SENATE MINORITY LEADER Mitch McConnell has compiled a short list of successors in his home state of Kentucky, preparing for the possibility that he does not serve out his full term, Kentucky Republicans tell The Intercept.
The list is topped by his protégé, state Attorney General Daniel Cameron, and also includes former United Nations Ambassador Kelly Craft, whose billionaire coal magnate husband is a major McConnell donor, as well as Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams, a former McConnell Scholar.
Under current law, the power to appoint McConnell’s replacement falls to Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear. But new legislation McConnell is pushing in the Kentucky General Assembly would strip the governor of that power and put it into the hands of the state GOP.
McConnell’s scramble to secure his legacy comes as his position in the party he effectively built from the ground up is increasingly shaky. McConnell’s denunciation of former President Donald Trump — even as it was accompanied by a vote of acquittal and a pledge to endorse the former president in 2024 if he is the GOP nominee — has brought on calls for his censure by party leaders across the state. A candidate running in McConnell’s mold would face an uphill climb through a primary in the new Republican Party — unless, that is, the candidate has the benefit of incumbency.
The 79-year-old McConnell has held his Senate seat since 1985 and handily won a seventh term last November.
The new legislation, Senate Bill 228 — dubbed by some inside the state Legislature as the Daniel Cameron Election Bill — was filed on February 10, 2021, during the Kentucky General Assembly’s 30-day “short” session. The bill alters current state statute that allows the governor to appoint a replacement in the event of a vacancy to the U.S. Senate. If the bill becomes law, the appointment to fill a vacancy will be selected from a list of three names submitted by the state executive committee of the same political party as the senator who held the vacant seat. According to the bill, the appointee from that list will then serve until a successor has been elected by voters. The legislation goes on to list instructions on when elections take place in the event of a vacancy.
How long the appointment would last depends on when the vacancy occurred.
Republicans are concerned a successor appointed by Beshear would be someone of Beshear’s own party — rather than who McConnell would like to replace him.
Republican state Sen. Tom Buford, the single co-sponsor on the bill brought by Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers, said there has been a discussion for “several years” about changing the way Kentucky replaces U.S. senators.
“It just seemed if we did have a change of venue of U.S. Senate that it would be proper and appropriate the political party that held the office would be the political party that replaced it until the next election cycle, that being in this case Republican,” he said.
“No specific reason why now,” Buford continued in a phone interview, adding that he believes both McConnell and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul are in “good” health. Buford did say things could have turned out bad for Paul in 2017, after the junior senator was attacked by his Bowling Green, Kentucky, neighbor Rene Boucher. Paul suffered six broken ribs and ended up having part of his lung removed as a result of the attack.
“That could have resulted in death, so … it sounded like a good idea,” Buford said, listing reasons why Kentucky Republicans would seek to change the law in the months after McConnell’s reelection to seventh term in the Senate.
“Leader McConnell has discussed the legislation with [Senate] President Stivers and is fully supportive of the measure,” a spokesperson for McConnell confirmed.
Multiple sources say it is McConnell who is pushing this bill, but the claimed reasons for why he is pushing the legislation vary from health concerns to the makeup of the upper chamber.
McConnell’s health has been a concern since boyhood. In 1944, he contracted polio and with his mother’s persistence, the young McConnell recovered and learned to walk again. In 2003, McConnell underwent a triple bypass heart surgery. In late October 2020, McConnell dismissed concerns over his health after appearing with bruised and bandaged hands days before his reelection. The previous year, the Kentucky Republican spent weeks recuperating after a fall which forced him to have surgery for a shoulder injury.
Other Republicans in the Kentucky Legislature, who asked not to be identified over fear of reprisal from their party, see this move as less about McConnell’s health and more about hand-selecting his replacement and giving that successor the benefit of incumbency. One frustrated Republican elected official, who declined to be named for the same reason, referred to the bill as McConnell’s “escape hatch.”
Inside a small two-story house that carries McConnell’s name, the leadership of the Republican Party of Kentucky is monitoring plans, and according to some, there are already discussions on who could replace him in the event of a vacancy for his seat. There are already three names that consistently come up on the potential list.
McConnell is interested in his legacy, and by picking his replacement, he would cement his vision in Kentucky and national politics.
McConnell has played an outsized role in the public life of those on the list to replace him. It was McConnell who ensured an endorsement for Daniel Cameron from Trump; McConnell also secured a speaking role at the Republican National Convention and an Oval Office meeting for Cameron, who served as McConnell’s general counsel and has a father-son relationship with the senator. Likewise, when many expressed doubts over Kelly Craft’s lack of experience and continual absence from her previous post, it was McConnell who shepherded the megadonor through the Senate confirmation process for the U.N. ambassadorship. His ties to Craft date back to 2004.
Michael Adams is not as close to the minority leader as the others on the list, but he does run in the same circles as those in McConnell’s inner circle, like Scott Jennings, who ran a super PAC that spent millions to bolster McConnell’s reelection efforts in the bluegrass state.
Others close to McConnell say he is backing the bill because of the razor-thin margins in the U.S. Senate. For those Republicans, McConnell is seeking to protect the upper chamber from adding an additional Democrat.
The truth is probably somewhere in between all of these theories: McConnell is 79 years old, he’s a master of the Senate, and he’s focused on his legacy in a state that still strongly supports Trump. This legislation is reflective of the long game he has played his entire career.
The legislation is currently before the state Senate and then would need to pass the House. Beshear, the Democratic governor, is reportedly opposed to the bill, but Republicans have held veto-proof majorities in both chambers since 2017.
Fritz Berggren’s hundreds of blog posts, videos and podcasts date back several years.
A State Department official for several years has been publicly calling for the establishment of Christian nation-states, warning that white people face “elimination” and railing against Jews as well as Black Lives Matter and other social movements.
Fritz Berggren, a mid-ranking Foreign Service officer, openly uses his name and image as he espouses these and other controversial views, according to a review of his online postings. Current and former State Department officials noted the connection to POLITICO in recent days.
“Jesus Christ came to save the whole world from the Jews — the founders of the original Anti-Christ religion, they who are the seed of the Serpent, that brood of vipers,” states an Oct. 4 blog post signed “Fritz Berggren, PhD” and titled “Jews are Not God’s Chosen People. Judeo-Christian is Anti-Christ.”
“They murdered Jesus Christ,” the 5,300-word post continues, “How then can they be God’s chosen?”
Berggren’s voluminous output dates back to at least September 2017, according to the archives of his website, Bloodandfaith.com. An about page for the site, also signed “Fritz Berggren, PhD,” offers what appears to be a manifesto of sorts. Like several of his other posts, it includes a video of Berggren expanding on his views.
“The goal of the Left is to destroy blood and faith so that (Marxist) religion alone becomes master and enslaver of all,” Berggren writes. “Europeans must reclaim their blood and faith, just as Blacks are proud and hispanics have very strong blood identity organizations.”
Two days after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, another post signed by Berggren declared: “Notes on the events of January 6. The illusion of a participatory democracy has been burst. You already live in a cult/theocracy — I offer you Christian liberty in a Christian nation.”
President Joe Biden has made diversity a priority for his administration and has sharply criticized anything that smacks of white supremacy and anti-Semitism. The Pentagon already has launched a campaign to root out white nationalists and other extremists in the military. While there’s no similar effort underway in Foggy Bottom, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced he is creating a new position, chief diversity and inclusion officer, to promote that ideal.
According to a directory viewed by POLITICO, Berggren is currently assigned to a State Department unit that handles special immigrant visas for Afghans. His previous positions have included serving as a financial management officer at the U.S. Embassy in Bahrain, according to an older directory.
Asked about Berggren, a spokesperson for the State Department declined to say whether his remarks had led to internal disciplinary measures of any kind. “We will not comment on internal personnel matters beyond saying that these are personal views and do not represent those of the State Department,” the spokesperson said. “As a department, we embrace and champion diversity, equity and inclusion as a source of strength.”
Exactly when Berggren entered U.S. diplomatic ranks wasn’t clear, but he is listed as a Foreign Service employee on congressional documents at least as far back as 2009. His sparse LinkedIn account describes him as an “FSO” — a Foreign Service officer.
Berggren did not reply to messages sent to his work and personal email addresses nor to ones sent through LinkedIn and his Blood and Faith website. Phone numbers listed for him did not work.
Free speech vs. a diplomatic problem
The State Department’s options for addressing Berggren’s online postings may be limited.
There are rules that govern diplomats’ on- and off-duty behavior that could be grounds for punishment or dismissal in similar instances — rules that can differ based on whether a person is serving overseas or in the United States. But the federal government, for First Amendment reasons, is not supposed to dictate its employees’ religious views.
According to a former State Department attorney, if Berggren can show that he never used work time or U.S. government equipment to craft his writings and recordings, he might fall in a gray area in terms of whether or how the department could discipline him. The former attorney did not have direct knowledge of the case and requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. POLITICO found no examples of Berggren identifying himself as a State Department official in his online commentary.
The Blood and Faith site was updated just this week with posts that take shots at Jewish people, the United Nations and the LBGTQ community, among others.
The blog’s archives date to Sept. 16, 2017, and they include around 300 posts that tackle topics ranging from theories about Christian violence to the importance of bloodlines. Many of the posts link to videos as well as podcasts in which Berggren discusses his beliefs.
Berggren often rails against “the Left” along with movements like Black Lives Matter and Antifa and organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League.
“Anti-Fa/BLM is not the resistance — they are the establishment,” he writes in bullet points on a Sept. 12, 2020, post that includes a video segment. “The resistance could be White men and Christians if we man up to it.”
A major theme across Berggren’s online output is the necessity of creating explicitly Christian countries. He refers to Jesus Christ as a revolutionary icon, dubbing him “Rebel Leader One” in some posts. “The revival of Christian nation-states is required for the advancement of Truth,” he writes in one section of his Blood and Faith site. “There is no substitute for the public acclamation of Jesus Christ as the King and Lord of a nation.”
A significant chunk of Berggren’s commentary appears focused on the fate of white people, especially those of European and Christian descent.
In a Oct. 24 post titled “The Demon-God of Diversity,” he states: “The world gasps in horror with each new ‘endangered’ sub-species, but cheers the elimination of White culture from whole regions of the earth. This will not stop until White people stop it — we have been handmaidens to our own demise.”
At least one video of Berggren found online is less controversial.
He appears in a brief Department of Defense clip urging people to “track Santa” through a popular project of the North American Aerospace Defense Command.
The Senate Hearing about the Capitol attacks on Jan. 6 opened with some revealing commentary by four current and former security officials involved on that day.
After opening statements, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) asked some simple yes or no questions designed to removed some opacity over what happened on that historic day and what really was going on during the deadly attacks led by Trump supporters.
“Based on what we know now, including the recent department of justice indictments, do you agree that there is now clear evidence that supports the conclusion that the January 6th insurrection was planned and it was a coordinated attack on the U.S. Capitol?” Senator Klobuchar asked. All four officials agreed.
“Would you agree that this attack involved white supremacists and extremist groups?” she followed, to which everyone also agreed. “Would you agree that this was a highly dangerous situation which was horrific, but could have actually been worse without the courage of the officers that you commanded?” Klobuchar asked, to which everyone also agreed.
The former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, who resigned after the attack, then answered the next questions and revealed that he was not made aware of an FBI intelligence report about the attacks that had been filed the day before, and explained that the Capitol Police does not have it’s own intelligence operation and is solely reliant on that which is shared with him by 18 federal intel agencies.
On Monday evening, Fox News host Tucker Carlson scoffed at the idea that white supremacist groups took part in the attack, which the Capitol security officials testified was actually the case.
Sen. Ron Johnson Claims “Fake Trump Protesters” Were Behind Riot, Blames Police For Inciting Rioters
In his first post-presidential appearance, Donald Trump plans to send the message next weekend that he is Republicans’ “presumptive 2024 nominee” with a vise grip on the party’s base, top Trump allies tell Axios.
What to watch: A longtime adviser called Trump’s speech a “show of force,” and said the message will be: “I may not have Twitter or the Oval Office, but I’m still in charge.” Payback is his chief obsession.
Axios has learned that Trump advisers will meet with him at Mar-a-Lago this week to plan his next political moves, and to set up the machinery for kingmaking in the 2022 midterms.
- Trump is expected to stoke primary challenges for some of those who have crossed him, and shower money and endorsements on the Trumpiest candidates.
- State-level officials, fresh off censuring Trump critics, stand ready to back him up.
Why it matters: Trump’s speech Sunday at CPAC in Orlando is designed to show that he controls the party, whether or not he runs in 2024.
- His advisers argue that his power within the GOP runs deeper and broader than ever, and that no force can temper him.
- “Trump effectively is the Republican Party,” Trump senior adviser Jason Miller told me. “The only chasm is between Beltway insiders and grassroots Republicans around the country. When you attack President Trump, you’re attacking the Republican grassroots.”
The big picture: The few Republicans who have spoken ill of Trump since the election — including House members who voted to impeach him, and senators who voted to convict — have found themselves censured, challenged and vilified by the parties in their home states.
What’s next: Trump’s leadership PAC, Save America, has $75 million on hand, and he has a database of tens of millions of names.
The long game: Many Trump confidants think he’ll pretend to run but ultimately pass. He knows the possibility — or threat — gives him leverage and attention.
A Trump source said some Republicans have told him: “If you endorse me, I’ll run.”
- But advisers say that’s not how it’ll work. This week’s meeting will aim to tap the brakes.
- Instead, Trump is going to set up a formal process for vetting potential endorsees, including a requirement that they raise money and put together an organization.
What we’re watching: Trump plans to argue in the CPAC speech that many of his predictions about President Biden have already come true.
- Look for Trump to lay into “the swamp” and Beltway insiders in a big way.
- The Trump source said: “Much like 2016, we’re taking on Washington again.”
Houston’s ABC News affiliate reports:
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called an emergency meeting late Saturday to address the spike in electricity bills due to the impact of the winter storm. In a statement, Abbott said, “It is unacceptable for Texans who suffered through days in the freezing cold without electricity or heat to now be hit with skyrocketing energy costs.”
The emergency meeting will include Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, Speaker Dade Phelan and members of the state’s legislature. Electricity supply and demand in Texas has gone back to normal operations, but when it out of whack over the past several days, the cost of power in the wholesale market went crazy.
The first tweet below is from Houston’s mayor.