News outlet The Weekly Standard released an audio recording of Rep. Steve King referring to immigrants from the West Coast as “dirt” during a conversation with constituents before the midterm elections last week.

King, who staved off a challenge from Democrat J.D. Scholten by 3 points last week, had previously denied he made the comments and called for the audio’s release.

He accused The Weekly Standard, a conservative publication, of writing “willful lies.”

At the meeting with constituents last Monday, before the election, King was riffing with people about the jalapeños he would need to grow at his home garden for his “patented pheasant noodle soup” recipe.

“I guess I’m going to have to go get some dirt from Mexico to grow the next batch,” King is heard saying in the audio.

“Trust me, it’s already on its way,” a female constituent says in the tape as the gathering laughs.

“Well, yeah, there’s plenty of dirt. And it’s coming from the West Coast, too,” King joked. “And a lot of other places, besides. This is the most dirt we’ve ever seen.”

King appeared to catch himself, realizing that reporters were in the room, and tried to suggest that what he had just said was off the record.

“This is actually not supposed to start for another six minutes, is it? But, so we’re just kind of chatting here informally here until things get rolling,” King said.

In journalism, it is standard practice that anything a politician — or anyone, for that matter — says is on the record unless conditions of the conversation are mutually agreed upon beforehand.

King has made headlines over the past couple years for retweeting and meeting with far-right groups with ties to Nazis. He consistently decries what he sees as the demise of white Americans as the U.S. becomes more diverse.

“Western civilization is on the decline,” King said at a meeting recently with a handful of reporters and activists, including a member of a far-right group in Austria that was founded by a former Nazi S.S. officer.

King has denied he is a white supremacist.

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At a campaign event earlier this month, Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and her supporters laughed as she quipped about being in the front row of a “public hanging,” according to a newly surfaced video.

“If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row,” the Republican said in an embrace with one of her supporters, according to a video posted by an independent journalist to Twitter and Facebook on Sunday.

Outraged observers say the Hyde-Smith’s comment evokes the bloody history of lynchings in Mississippi, which has the deadliest record of racist mob violence by hanging of any state in the United States, according to the NAACP. The video has also drawn new attention to her runoff race against Democratic challenger and former U.S. agriculture secretary Mike Espy, who is black.

Hyde-Smith and Espy were the top performers on Election Day, but neither candidate garnered 50 percent of the vote, triggering a runoff. Mississippi voters will go to the polls again on Nov. 27. Gov. Phil Bryant appointed Hyde-Smith to fill Sen. Thad Cochran’s seat when he retired due to his health in March.

"If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row"- Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith says in Tupelo, MS after Colin Hutchinson, cattle rancher, praises her. Hyde-Smith is in a runoff on Nov 27th against Mike Espy. pic.twitter.com/0a9jOEjokr

Hyde-Smith referred to the remark as “an exaggerated expression of regard” in a statement. 

“In a comment on Nov. 2, I referred to accepting an invitation to a speaking engagement,” said. “In referencing the one who invited me, I used an exaggerated expression of regard, and any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous.”

In its own statement, the Espy campaign called her comments “reprehensible.”

“They have no place in our political discourse, in Mississippi, or our country,” said Campaign Communications Director Danny Blanton. “We need leaders, not dividers, and her words show that she lacks the understanding and judgement to represent the people of our state.”

The midterm election has stirred a debate about the role of race in U.S. politics as Democrats and other observers have accused Republicans across the country of appealing to racial animus.

NAACP President Derrick Johnson drew a parallel from Hyde-Smith’s remarks to President Donald Trump. They “prove once again how Trump has created a social and political climate that normalizes hateful and racist rhetoric,” he said in a statement.

“Hyde-Smith’s decision to joke about ‘hanging,’ in a state known for its violent and terroristic history toward African Americans is sick,” he said. “To envision this brutal and degenerate type of frame during a time when Black people, Jewish People and immigrants are still being targeted for violence by White nationalists and racists is hateful and hurtful. Any politician seeking to serve as the national voice of the people of Mississippi should know better. Her choice of words serves as an indictment of not only her lack of judgement, but her lack of empathy, and most of all lack of character.”

Hyde-Smith's voting record closely aligns with the White House’s policy agenda; the senator has campaigned on building a wall at the southern border with Mexico and supported the president’s ban on travel from several Muslim-majority countries. 

Hyde-Smith and Espy will participate in a debate on Nov. 20.

Watch: Now That That’s Over (Mostly) Roll Call Looks Ahead to 2020

 

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The “unexpected family matter” cited by California Rep. Linda T. Sánchez in withdrawing from the race for House Democratic Caucus chair relates to her husband, who was indicted on theft and conspiracy charges related to spending corporate money on personal trips, including some allegedly spent on Sánchez. 

“Earlier today I learned that my husband is facing charges in Connecticut,” Sánchez said in a statement Thursday. “After careful consideration of the time and energy being in leadership demands, I have decided that my focus now needs to be on my son, my family, and my constituents in California.”

Sánchez, the current vice chairwoman of the Democratic Caucus, was expected to face fellow California Rep. Barbara Lee for the caucus chair position.  New York Rep. Hakeem T. Jeffries joined the race earlier Thursday. 

Sánchez’s husband, James Sullivan, was one of five individuals associated with the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Corporation indicted by a federal grand jury for spending more than $800,000 of the corporation’s money on personal trips.

The CMEEC is a cooperative public corporation that has membership agreements with Connecticut municipalities that allows the towns’ electric utilities to work together to furnish power to the combined areas. The CMEEC membership agreement requires excess revenues to be returned to the member towns to help keep electricity costs stable. 

The indictment against Sullivan and his CMEEC colleagues, all of whom hold or have held board or executive positions, spent corporate money on trips to the Kentucky Derby in 2015 and 2016 and to a luxury golf resort in West Virginia in 2015.

They directed the funds used to pay for the trips from the CMEEC Margin account, without a vote of the board and written consent of the member towns as required by the membership agreement.

The indictment says they spent more than $800,000 on travel expenses, private chartered airfare, first-class hotel accommodations, meals, tickets to sporting events, golf fees, souvenirs and gifts.

Sullivan and the other four defendants were charged with one count of conspiracy, which carries a maximum sentence of five years, and three counts of theft concerning a program receiving federal funds, which a maximum sentence of 10 years.

A second indictment doubling the charges for Sullivan and one of the other defendants, Drew Rankin, alleges that Sullivan submitted personal expenses on his corporate expense reports that Rankin approved.

Also Watch: New Members Could Spell Trouble for Pelosi's Speaker Bid

The personal expenses Sullivan charged to CMEEC include airfare for dozens of flights he took and trips for his family to attend the Kentucky Derby in 2013, 2014, and 2015. 

The indictment also says he charged CMEEC for airfare for a flight Sánchez took to Key West, Florida, in December 2014.

It is unclear if Sánchez was aware of how the trips were funded. 

“CMEEC has received millions of dollars in grants from the U.S. Department of Energy,” U.S. Attorney John H. Durham said in a statement. “Instead of protecting these funds and returning excess revenue to member towns and ratepayers, these defendants are alleged to have used the CMEEC Margin Account as a secret slush fund to pay for lavish junkets for themselves and their family and friends, as well as for other inappropriate expenses.  

Sullivan and the other four defendants pleaded not guilty Thursday to the charges at a federal court in New Haven, Conn. They were each released on a $100,000 bond.

 

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New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries announced Thursday that he is running for Democratic Caucus chair, creating another three-way leadership race

California Reps. Linda Sánchez and Barbara Lee had announced months ago they were running for caucus chair. The two had squared off against one another for vice chair in 2016, a race that Sánchez won by just two votes. 

Jeffries, currently a co-chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, entering the caucus chair contest creates even more uncertainty over who will win.

Watch: Now That That’s Over (Mostly) Roll Call Looks Ahead to 2020

In a letter to colleagues Jeffries said is candidacy is anchored in three principles: 1) “Our team is strongest when everyone is on the playing field.” 2) “Learn from the past, succeed in the future.”  3) “The best defense is a good offense.” 

Continuing the sports metaphors, he said he envisions weekly caucus meetings “as the huddle, where we collectively decide the plays to be executed to advance the ball down the field.”      

All three caucus chair candidates are members of the Progressive Caucus, so the vote from that large bloc of Democrats will likely be split. Sánchez will likely earn the support of much of the Hispanic Caucus, which she has previously chaired. Jeffries and Lee will probably divide the Black Caucus in this race as well. 

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Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington officially winning re-election on Wednesday night means that the most Latinos ever will serve in Congress. The Associated Press called her race around 10 p.m.

There will be at least 42 Latinos serving, among both chambers, come January.

The outstanding race for California’s 39th District open seat could add to that. Latino Democrat Gil Cisneros is running  against Korean-American Republican Young Kim to replace retiring Republican Ed Royce.

There were 59 Latino congressional candidates on the ballot in 2018 – 44 Democrats and 15 Republicans, PBS reported. Some were incumbents and some newcomers.

Not including California 39, there will be 33 Latino Democrats and seven Latino Republicans serving in the 116th Congress. Latinos will make up 12.7 percent of Congress. Hispanics constituted for 17.8 percent of the nation’s total population in July 2016, according to the Census Bureau.

Forty-one Hispanic members serve in the 115th Congress— four in the Senate and 37 in the House.

Some notable newcomers include New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the new youngest members of Congress, and the first Latinas to represent Texas in the House, Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia, both Democrats.

Congress is losing some strong Latino voices, including Democratic Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, who won her race for the state’s governor, Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring after 30 years, and Florida Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo who lost his re-election bid.

In the Senate, no newcomers are on their way in but Democrat Robert Menendez of News Jersey and Republican Ted Cruz of Texas won their re-elections. Sens. Marco Rubio and Catherine Cortez Masto were not on the ballot this cycle.

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Diversity has been a hallmark of the 2018 midterm elections, which have seen a record number of women, minorities and first-time candidates running for office. 

Here are some of the history-makers from election night. 

Craig becomes the first openly gay lawmaker elected to Congress from Minnesota after unseating GOP Rep. Jason Lewis in the 2nd District. It was a rematch of their 2016 race, which Lewis won narrowly. 

Haaland shares the distinction of being the first Native American woman elected to Congress with Kansas’ Sharice Davids. An enrolled member of the Pueblo of Laguna, Haaland easily won the race for New Mexico’s 1st District to succeed fellow Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham.

With her victory in Texas’ 16th District, Escobar, a former El Paso County judge, becomes the first Latina elected to represent the Lone Star State in Congress — along with Sylvia Garcia, who took a Houston-based seat Tuesday night. Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke vacated the 16th District seat for an unsuccessful Senate run. 

Garcia, a state senator, easily won Texas’ 29th District on Tuesday night, becoming the first Latina elected to Congress from the Lone Star State, an honor she shared with Escobar. Garcia ran for the seat in 1992, but lost in the primary that was eventually won by Gene Green in a runoff. Green’s retirement opened the door for her to run for the seat again, and she easily won the party primary in March. 

By winning Colorado’s 2nd District, Neguse becomes the first Eritrean-American elected to Congress. The son of immigrants from the East African nation, Neguse replaces fellow Democrat Jared Polis who ran for governor. The result is a happy midterm reversal for Neguse from four years ago, when he lost a race for Colorado secretary of state. 

Blackburn easily kept Tennessee’s Senate seat in GOP hands Tuesday night, becoming the Volunteer State’s first female senator. The eight-term congresswoman is also the first Republican woman to win statewide office in Tennessee. 

The daughter of Palestinian immigrants, Tlaib becomes the first Muslim-American won elected to Congress — along with Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar — after she faced only token opposition in Michigan’s heavily Democratic 13th District. She will also be the first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress. 

Davids, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, becomes one of the first Native American women elected to Congress after picking up Kansas’ 3rd District seat. It’s an honor she shares with New Mexico’s Haaland who also won her race Tuesday night. Davids is also the first openly gay lawmaker that Kansans have sent to Congress. 

With her upset of two-term Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo in Florida’s 26th District, Mucarsel-Powell becomes the first Ecuadorian-American elected to Congress. 

After easily winning her Minneapolis-based 5th District, Omar becomes the first Somali-American elected to Congress. She will replace Democrat Keith Ellison, who vacated the seat to run for state attorney general. Omar will also be one of the first Muslim-American women elected to Congress, along with Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib.

Pressley became the first African-American Democrat to be elected to Congress from Massachusetts on Tuesday night. She faced no Republican opposition in the 7th District. The Boston city councilor is also the first African-American elected to the House from the Bay State. Pressley unseated Rep. Michael E. Capuano in a Democratic primary in September

Watch: ‘Pretty Stoked to be Voting’— Voters Around the Beltway Share Their Election-Day Thoughts

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Democrats this week did what they failed to do in last year’s expensive special election: flip Georgia’s 6th District. 

Republican Rep. Karen Handel, who won that June 2017 special election to fill the open seat in the Atlanta suburbs and was running for her first full term this year, conceded Thursday morning to gun rights activist Lucy McBath.

“After carefully reviewing all of the election results data, it is clear that I came up a bit short on Tuesday. Congratulations to Representative-Elect Lucy McBath and send her only good thoughts and much prayer for the journey that lies ahead for her,” Handel said in a message to supporters.

“In this country, no loss, no failure, is ever final nor is it the end. God has a plan for each and every one of us,” Handel said. “Sometimes, though, HIS plan and our plan are different. So, Steve and I will be put our faith in Him and trust that whatever lies ahead will be exactly what we need.”

The Associated Press has not yet called the race. With all precincts reporting, McBath led Handel 50.46 percent to 49.54 percent. 

McBath declared victory Wednesday night.

“The voters responded to my commitment to put aside partisan fights for the good of the American people,” she said in a statement. “Six years ago, I went from a Marietta mom to a mother on a mission. After my son was lost to gun violence, I stood up and started demanding more. After Parkland, I was compelled to enter this race for Congress — to provide leadership that would be about the business of putting lives over profit. I vow to make that my top priority.”

McBath had been the national spokeswoman for advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety but is currently on an unpaid leave of absence. Her son was shot and killed at a gas station in Florida in 2012 by a man who complained his music was too loud.

This race attracted much less national attention and money than it did last year, when the special election between Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff became the most expensive House race in history.

But national Republicans made a late investment in the 6th District last month. The National Republican Congressional Committee reserved $1.4 million for TV ads on Atlanta broadcast. McBath had outraised Handel and was benefiting from millions of dollars in outside spending from gun rights groups. 

— Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.Watch: Pelosi Spoke With Trump About How They Can Work Together

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