democrats — Mark Warner and Tim Kaine in Virginia, Joe Manchin in West Virginia, and Doug Jones in Alabama.