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Death will trigger a special election in the state’s 3rd U.S. House district
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
GREENVILLE, North Carolina (CFP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, a libertarian maverick who frequently bucked his party’s leadership and became a vocal opponent of sending U.S. troops into foreign wars, has died at the age of 76.
Jones, who had been granted a leave of absence from the House in December due to ill health, died on his birthday Sunday at a hospice in Greenville, according to his office. He had entered the hospice in late January when he health took a downward turn after breaking a hip.
“Congressman Jones will long be remembered for his honesty, faith and integrity. He was never afraid to take a principled stand.” said a statement from his office issued upon his death. “Some may not have agreed with him, but all recognized that he did what he thought was right.”
His funeral is scheduled for Thursday afternoon in Greenville.
Jones’s death will trigger a special election in North Carolina’s 3rd District, which takes in a wide swath of the eastern part of the state along the Atlantic Coast, including the Outer Banks.
After serving a decade in the North Carolina House as a Democrat, Jones was elected to Congress in 1994 as a Republican. His father, Walter Jones Sr., served as a Democratic member of Congress for 26 years before his death in 1992.
Together, father and son served a total of 50 years in the House, starting in 1967.
In 2003, the younger Jones, a strong supporter of the Iraq War, famously introduced a resolution to change the name of French fries to “freedom fries” in the House cafeteria after the French government voted against the U.S. invasion at the United Nations.
But as casualties mounted and no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, Jones became a vocal critic of the war, saying Congress had been misled by faulty intelligence.
He then introduced legislation to try to force the Bush administration to bring the troops home — a stance that went down less than well in a district that is home to both the Fort Bragg Army base and Camp Lejeune Marine base.
But Jones saw off a primary challenge in 2008 and continued to be a frequent thorn in the side of Republican leaders. In 2011, Jones was stripped of his seat on the House Financial Services Committee after voting against a budget proposal pushed by his party leadership.
More recently, Jones signed on to a letter calling on Congress to obtain and examine President Donald Trump’s income tax returns, and he called for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election after Nunes discussed the investigation with White House officials.
Due to his health issues, Jones had already announced that he would not seek re-election in 2020, opening up the 3rd District seat, which leans Republican. He did not face Democratic opposition in 2018.
Governor Roy Cooper has not yet set the date of the special election to fill the vacancy. Each party will hold a primary, followed by a general election between the two winners.
The 3rd District seat is one of two North Carolina seats that are now open. In the 9th District, state elections officials have refused to certify the results in the November race between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready because of allegations of absentee ballot fraud.
The State Board of Elections will convene February 18 to hear evidence in the case, which could lead to a new election.
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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.
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.
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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But 5 GOP lawmakers in other potential swing districts help pass new health care law
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — Five Republican members of the U.S. House defied party leaders and President Donald Trump to oppose a bill to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a new blueprint for U.S. health care, but five other GOP lawmakers holding potentially vulnerable seats took a different tack and voted to go along with the American Health Care Act.
Two of the Southern GOP no votes on May 4 came from Will Hurd of Texas and Barbara Comstock of Virginia, who both represent districts that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. A third lawmaker from a district Clinton carried, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, also voted no but is retiring in 2018.
Hurd, whose district stretches across a wide swath of West Texas, issued a statement after the vote saying the plan pushed by GOP leaders “does not address the concerns of many of my constituents, including adequate protections for those with pre-existing conditions and the challenges faced by rural healthcare providers.”
Comstock, whose district is anchored in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, said in a statement that her “goals on healthcare reform are to provide patient-centered reforms that provide better access to high quality, affordable care and cover pre-existing conditions without lifetime limits. ”
“I did not support the AHCA today because (of) the many uncertainties in achieving those goals,” she said.
The other two Republicans who voted against the bill, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Walter Jones of North Carolina, did so not out of any fear of Democratic competition but because they believe the repeal measure doesn’t go far enough.
“As recently as a year ago, Republicans argued that mandates were unconstitutional, bailouts were immoral and subsidies would bankrupt our country,” Massie said in a statement after the vote. “Today, however, the House voted for a healthcare bill that makes these objectionable measures permanent.”
Jones had earlier said the attempt by House Republican leaders to push an Obamacare bill repeal through the House on a rushed schedule was “shameful,” and he called for scrapping the bill in its entirety and starting over.
Of the 138 Southern Republicans in the House, 133 voted in favor of the AHCA. Five of those members represent districts where Democrats could conceivably use their votes for the new health care law to try to unseat them. In fact, if any one of them had voted no, the bill — which passed by just a single vote — would have failed, which will allow Democrats to make the argument that each of them bears responsibility for its passage.
This group of members who supported the bill includes two of the region’s most vulnerable House Republicans, Carlos Curbelo and Brian Mast, both from Florida. Curbelo represents a district in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties that Clinton carried; Mast’s district, which includes St. Lucie, Martin and northern Palm Beach counties, has changed parties in three of the last four election cycles.
In a statement, Mast said the GOP health care plan “returns control of health care from Washington back to you and restores access to quality, affordable options that are tailored to your individual needs.” He also pushed back against Democratic criticism that a provision in the new law allowing states to waive mandates for coverage of pre-existing conditions would imperil coverage for the sickest Americans.
“This bill mandates that people cannot be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions and allocates almost $140 billion in additional funding that will subsidize coverage for people with pre-existing conditions to ensure they costs are low,” Mast said. “Those claiming otherwise are the same people who said ‘if you like your doctor, you can keep you doctor,” and they’re putting partisan politics ahead of the people in our community.”
Also voting yes were John Culberson of Texas, whose metro Houston House district was carried by Clinton; Mario Diaz-Balart, whose majority Latino district in metro Miami and southwest Florida went for Trump by less than 2 points; and Ted Budd of North Carolina, whose Greensboro-area district went for Trump by 9 points.
In a statement, Diaz-Balart conceded the AHCA was “far from perfect.” But he said the House needed to act because Obamacare “is collapsing,” leaving just one insurance provider in two of the three counties he represents.
“Knowing the people I represent could very well lose their coverage … is disturbing,” he said. “It would be irresponsible for Congress not to act in order to prevent this from happening.”
Budd also conceded in a statement that “the legislative process is a human process with all the flaws that entails. The results of that process are never perfect, and this bill isn’t either.”
“What I believe it will do is significantly reduce insurance premiums in our state, and help put the individual insurance marketplace on a more sound financial footing,” he said.
Also voting yes was Pete Sessions of Texas, whose metro Dallas district was also won by Clinton. However, Sessions, who has been in the House since 1997 and won re-election by more than 50 points in 2016, is not considered vulnerable to a Democratic challenge.
All 40 of the Democrats representing districts in the South voted against the AHCA.
Webster received only nine votes, eight from his fellow Southerners
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — Florida U.S Rep. Daniel Webster’s longshot bid for House speaker has come up short — 227 votes short, to be exact.
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.