Tennessee delegation

DesJarlais: If earmarks are restored, ‘I can be more of a spokesman for the people’

Even some conservatives – including Tennessee’s U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais — seem open to return to earmarks since President Trump floated the idea, reports The Hill.

But don’t call them earmarks: lawmakers say they’re in favor of “congressionally directed spending.”

In a sign of the changing attitudes on Capitol Hill, conservatives are divided on whether to reverse the earmark ban in place since Republicans took over the House majority after the 2010 midterm elections.

Conservative leaders like House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) reject the idea, warning that allowing lawmakers to carve out spending for projects specifically designed to benefit their districts would undercut Trump’s “drain the swamp” message.

…But even some Freedom Caucus members sound open to a return to earmarks ahead of House Rules Committee hearings next week on whether to revive the practice.

“I don’t know that I’m opposed to it,” Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), a Freedom Caucus member, told The Hill. “We’re spending more money than ever and it’s still going out, but it doesn’t seem to come to my district.”

If earmarks were restored, “I can be more of a spokesman for the people in Tennessee who need it,” DesJarlais continued. “There is an overpass in Rutherford County that we need to get funding for. We’ve got things up in Nashville, the Percy Priest Reservoir … so yeah, I would like to have a better voice.

“I don’t know if earmarks is the answer. I’ve never had them, so I don’t know if it’s good or not.”

Other conservatives also expressed openness to allowing earmarks or something similar, saying that ensuring money for specific projects would give the legislative branch more power.

… Trump said at a White House meeting with roughly two dozen lawmakers on Tuesday that Congress should consider allowing earmarks again.

He suggested that doing so would allow Congress to function better, lamenting that the “levels of hatred” among Republicans and Democrats are “out of control.”

“Maybe we should think about it,” Trump said. “Maybe all of you should think about going back to a form of earmarks. You should do it.”

“We have to put better controls because it got a little out of hand, but that brings people together,” Trump added.

Trump traveling to TN with Corker, Black, Blackburn and Roe

U.S. Reps. Diane Black and Marsha Blackburn, both campaigning for statewide office, and retiring U.S. Sen. Bob Corker will join President Trump in flying to Nashville for a Monday afternoon speech to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s convention, reports The Tennessean. So will U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, who hasn’t officially said whether he’ll run for another term.

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Diane Black resigns as House Budget Chairman

Press release from Diane Black campaign

This morning, Diane Black announced in a Fox News Op-ed that she will officially step down as Chairman of the House Budget Committee to focus on her campaign for governor.  Continue reading

On the ‘Hush Fund Elimination Act” and an age discrimination lawsuit against Duncan

While  co-sponsoring the “Congressional Accountability and Hush Fund Elimination Act” and enthusiastically supporting its provisions dealing with sexual harassment, the Nashville Post reports that U.S. Reps. Diane Black and Marsha Blackburn are vague on whether it should apply to settlements of other legal claims – such as a payment settling an age discrimination lawsuit brought by one of Rep. John J. “Jimmy” Duncan’s staffers.

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Kustoff invited to White House Hanukkah Party; Cohen (and other Jewish Democrats) snubbed

President Donald Trump invited the two Republicans members of Congress who are Jewish – Tennessee’s Rep.  David Kustoff and New York Rep. Lee Zeldin – to the White House Hanukkah Party but excluded Jewish Democrats including Tennessee’s Rep. Steve Cohen, reports the New York Times. That was break with tradition, which under past presidents has made the gathering non-partisan.

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On a rural West TN doctor’s fight with feds, backed by area politicians appealing to Alexander, Kustoff

The federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services has shut off payments to Dr. Bryan Merrick after finding clerical errors in billings through McKenzie Medical Center for a handful of Medicare patients. The move threatens to shut down the center – which serves around 4,000 patients in a rural area with few medical providers — and has brought a bipartisan outpouring of pleas to help Merrick from West Tennessee political leaders to members of the Tennessee congressional delegation, so far without results.

The latest plea was a letter last week from McKenzie Mayor Jill Holland to U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander as chairman of the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee, asking him to convene a hearing with the goal of “revocation or modification of a particularly egregious Obama-era regulation” that CMS used in stopping Medicare payments to Merrick that is now “jeopardizing health care to hundreds and eventually thousands of citizens” in Carroll, Weakley and Henry counties. As of this weekend, Alexander had not responded to the letter or a reporter’s email inquiry seeking comment.

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Hortense Cooper, governor’s wife & congressman’s mother, dies age 98

Hortense Hayes Powell Cooper, widow of Gov. Prentice Cooper and mother of U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, died Monday night at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville at age 98, according to the congressman’s office.

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Most TNGOP congressmen vote no on debt ceiling/disaster relief

Most Republicans in Tennessee’s congressional delegation voted against a bill that raises the national debt ceiling and provides $15 billion in hurricane Harvey disaster relief — legislation finalized after President Donald Trump reached an agreement with Democratic congressional leaders.

The bill was approved 80-17 in the Senate on Thursday with Sen. Lamar Alexander voting yes and Sen. Bob Corker voting no.

The House approved the bill today on a 316-90 vote. Tennessee’s two Democratic representatives, Steve Cohen of Memphis and Jim Cooper of Nashville, both voted yes. So did two East Tennessee Republicans – Reps. Phil Roe of Johnson City and Chuck Fleischmann of Chattanooga.

But five Tennessee Republicans voted no. They were Reps. Diane Black of Gallatin, Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood, Scott DesJarlais of South Pittsburg, John J. “Jimmy” Duncan Jr. of Knoxville and David Kustoff of Memphis.

In response to an inquiry, a Corker spokeswoman emailed this comment on his vote:

“We continue to kick the can down the road on our fiscal issues instead of changing the trajectory of spending,” said Corker. “This bill added $7.4 billion in Community Development Block Grant money that the president did not even request that should have gone through the normal appropriations process.”

Note: A Washington Post overview story (one of many in national media) is HERE. The Senate roll call vote is HERE and the House roll call vote HERE.

Congressman Phil Roe deemed ‘cancer-free’ after treatment

Statement from the office of U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Johnson City

Congressman Roe underwent a successful medical procedure in East Tennessee late last month. At his follow-up appointment, Congressman Roe’s scans were clear and he is cancer-free. He looks forward to finishing his recovery and returning to a full schedule soon. The Congressman thanks East Tennesseans for the outpouring of support and prayers he has received through his treatment and his medical team for the excellent care he received.

TN politician comments on Congressman Duncan’s retirement

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett (via News Sentinel)

“I am grateful for Congressman Duncan’s friendship, and I appreciate the years of service he and his family have dedicated to our community… He has been a consistent, conservative voice for the 2nd District, and he’s represented us well. Few families have made a bigger impact in East Tennessee than the Duncan family, and I have no doubt they will continue to make a difference.

In an interview after Duncan’s announcement, Burchett declined to say whether he intends to run for Duncan’s seat. “I’ll still be making my announcement on Saturday,” he said. “I think it’s time we reflected on Congressman Duncan and his family’s service to our community.”

State Rep. Jimmy Matlock

“We just learned of the announcement by Congressman Jimmy Duncan not to seek another term of office. I can think of no one who has conducted himself in a more statesmanlike, humble manner. In over 30 years of working with him, I’ve never been around an individual who woke up every day with such zeal to serve his constituents. He has set the bar so high that we will have a difficult task of trying to meet that level of devotion and character in our district and in our nation. I wish to give a heartfelt thank you to Congressman Duncan from myself and my family for his years of service.”

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