GOP freshman lawmakers splinter over Trump

The House GOP’s high-profile freshman class is fracturing less than two weeks into the new Congress, and it’s all over one man: Donald Trump.

Trump’s failed gambit to overturn the election — and the deadly Capitol riots that followed — forced the newest House Republicans to take some of the toughest and most consequential votes of their careers during their very first days in office.

The result has left a deep and bitter divide among the freshmen, who have already begun to publicly and privately lash out at one another as tensions in the party ramp up. Nearly a dozen newcomers ended up opposing the election challenges that were lodged by a majority of their Republican colleagues, while just one freshman — Rep. Peter Meijer of Michigan — broke ranks to support removing Trump from office.

Now, the 45-member group finds themselves increasingly cleaved into two camps of freshmen. There are the members who flipped suburban swing-seats and rejected Trump’s false claims of voter fraud — a group that includes single moms and Cuban and Korean immigrants. And then there are those such as Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, who won deep red districts where loyalty to the president is paramount and conspiracy theories are commonplace.

The warring factions in the freshman class mirror the broader rift in the GOP, where there is a widening gulf between a Trump-loving base and the moderate wing that can help make Republicans a majority party in 2022.

And some freshmen have been more vocal than others. One standout is Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina, who won back a GOP seat in the Lowcountry and has emerged as the most outspoken critic of Trump and the “QAnon wing” in her class.

Mace has excoriated some Republicans for their potential roles in inciting the violent mob on Jan. 6, calling for them to face investigations and other possible repercussions such as censure — which would represent a stinging rebuke of a colleague.

“It’s very important that we hold everybody accountable, and I hope that people are investigated to the fullest extent of the law — starting from the president on down. Including members of Congress,” said Mace, noting “all options” should be on the table. “We have allowed QAnon conspiracy theorists to lead us.”

Mace, however, said she’s not worried about potential blowback for criticizing her new colleagues: “I do not operate out of fear.”

But she’s also not blind to the risks facing her and her family’s physical safety. Mace said she applied for a concealed carry permit and sent her kids home from D.C. early after she started receiving threats for vowing to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s win.

Meijer, meanwhile, said he is now investing in body armor after he joined just nine other Republicans to vote for impeachment. He has also suggested that fears for personal safety had influenced some of his colleagues to support Trump’s challenges to the results of the election.

“This has been for many of us, especially those who decided to vote for impeachment, one of the worst weeks of our lives, one of hardest votes we’ve ever had to take,” Meijer said on MSNBC. “I’ve been talking to a number of colleagues, just felt physically nauseous.”

To the frustration of some GOP lawmakers, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy counseled some of the freshmen about which states to object to and even warned of potential primary challenges if they didn’t, POLITICO first reported.

And in the hours after the Jan. 6 riots, when Congress began resuming the electoral certification process, some freshmen were still torn about how to vote and sought the advice of more senior lawmakers, according to sources familiar with the conversations.

But in the end, the majority of the new House Republicans objected to the results, along with more than 120 GOP lawmakers. Several of the freshmen were even leading the charge against Biden's victory and spoke out on the House floor, including Boebert, Greene, and freshman Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.).

The stark differences in style and substance have led to some clashes among the freshmen. During a GOP conference call on Monday, Mace and others criticized Boebert for suggesting that Capitol Police officers were involved in the riot and for live tweeting the speaker’s whereabouts during the siege. Boebert responded that it wasn’t her intent, and asked her colleagues not to accuse her of anything.

And the following day, Axios reported that Mace slammed Greene in a private text chain among all the new GOP members, calling her the “literal QAnon lady.” Greene’s office said that different viewpoints are to be expected in such a large class, but said the congresswoman was primarily concerned about the violation of privacy.

Greene responded to Axios with a similar sentiment: “Who is the freshman rep that is betraying everyone's trust and leaking our group chat to the press?”

McCarthy has tried to maintain unity in his ranks, repeatedly warning members not to attack each other over their positions on the issue.

“I do want everyone to understand: emotions are high,” McCarthy said on a GOP conference call this week, according to a source familiar with the conversation. “What you say matters. Let’s not put other people in danger. Let’s watch what words we’re using and definitely not be using other members’ names in any media.”

Amid the riots and impeachment, few incoming freshman classes have experienced as chaotic of first few weeks in office. And the political implications of their votes will reverberate throughout the coming months: the House Democratic campaign arm is already seizing on their votes on impeachment and vote certification to use as a cudgel in 2022.

GOP recruiters crowed about the rising stars who ousted Democrats in November, a diverse crop of candidates who they hoped would improve the party’s image in suburban America and dominate the spotlight. There’s Reps. Young Kim, one of the first Korean American women in Congress; Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, whose family fled communist Cuba; and Mace, the first woman to graduate from The Citadel military college.

But the large number of retirements by older mainstreet Republicans in the Trump era means the party has also seen an infusion of new representatives from safe, red seats. The most notable are Greene and Boebert, who both suggested before winning election that they believed in aspects of the far-right QAnon movement.

Many of those new members have proved eager to imitate the president’s brash and often-offensive style. Rep. Mary Miller (R-Ill.) had to apologize during her first week in office for praising Hitler in a speech addressing Trump supporters. Meanwhile, Rep. Barry Moore (R-Ala.) deleted his personal Twitter account after complaining that there were “more arrests for stealing a podium” on Jan. 6 than for “stealing an election on” Nov. 3. Then there’s Cawthorn, who urged a crowd to “lightly threaten” their members of Congress if they want to motivate their votes and actions.

The coronavirus — and how seriously to take it — has also created a rift in the new GOP class. Freshman Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), a hardline conservative who ousted the libertarian-leaning Denver Riggleman in a primary, faced blowback for calling Covid “a phony pandemic” in a December speech in downtown Washington, D.C.

And Greene has refused at times to wear a mask, arguing it’s “my body, my choice.”

To which, Mace shot back in a subtweet of her own: “My body. My choice. And I choose to wear a mask.”

Daniel Lippman contributed to this report.

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Impeachment delivers blockbuster fundraising for key lawmakers

Impeachment has become a gold mine — turning even some rank-and-file lawmakers into fundraising juggernauts as they took starring roles in prosecuting or defending President Donald Trump.

A number of Democrats and Republicans who sit on the key committees investigating Trump saw their war chests flooded with cash — and their national profiles raised — during the months-long impeachment fight, which has consumed Washington and dominated headlines since September.

And there is real evidence that impeachment played a role in the fundraising boom, at least for Republicans. Donation pages for WinRed — the GOP’s online fundraising tool — that included the word “impeach” or “impeachment” raised 300 percent more than pages that did not, according to a source familiar with the fundraising platform’s operations.

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), who himself has been catapulted from the back benches of Congress to Trump’s Twitter feed through his role defending the president during impeachment, compared the uptick in energy and fundraising dollars to the bitter confirmation fight over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.

“People were motivated to get off the sidelines and participate and help make a difference,” Zeldin said. “And that’s nothing compared to how fired up supporters of the president are right now.”

FILE- In this May 22, 2018 file photo, Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. Zeldin is running for re-election in New York's 1st Congressional District. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Judiciary Committee ranking member Doug Collins (R-Ga.) are accustomed to massive fundraising numbers, but they raked in even more money than usual for their reelection campaigns during the last three months of 2019.

And even some lesser-known lawmakers such as Reps. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) posted record-breaking fundraising hauls after seizing the impeachment spotlight — a sign that the bases are fired up by impeachment, according to lawmakers, aides and strategists.

“In Congress, and this media and political environment, you can create a fundraising boom from a moment,” said Doug Heye, a former spokesman for the Republican National Committee. “Their name ID exploded. Now they are the face of fighting impeachment — or fighting for impeachment.”

The House Intelligence Committee usually conducts its proceedings behind closed doors, but that changed last fall when Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tapped the panel to lead the Democrats’ Ukraine investigation and host a series of televised impeachment hearings.

The move instantly elevated committee members to the national stage, with Stefanik chief among them. She quickly earned plaudits from conservatives for her tough grilling of impeachment witnesses and fiery defenses of Trump, cementing her newfound star status on the right.

The three-term lawmaker raised a whopping $3.2 million in the last three months of 2019 — up from over $450,000 the previous quarter. Stefanik even brought in more money than Schiff, a chairman and Pelosi ally, and freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a fundraising powerhouse on the left.

Stefanik’s campaign attributes the eye-popping haul, at least in part, to WinRed, the GOP’s answer to Democrats’ ActBlue. The platform enables small online donations, making it easier for candidates to funnel grassroots energy into big dollar signs. Stefanik was one of the top beneficiaries: she was the sixth highest recipient of WinRed donations in the last six months of 2019, lagging behind only Trump’s campaign, the GOP campaign committees and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Stefanik, who raked in donations from across all 50 states, was the second highest fundraiser of all House candidates and incumbents after House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.). Schiff and Nunes took the third and fifth spots, respectively, according to a review of recent quarterly campaign finance filings.

The attention on Stefanik — whom Trump also selected to serve as one of his impeachment surrogates during the Senate trial — does have some drawbacks. She’s now a target on the left; the sixth-highest House fundraiser last quarter was her opponent Tedra Cobb, who is running again after losing in 2018. She raised over $2 million.

The race will likely be an expensive one, though the district has taken a sharp turn to the right in recent years. Trump won it by 14 points in 2016, and Stefanik is heavily favored to win reelection.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the lead Democratic manager, leaves the Senate chamber during a break as the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress stretches into the night, in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

“I was overwhelmed by the historic level of support I received in Q4 from my constituents in the North Country and from Americans across the nation who were stunned by Adam Schiff’s utter mishandling of the impeachment charade in the House Intelligence Committee,” Stefanik said in a statement.

Schiff, already a prolific fundraiser, has also padded his bank account. One of seven House impeachment managers in the Senate trial, Schiff was the top Democratic congressional fundraiser this quarter, surpassing even Ocasio-Cortez and Pelosi with a haul of over $2.5 million. That’s up from an already impressive $1.2 million in the third quarter.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and Schiff, the top members on the Intelligence Committee, both saw a huge uptick in their quarterly fundraising in early 2018 after their panel oversaw a divisive investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election — an early sign that small-dollar donors were eager to reward members who took high-profile roles defending or attacking Trump.

Nunes saw his quarterly fundraising total spike from $282,000 in the last quarter of 2017 to a whopping $1.2 million in the first three months of 2018. It hasn’t slowed pace. He’s raised at least that much every fundraising quarter since.

Schiff saw a similarly timed bump. He raised about $750,000 in the fourth quarter of 2017 and saw that number nearly double to $1.3 million in the first quarter of 2018.

More House Republicans than Democrats seem to have experienced an impeachment-related fundraising jolt. House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), for example, saw middling fundraising, of around $200,000 for the past two quarters — even as he faces a primary threat.

But Collins, the top Republican on the committee who recently announced a Senate bid, pulled in over $730,000 during the same period — more than twice his third-quarter total.

Some of Trump’s other fiercest defenders in the House have also seen a boost in their campaign coffers during the bitter impeachment fight. Jordan, a Judiciary Committee member who was temporarily moved to the Intelligence panel for the public hearings, brought in nearly $1.4 million. That’s a new all-time high for Jordan, who came to Congress in 2007 and co-founded the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

On the Democratic side, Reps. Val Demings (Fla.) and Eric Swalwell (Calif.), who both sit on Judiciary, saw modest increases in their late 2019 numbers. Demings, who also serves on House Intelligence and was picked by Pelosi to be an impeachment manager, more than doubled her third-quarter total while Swalwell cleared $300,000.

And Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, another Intel member, nearly doubled his fourth quarter fundraising haul to $534,000. The New York Democrat represents a Trump-won district and likely faces a competitive re-election race this fall, which might explain the fundraising push. But he also had a viral moment tearing into one of the impeachment witnesses for amending his earlier testimony, which earned Maloney some laughter and applause from the audience.

"There's a whole bunch of stuff you don’t recall," Maloney said to Gordon Sondland, the Ambassador to the European Union at the center of the Ukraine saga. "So all due respect, sir, we appreciate your candor, but let's be really clear on what it took to get it out of you."

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