Virginia Rep. Tom Garrett says he didn’t know who Jason Kessler was when the white nationalist leader met with him in his Capitol Hill office in March.
Democrats aren’t buying it.
Kessler organized the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday that led to the death of one person and many more being injured. Charlottesville is in Garrett’s 5th District.
Some liberals are hopeful that Garrett, a freshman in a lower-tier race next year, now has a tougher re-election on his hands.
“It’s an opportunity to put a race in play that wasn’t last week,” said Jon Soltz, chairman and co-founder of VoteVets, the Democratic PAC that recruits and supports veterans running for Congress.
VoteVets is raising awareness about Garrett's meeting with Kessler — which the congressman has since dismissed as an “occupational hazard” — and about his Democratic challenger, a Marine veteran.
VoteVets sent out a fundraising email to its supporters on Tuesday about Democrat Roger Dean Huffstetler, whom it wasn’t planning to officially endorse until later this summer. Within the first six hours, the group had raised $10,000 from 365 donors. (Contributions were split between the Huffstetler campaign and VoteVets.)
“Do you want to strike a blow against white supremacy? Let’s defeat one of the leaders who has coddled the modern day leaders of that movement,” the email reads.
Virginia’s 5th District is rated solidly Republican by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales. National Republican made a late investment in the district last year, with Congressional Leadership Fund pouring in nearly $1 million to shore up the open seat. But President Donald Trump and Garrett easily won the district by 11 and 17 points, respectively.
The last time a Democrat won the seat (former Rep. Tom Perriello in 2008), the district voted for the GOP presidential candidate by just 3 points.
But Democrats already included Garrett, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, on their target list earlier this year. Since violence broke out in Charlottesville on Saturday, Democrats pounced on Garrett’s connection to Kessler.
“It is up to every American to stand up to this bigotry and hate, but particularly Congressman Tom Garrett, who represents this district and appears to have helped legitimize these groups by meeting with the event’s organizer Jason Kessler,” said Cole Leiter, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in a midday Saturday statement. The DCCC called on Garrett to take a “strong and immediate stand against these protests” and said he wasn’t fit to serve in Congress if he didn’t. The DCCC's communication director tweeted about Garrett: “Let’s keep our eye on the prize, Dems: beating House Republicans.”Since the rally, Garrett has been outspoken against this weekend’s violence and Kessler. In an interview Sunday with Fox News’ America’s News Headquarters, Garrett's message for Kessler was, “Go away.”
When asked if his meeting with Kessler “mainstreams” his views, the congressman agreed.
“Oh I do think it does. ... but what I’m telling you is I didn’t know who that cat was at that point in time,” Garrett said. “I know who he is now, and I don’t like him any more than anyone else does.”
Garrett added that he’s been condemning Kessler’s actions and views since May and that he regrets the meeting.
Garrett said he regularly takes meetings with constituents, but it’s not clear how his office missed who Kessler was. Neither his campaign nor his office responded to questions about the meeting.
For Democrats, defeating Garrett also means building up his challenger. Soltz suggested this is an opportunity for Huffstetler to raise money and his profile, similar to how some Democratic challengers this cycle have been able to raise money from campaign videos that have gone viral.
“This is a huge opportunity for RD and his team to demonstrate the fact they have unique, fresh leader who is a young Marine who served people of all colors and religions.That’s the contrast in this district,” Soltz said.
Huffstetler spoke with MSNBC’s Joy Reid on Sunday, but he didn’t mention the congressman. In the days since the rally, he’s attended community discussions about the violence.
“The community here is still reeling from the events from this weekend and are working toward rebuilding and healing,” campaign spokesman Kevin Zeithaml said Tuesday.
“At some point before we are able to move past this, the Congressman must be held accountable for meeting with the white supremacist who brought this hatred to our city,” he added.
Talk of campaign politics around any incident of violence can be touchy. The Virginia Republican Party accused the DCCC of trying to score political points with their attacks on Tuesday.
But Soltz says it’s Garrett, not VoteVets or the Democrats, who have made this a political issue.
“Garrett politicized it when he met with a white nationalist Nazi,” Soltz said. “We didn’t start that, Congressman Garrett did.“I don’t care if he apologized. It’s not going away,” Soltz said. “You can’t apologize for meeting with Nazis.”
GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold said Wednesday that he would run for re-election in 2018, even though his southern Texas district might need to be redrawn.
A federal panel ruled Tuesday that the boundaries for Farenthold’s 27th District and the 35th District, represented by Democrat Lloyd Doggett, violated the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. The court ruled that the districts were drawn primarily on the basis of race. The Republican-controlled state government signaled it would appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.
“I believe the court errored in its decision and I trust the Supreme Court will get it right,” Farenthold said in a statement. “No matter what the Supreme Court decides, I plan to run for re-election.”
Doggett said Tuesday night that he also planned to run for re-election. He said the court’s decision showed that “[w]hat Republicans did was not just wrong, it was unconstitutional.”
The court concluded that Hispanic voters were placed into an Anglo-majority 27th District, and those Hispanic voters “were intentionally deprived of their right to elect candidates of their choice.”
In the 35th District, the court affirmed an earlier decision that voters were moved into the district “to intentionally destroy an existing [neighboring] district with significant minority population (both African American and Hispanic) that consistently elected a Democrat.”
Redrawing the lines to accommodate the court’s concerns could affect their partisan leaning and shift the lines in nearby districts. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales currently rates the 27th as Solid Republican and the 35th as Solid Democrat.
Rep. Will Hurd called on President Donald Trump to apologize for his latest remarks on recent violence sparked by a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Hurd, who is African-American, is also one of the most vulnerable House Republicans.
“Nobody should doubt whether the leader of the free world is against racism, bigotry, neo-Nazis and anti-Semitism,” Hurd said in an interview on CNN Thursday evening.
Violence erupted Saturday in Charlottesville as white nationalists and neo-Nazis clashed with counter-protesters over the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. One woman was killed and dozens were injured when a car plowed into a group of counterprotesters.
Trump did not specifically condemn the white supremacists until Monday, drawing the ire of Democrats and a number of congressional Republicans.
But on Tuesday, Trump backtracked, saying “both sides” were to blame for the violence. Former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke thanked Trump on Twitter for his comments.
“I don’t think anybody should be looking at getting props from a grand dragon of the KKK as any kind of sign of success,” Hurd said.
Asked what his message was for the president, Hurd said, “Apologize. And that racism bigotry, anti-semitism of any form is unacceptable. And the leader of the free world should be unambiguous about that.”
Hurd also said the country should be talking about why some groups are becoming radicalized, how to prevent that radicalization, why white supremacists feel emboldened, and if law enforcement has enough resources to deal with the issue.
Hurd, a former C.I.A. agent, faces a tough re-election fight in a rated Tossup by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales. Hillary Clinton won Hurd’s district by roughly 3 points last November, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections.
Hurd has criticized Trump in the past, but his comments Tuesday evening were some of the most forceful by a Republican in the wake of the Charlottesville violence.
Fellow Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who’s long been outspoken against Trump, also condemned the president’s remarks.
“POTUS just doesn’t get it,” the Florida congressman tweeted Tuesday evening. “No moral equivalence between manifestations for and against white supremacy. He’s got to stop.”
Like Hurd, Curbleo is among the most vulnerable House Republicans in 2018. His 26th District voted for Hillary Clinton by 16 points. He was among the earliest GOP members of Congress to say he wouldn’t vote for Trump last year, and this year, hasn’t been afraid to bring up the prospect of impeachment.
Minnesota GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen, another vulnerable member in 2018, offered a more subtle rebuke of the president’s remarks. “This is cut-and-dry: White supremacists & neo-Nazis have no place in our society & that should be made unequivocally clear on all levels,” he tweeted.
Paulsen is a top Democratic target in 2018. Hillary Clinton won his 3rd District by 9 points last fall.
This is cut-and-dry: White supremacists & neo-Nazis have no place in our society & that should be made unequivocally clear on all levels— Rep. Erik Paulsen (@RepErikPaulsen) August 15, 2017
This is cut-and-dry: White supremacists & neo-Nazis have no place in our society & that should be made unequivocally clear on all levels
No sitting House member has won an electoral vote for president since 1880, when Ohio’s James A. Garfield captured the White House — and he didn’t even mean to run for the job.
In fact, the Ohio legislature had just voted to appoint Garfield to a Senate term — for which he would have been seated in March 1881 — when the GOP met in Chicago to pick its nominee for the presidency in the summer of 1880.
Garfield supported Treasury Secretary John Sherman, and didn’t become a candidate for the nomination himself until after a deadlocked convention had seen nearly three dozen ballots cast. Garfield was an accidental nominee and an accidental president.
But history be damned. Several current members of the House have visions of Secret Service details dancing in their heads.
John Delaney, a Democrat from Maryland, has already declared his candidacy. Reps. Adam Schiff of California, Tim Ryan of Ohio and Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii have gained notice from the chattering class.
And Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, the 38-year-old Iraq War vet and aide-de-camp to Gen. David Petraeus, is running for something, even if it’s not president in 2020. Moulton has said publicly that he won’t seek the office in the next election, but Barack Obama said the same thing before he ran in 2008.
On the surface, it’s silly for House members to run for president. Very few House members are household names — and Delaney, Ryan, Gabbard and Moulton all qualify as obscure in the national political discussion. Ryan is the best known, and that’s because he got some attention when he failed to unseat Nancy Pelosi as House minority leader. Even senators, who start with a statewide base and usually have higher national profiles, have trouble winning the office.
But the successive elections of a first-term senator — the first African-American to hold the highest office in the land — and a political neophyte best known as a reality television star have turned conventional wisdom about the path to the presidency on its head.
Both Obama and Donald Trump benefited from running as outsiders with thin political records for opponents to use against them. It is not inconceivable that a little-known House member could catch fire, win a party’s nomination and then benefit enough from a binary choice for the presidency to wind up in the West Wing.
But it’s almost inconceivable. So why run?
It’s low risk and high reward. What value is there in being a member of the House — particularly a member of the minority party — in the modern Congress? You can’t legislate. The old perks have been outlawed. And America hates you, even if your own constituents dislike you a little bit less than the last person who ran against you. A $174,000 salary isn’t bad, but most House members — accurately or mistakenly — believe they could do better on the outside. If you do poorly enough, you can drop out and run for re-election anyway.
There’s a lot to be gained from a presidential candidacy. Even if you fall on your face, you’ll build a bigger network of donors, travel the country on their dimes to increase your name recognition, get yourself on national television programs and maybe last long enough to merit space on a debate stage. And you can bet there will be a lot more than seven dwarves in Democratic debates when the season gets under way. If you do well enough, the eventual nominee might consider you for a Cabinet post, should he or she win in November.
Never mind that the House isn’t exactly a hotbed of national leaders. Former governors and current Reps. Charlie Crist and Mark Sanford notwithstanding, most people who have experience running large organizations have little interest in serving in the House. Representing one of 435 districts with a vote just isn’t the same as directing the federal government. That’s one of the reasons voters have generally preferred candidates with serious executive experience for the presidency.
And it explains why House members who are serious about national ambitions have often gone home to run for statewide executive office first. Vice President Mike Pence, once a rising star in the House, left Washington for Indianapolis several years ago. One of his colleagues, Adam Putnam of Florida, went home to run for agriculture secretary and is now, at 43, well-positioned to win the governorship of the Sunshine State — a huge prize in presidential elections, that has grown in strength with its population boom. If he wins, he’ll get mention as a potential presidential candidate in 2024 or 2028.
They made wise choices. If House members really want to be president, they should go out and get some executive experience first. If not, it’s hard to see them convincing voters they should be given the helm of the United States. So, almost by definition, any House member who runs for president isn’t really trying to win. But then again, neither was Garfield.
Roll Call columnist Jonathan Allen is a co-author of “Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign” and has covered Congress, the White House and elections over the past 16 years.
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Facing a tough re-election campaign next year, Sen. Claire McCaskill said she she plans to hold 25 town hall meetings with constituents this month.
President Donald Trump won Missouri by nearly 20 points, and Republicans are eager to try and flip the seat. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Tossup.
“Whether they agree with me or not, every Missourian is my boss, which is why I consider it a must to go to every corner of the state I love, to hear those ideas and concerns directly, and hold myself accountable to Missourians,” the senator said in a statement.
The town hall tour comes at a time when many politicians, especially Republicans, are avoiding open meetings with constituents. Protests and chaotic scenes have greeted many GOP lawmakers who have held town halls in their districts, with many of those who have attended angry over the attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act and over President Donald Trump’s Russia dealings.
Several Republicans have declared their candidacy or are considering entering the race. Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley and state Rep. Paul Curtman have shown signs that they’re considering it.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee released an ad Thursday meant to coincide with McCaskill’s town hall tour, highlighting her opposition to Trump’s agenda, saying she would “rather cozy up to radical liberals in Washington than make America great again.”
McCaskill is also being challenged by a primary opponent from the left, political novice Angelica Earl. Earl says she has a better shot at winning the general election because of her more progressive positions.
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