Don Blankenship, a Republican primary candidate for the U.S. Senate in West Virginia, replaces the microphone after addressing supporters on Tuesday. /Getty Images
Photo: Jeff Swensen
Photo: Jeff Swensen

The Jolt: In North Carolina, an attack from the right dooms a GOP congressman

It could be that kind of year for Republicans in the U.S. House.

Last night, all eyes were on West Virginia, where the prospect of a mine owner -- who served time in connection with a fatal explosion -- threatened to become the GOP face of a November challenge to U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, the incumbent Democrat.

It didn’t happen. Don Blankenship finished a distant third. But note that Evan Jenkins, a two-term member of Congress, also finished out of the Republican money. Manchin will face state Attorney General Patrick Morissey.

North Carolina continued Tuesday night’s theme -- in much more dramatic fashion.

U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., became the first incumbent House member to lose a primary in 2018. He conceded to Mark Harris, a former Southern Baptist pastor in Charlotte. From Politico.com:

Harris attacked Pittenger as part of the "Washington swamp." The challenger blasted Pittenger's vote for the omnibus spending bill in March, “which we hung around his neck because he voted to fund sanctuary cities and it gave no money for the president’s wall,” said Andy Yates, a spokesman for the Harris campaign.

But these background paragraphs from the Raleigh News & Observer tell you more about what’s at work:

His challenger, Harris, stepped down as senior pastor of Charlotte’s First Baptist Church last year to enter the congressional race. The former president of the North Carolina Baptist Convention is a telegenic, good-on-his feet, politician/preacher who is essentially now involved in his fourth political campaign.

Harris was a leader in 2012 of the Amendment One campaign that successfully passed a state constitutional amendment that reaffirmed North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriages – a ban that became moot after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision legalizing such marriages.

He finished third in the GOP primary for the U.S. Senate in 2014 in a race won by then-state House Speaker Thom Tillis. In 2016, he unsuccessfully challenged Pittenger in the Republican primary, losing by a mere 133 votes.

Bottom line: Congressional Republicans are being forced to wage a two-front war, within their own party in spring primaries and against ticked-off Democrats in November. The first pins them firmly to President Donald Trump’s side – which could increase their vulnerability in the general election.

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Axios reports that Saxby Chambliss will be one of two former U.S. senators introducing Gina Haspel, President Donald Trump’s nominee to become the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, at today’s Senate confirmation hearing. Democrat Evan Bayh of Indiana will be the other.

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On Tuesday, Gov. Nathan Deal issued 21 vetoes. His handy-dandy list is right here. Somewhat overlooked in this sea of red ink, and the very last item on his veto list, is a measure that topped the wishlist of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, now leading the Republican primary to replace Deal next year.

Senate Bill 357 would have created an 18-member council and a new director of healthcare and strategic planning to chart out the state’s response to the opioid crisis and other epidemics. 

In his veto statement, Deal said while the measure was “well-intentioned,” it created new levels of government and gave the governor’s office little control over the new positions. 

“A new governor will be elected this November and it should be left to that individual to shape their executive team in 2019,” Deal said.

In a statement, Cagle skirted Deal’s concerns about the extra bureaucracy but said he sympathized with Deal’s position that “we should leave this decision for the next leader of our state.”

He added: I hope next year to fulfill the goals set forth in this legislation.” 

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Among those infuriated with Gov. Nathan Deal’s decision to sign a bill that would split Stockbridge into two cities were two of leading Democrats in the state House and Senate.

House Minority Leader Bob Trammell called it a “terrible idea” and said it was “bad precedent, bad policy, bad news.”

And state Sen. Elena Parent of Atlanta said the governor’s call for a broader review of cityhood rules was a “cop out.”

“Very disappointed in the state’s lack of leadership for years running on these important local issues,” she said.

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The New York Times reports that the salary for Robert Redfield, the newly appointed head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, has been reduced from $375,000 to $209,700. In Washington, senators had questioned why his salary was far higher than his predecessors.

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The endorsement train continues:

-- Former U.S. senator Max Cleland has sided with former state lawmaker and energy efficiency specialist John Noel in the Democratic race for a Public Service Commission seat currently held by Republican Chuck Eaton. Two other Democrats are in the contest: Johnny White, an information technology specialist, and businesswoman Lindy Miller.

-- More gun control advocates has endorsed Democrat Lucy McBath in Georgia’s Sixth District congressional race. Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly announced on Tuesday tthey would back McBath, whose own son was killed in 2012 due to gun violence. McBath has also been endorsed by Everytown for Gun Safety, which also put more than $200,000 behind the Democrat. McBath has served as a spokeswoman for the organization.

McBath faces three others in the May 22 primary. The winner takes on U.S. U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, R-Roswell, this fall.

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U.S. Sen. David Perdue has revived an effort to delay the August recess in exchange for making progress on government spending bills and confirming more executive branch nominees. 

The Republican and several of his GOP colleagues made a similar push last summer – one that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed to. It ultimately ended with Senate confirmation of scores of President Trump’s nominees, but produced no major progress on other key issues.

This year, Perdue has unveiled a Trump-esque new slogan and hashtag, #MakeCongressWorkAgain.

He’s also got the backing of the White House and a slew of conservative groups, including FreedomWorks and the Jenny Beth Martin-led Tea Party Patriots.

“We are willing to do whatever is necessary to get these confirmations done and debate funding bills now,” Perdue said at a Tuesday press conference. “We have 12 weeks left. We have 12 funding bills.”

Republicans have blasted Democrats for systematically slow-walking the confirmation of Trump nominees. Democrats don’t deny they have slowed the process but argue the GOP started much of the fighting during the Obama administration.

Either way, the morass has forced dozens of would-be judges, agency officials and ambassadors, including Atlanta attorney Randy Evans and former Georgia congressman Lynn Westmoreland, to watch their nominations languish.

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U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville,  is trying again with a prison reform effort that got snagged on Capitol Hill last month. Collins unveiled a tweaked version of his legislation on Monday, one that he and his bipartisan co-sponsors hope will win over wary lawmakers in both chambers of Congress. The Gainesville Times details the new bill:

Based on prisoners’ evaluations, they would be eligible for vocational training, educational support, substance abuse treatment, mental health care, anger-management courses, faith-based initiatives or other resources…

The House Judiciary Committee shelved Collins’ first bill last month after it became clear that many of the panel’s Democrats had serious issues with it.

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U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Atlanta,  broke ranks with the vast majority of House Democrats on Tuesday to back a bill striking down an Obama-era auto-lending guidance that supporters argue protects against racial discrimination.

The 2013 Consumer Financial Protection Bureau policy seeks to prevent lenders at car dealerships from charging higher rates to minority clients. Opponents framed the guidance as bureaucratic overreach. 

Scott, a centrist Democrat, said the language “actually hurts those it purports to help, those underbanked Americans who may rely on dealer financing because they don’t have relationships with traditional banks or credit unions, by prohibiting the dealer from advocating on their behalf with a lender.”

He was one of only 11 Democrats to back the legislation.

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