In it, but not of it. TPM DC

FAIRFAX, VA. — Democrat Ralph Northam has won the Virginia governor’s race, scoring the first big electoral victory of the Donald Trump era by defeating a candidate who ran hard on Trump-like culture war issues.

Northam, Virginia’s lieutenant governor, led former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie by 54 percent to 45 percent with 99 percent of precincts reporting. The Associated Press called the race shortly after 8 p.m. ET.

The win is a huge psychic boost for Democrats who had grown nervous heading into Election Day, worried that a rough final week might have given Gillespie a chance — and suggests that his hardline racially charged ads on Hispanic gang violence, sanctuary cities and Confederate monuments had blown up in his face.

“Virginia has spoken — to end the divisiveness, that we will not condone hatred and bigotry, the politics that have torn this country apart. In Virginia it’s going to take a doctor to heal our differences, and I’m here to let you know that the doctor is in,” Northam declared to cheers.

Northam’s win was by a wider margin than Hillary Clinton’s five-point victory in the commonwealth last year, and larger than either of President Obama’s wins in Virginia, a sign both of Virginia’s continuing demographic trend towards Democrats and Trump’s toxic standing in fast-growing suburbs.

The big margin caught even Northam’s allies by surprise — many had expected a narrow win of three to four points and were still trickling into his election night party at George Mason University when the race was called. Many rushed into the room whooping when NBC announced Northam had won.

Northam’s long coattails appeared to be sweeping Democrats in across the state. Democrats swept the statewide races of lieutenant governor and attorney general, and make surprisingly strong pickups in the house of delegates, nearly retaking the chamber with some races still outstanding late Tuesday night. The prospect of winning that many seats was unthinkable heading into election night for even the most optimistic Democrats.

“Virginia showed the world something tonight,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said.

“Pitting people against people is not the Virginia way, it’s not the American way,” he continued.

“What it says is people don’t respond to the kind of lowest common denominator approach that too often comes out of this White House and came out of a lot of the [Virginia GOP] candidates this year,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) told reporters.

Republicans admitted they got crushed.

“They won. We lost,” Republican Party of Virginia Chairman John Whitbeck told TPM.

Whitbeck didn’t want to talk national implications, but admitted his party was in a deep hole after the results.

“Six months is an eternity in politics, but boy, we’ve got a lot of work to do in Virginia,” he said. “It’s looking like the urban areas are just a huge problem for us and I don’t know what the answer is yet.”

Josh Holmes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) former chief of staff, was more blunt:

“It’s pretty unprecedented, what’s happening here,” House of Delegates Democratic Leader David Toscano (D) told reporters shortly after the race was called for Northam.

A minute later, his eyebrows shot up in surprise as looked at a phone alert. Gleefully, he told aides that Kelly Fowler (D) had won a long-shot race — which one staffer repeated in grinning disbelief.

The new state delegates include the first transgender candidate ever to win a statehouse race, Danica Roem, who defeated hardline social conservative Bob Marshall.

“I’m hoping it puts an end to the politics of bigotry,” Virginia Delegate Charniele Herring (D) told TPM about Marshall’s defeat.

Another somewhat surprising winner: Former reporter Chris Hurst (D), whose girlfriend was gunned down on live TV in the state a few years back.

The results are the most concrete sign so far of a building Democratic resurgence in the Trump era. Northam’s margin and coattails — as well as other big Democratic wins Tuesday in New Jersey, New Hampshire, Maine, Georgia and New York  — show that Democratic voters are more energized and turning out in stronger numbers across the country right now. That’s a good sign heading into crucial 2018 midterms — and will help Democrats, many of whom spent the last week watching the campaign with increasing trepidation, begin to put their 2016 election PTSD behind them.

“This is pretty nice, I won’t lie,” Robby Mook, the former campaign manager for Hillary Clinton and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), told TPM.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie pauses during a concession speech during an election party in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. Gillespie lost to Democrat Ralph Northam. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Gillespie, who once pushed the GOP hard to embrace a big-tent philosophy, went hard the other direction in this election — running dark Trump-like ads accusing Northam of being soft on gangs and tying him to a child pornographer in a closing ad. Trump never campaigned for Gillespie in the state but tweeted repeatedly to tout his campaign and recorded a last-minute robocall for Gillespie. The GOP candidate tried to walk a tightrope between Trump-like ads and a moderate-sounding message on the economy and inclusiveness in Northern Virginia.

Trump was quick to distance himself from the results.

Other Republicans weren’t so quick to dismiss Trump’s dismal numbers in the state, however — including Virginia resident and former National Republican Senatorial Committee top strategist Brian Walsh.

Democrats are going to have to compete in much tougher territory than a Democratic-trending state Hillary Clinton won by more than 5 points last fall. But this is a big early sign that the wind is at their backs heading into the 2018 midterms.

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Since President Trump took office in January, health care experts and advocates have sounded the alarm that his budget cuts and policy changes would severely reduce health insurance enrollment—predicting a dip of more than 1 million people compared to last year.

But so far, according to reports by The Hill and the Washington Post not officially confirmed by the Department of Health and Human Services, the opposite is happening.

More than 200,000 people signed up for a plan when Obamacare’s open enrollment period began on Nov. 1, twice as many as enrolled on day one last year.

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On Tuesday morning, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) unveiled new criteria for evaluating pitches from states to tweak their Medicaid programs, a significant departure from the Obama administration’s approach to such requests.

Whereas in the past states had to prove that proposed changes would “increase and strengthen” health coverage of their low-income population, that requirement is gone, replaced with language that welcomes proposals for work requirements, drug tests and other hurdles that experts predict would reduce the Medicaid rolls by hundreds of thousands of people.

In a statement distributed to reporters Tuesday morning, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma called the goal of covering more people a “hollow victory of numbers,” and instead called for changes that “reduce federal regulatory burdens, increase efficiency, and promote transparency and accountability.”

The announcement also promises to fast-track approval of states’ proposed Medicaid changes (which HHS grants in the form of waivers from existing Medicaid requirements) and to scrap some of the requirements that states report back to the federal government whether the changes improve health outcomes for recipients.

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Democrats face their biggest electoral test of 2017 on Tuesday in Virginia — a must-win if they hope to show they can bounce back in the Trump era.

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) appears to be clinging to a narrow lead against former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie in the race for governor, a key test of whether the wind is really at Democrats’ backs heading into the 2018 midterms and how well they can handle Donald Trump-style GOP race-baiting.

If Northam wins, Democrats can claim their first big election victory since President Trump’s win almost a year ago after coming up short in a number of uphill battle special elections. But if Gillespie wins after running a deeply divisive campaign focused on racially charged topics like sanctuary cities and Confederate monuments in a state Hillary Clinton won last year, Democrats are likely to have a collective meltdown — one that’s already been building after a rough final week on the campaign trail for Northam and progressive-establishment infighting over the Democratic National Committee’s role in the 2016 primaries.

“Obviously a win is important here. I’m not going to even contemplate the other options at this point in time,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) told TPM Monday afternoon.

Most public and private polls from both Democrats and Republicans indicate a close race, with Northam holding a slight lead.

A Northam win would help quell the nerves that have been building with some Democratic operatives over the past two weeks as they’ve watched this race tighten up due to some missteps from the Democrat and his allies.

Progressives have been hammering Northam for his centrist tendencies, while creating some hurdles for him in the last week that he’s failed to clear smoothly.

Those screw-ups have included Northam allowing a union to print a mailer that left off Democrats’ African American candidate for lieutenant governor (he opposed a gas pipeline the union likes), Northam flipping to say he’d sign a bill banning sanctuary cities after months of beating back Gillespie’s attacks on the topic as ridiculous because Virginia doesn’t have any sanctuary cities, and a number of unhelpful controversies stirred up by liberal outside groups.

Democrats admit it wasn’t a pretty final week on the campaign trail — but are feeling confident that Northam will eke out a win.

“Last week’s Beltway tempest doesn’t change the fact that Democrats are more engaged and excited than Republicans this election cycle, and it hasn’t distracted voters from the fact that Ed Gillespie has deployed the most racist and divisive campaign tactics in modern Virginia political history,” Carolyn Fiddler, a Democratic strategist with deep ties in Virginia who works for the liberal Daily Kos, told TPM. 

The optics aren’t all that matters. Besides the obvious important policy role a governor plays in a large swing state, whoever wins will be the governor the next time Virginia draws its electoral maps. A Northam victory would force a compromise map or one drawn by the courts, likely undoing Republicans’ seven-to-four edge in the Congressional delegation. If Gillespie wins, Republicans would likely be able to gerrymander statehouse maps to lock in unified control for another decade, as well as protect their current members.

And while Gillespie has decided to keep President Trump at arm’s length (even as he’s adopted many of the president’s tactics), the Trump hasn’t stayed quiet about the race.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/927644826006425601

Republicans are feeling better by the day that Gillespie might be able to grind out a win — a result that would be stunning given Trump’s terrible numbers in the state, Virginia’s Democratic trend and Clinton’s five-point win there last year.

“We feel like the momentum’s with us, and love the complete and utter disaster that is Democrat morale right now, the circular firing squad is out for Ralph Northam,” Republican Party of Virginia Chairman John Whitbeck told TPM. “Democrats have tried to nationalize this and the danger to them is what happens if we win it. … It’ll be devastating to them.”

But Northam’s team says they’re feeling good about where things stand — and that there are lessons to be learned for other Democrats about how to run in the age of Trump if they win.

“You have to run as an authentic candidate authentic to who you are, you have to be willing to counter Republican fear-mongering, and you have to build a turnout organization that is going to aggressively outperform what you’ve seen in the past,” Northam spokesman David Turner told TPM.

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Late update, 8:09 p.m. ET: The respected bipartisan Tax Policy Center took the unusual step late Monday of retracting its initial analysis of the House Republican tax bill after finding an error in its modeling.

“This error involved the additional child tax credit component of the proposed legislation,” TPC said on its blog. “TPC staff are in the process of revising the analysis and will release a corrected version as soon as possible.”

Original story, headlined “Study: Under GOP Tax Bill, Millions Pay More While Top 1% Gets Major Breaks”

An analysis of House Republicans’ tax bill released Monday by the non-partisan Tax Policy Center found a wide disparity between the winners and losers under the plan—with the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans netting nearly 50 percent of all the benefits and nearly 30 percent of Americans seeing an increase in their tax bill after 10 years.

Thanks to the loss of several popular tax deductions, including state and local taxes, medical expenses, student loan interest and others, the report estimates that 12 percent of taxpayers would pay higher taxes starting in 2018 and at least 28 percent of taxpayers would pay more by 2027.

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The Trump administration is currently sitting on an executive order that would essentially gut Obamacare’s individual mandate—the pillar of the law that requires all Americans to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty, according to a report Monday in the Washington Examiner. The White House, however, denied the news, telling the Examiner the question of the mandate is “best resolved legislatively.”

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Under President Obama, Obamacare’s open enrollment period typically kicked off with a bang—appearances by the President on late night TV and in viral videos, social media blitzes led by the secretary of Health and Human Services, press conferences highlighting Americans getting health insurance for the first time, daily conference calls between government and outside advocacy groups, and barrages of emails to millions of Americans reminding them to sign up for coverage or risk paying a tax penalty.

This year, when the first full open enrollment period of the Trump administration began on Nov. 1, things looked very different.

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Democrats are nervous about how they’re concluding the biggest election of 2017, with some growing increasingly concerned that missteps and internal feuds are hurting their chances of winning Virginia’s crucial gubernatorial election Tuesday.

The last week of the race has thrown Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D) campaign on the defensive, as he’s struggled to grapple with blowback from a charged ad from an allied outside group, overreacted with a promise to ban sanctuary cities if needed and took a beating from some progressives.

Democrats still think they’re likely to hang on and win the race. But the back-biting and finger-pointing has distracted Northam and helped unite Republicans as he looks to grind out a win against GOP nominee Ed Gillespie’s racially charged campaign in the biggest test so far of Democratic organizing ability and electoral strength since Trump’s 2016 victory.

“Everyone’s just scrambling to shit the bed at once,” one longtime Virginia Democratic strategist told TPM, slamming the chirping from left-wing groups while calling Northam’s waffling on sanctuary cities “bizarre.”

“It’s difficult to watch as a Virginian who really doesn’t want Ed Gillespie as governor.”

The Democrat strategist — and most Democrats — still think Northam will hold on to win the race in a state Hillary Clinton carried last fall. But many are frustrated at the infighting that’s taken place in the race’s last week, with progressives furious at Northam’s caution and moderation and Northam allies maddened by unhelpful liberal bedwetting.

“People are screwing up,” said another Democrat who’s working on Virginia races, warning a Northam loss would “signal that the wave is not what we think it is, it cool a lot of fundraising and enthusiasm and really force people to reevaluate 2018.”

There has been grumbling on the left for months that Northam wasn’t doing enough to boost minority and progressive turnout. But it came to a head in recent days when the Latino Victory Fund, a Hispanic outside group worried that Northam hadn’t done enough to gin up Latino turnout, launched a controversial ad tying Gillespie’s racially charged ads to Donald Trump and the Charlottesville white supremacist violence. Conservatives jumped on the ad, in which a white man driving a pickup with a Confederate flag and Gillespie sticker chases down minority children, saying it implies all Gillespie supporters are racists.

The spot was quickly pulled down, but not before it triggered a backlash on the right that Republicans say has helped galvanize their supporters behind Gillespie. Northam didn’t help himself any as he sought to clean up the mess, declaring for the first time that he’d sign a bill to ban sanctuary cities in the commonwealth if any were established.

“If that bill comes to my desk, Andy, I sure will,” he told a local news anchor on Wednesday. “I have always been opposed to sanctuary cities.”

That’s a new position for Northam after months of him dismissing Gillespie’s attacks on the topic as racially charged scare-mongering since no sanctuary cities exist in the commonwealth — and after he cast the deciding vote to block a sanctuary cities bill in the legislature that Gillespie’s allies had cooked up to force him to vote on it.

Many liberals were apoplectic. And to make things worse, the national liberal group Democracy for America responded by un-endorsing Northam while calling him a “racist” for his stance.

“After seeing Northam play directly into the hands of Republicans’ racist anti-immigrant rhetoric on sanctuary cities, we refuse to be silent any longer and even remotely complicit in the disastrous, racist, and voter-turnout-depressing campaign Ralph Northam appears intent on running,” DFA Chairman Charles Chamberlain said in a statement Thursday.

Democrats say DFA is more bark than bite, and rarely helps in big ways in close races. Even the group’s founder, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D), blasted the move:

https://twitter.com/GovHowardDean/status/926255630532382721

Democrats are concerned that a Gillespie win or even a close finish will encourage Republicans to replicate Gillespie’s dog-whistle campaign across the country next fall and pour fuel on the fire of the establishment-progressive battle within the Democratic Party. That battle is already raging once again in the wake of former Democratic National Committee interim chair Donna Brazile’s recent charges of “unethical” interactions between the DNC and Hillary Clinton’s campaign during the primary.

“I watch Virginia with great worry in part because of [Gillespie’s] dog-whistle politics … but also because the Democrats, the top of the ticket … are not able to run on big political and economic change,” Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, a Clinton campaign veteran who says Democrats must embrace left-wing populism more, told TPM during a Thursday conference call. “It doesn’t feel like they have learned the lessons from ’16.”

Northam pushed back on that characterization Friday afternoon.

“I have fire in the belly, too, to bring civility and leadership to Virginia,” he said on MSNBC.

Democrats admit it’s a tight race.

“I think it’s going to be close,” Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) told TPM last week before the Democratic infighting broke fully into the open.

Scott said Gillespie’s attack ads on removing Confederate monuments and accusing Northam, a pediatrician, of protecting a child predator were “despicable” — but worried they might be working.

“They wouldn’t have done it if they hadn’t taken a poll,” he said.

It almost worked for Gillespie three years ago, when he surged to almost upset Sen. Mark Warner (R-VA) with late-in-the-race culture warrior ads defending the Washington Redskins’ team name.

Northam’s campaign insists everything’s fine, pointing to strong early vote numbers in Northern Virginia.

“We have seen historic levels of volunteer activity, small donor donations, and primary turnout,” Northam spokesman David Turner told TPM. “We are confident going into Election Day because the Democratic ticket is resonating with Virginians.”

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) told TPM last Thursday that Northam had a “solid, steady lead” but not a “spectacular” one, and reiterated his longtime prediction that the race would be close.

Kaine said a Northam win “would send a good signal to Democrats going into 2018 that in a bellwether state people are embracing quality over demagoguery” and “bode well for the politics of 2018.”

But what if Gillespie wins?

“Ask me when it’s over.”

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More than a month after Congress allowed funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and community health centers to lapse, sending states scrambling to find emergency funding, the House of Representatives voted Friday on a bill to reauthorize the programs. Almost every Democrat voted no because the bill pays for CHIP by cutting more than $10 billion from Obamacare’s public health and prevention fund, and by raising Medicare fees for higher-income senior citizens.

The bill also cuts the grace period for people who miss a payment on their health insurance premiums from 90 days to 30, a change expected to cause about 700,000 people to lose their insurance.

The bill’s lead author, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), blasted Democrats Friday morning, accusing them of “voting against kids and their doctors.”

“We’re fully funding CHIP for five years. We’re fulling funding Community Health Centers for two years. We’re asking the wealthiest seniors in America to pay $135  more for their Medicare,” Walden said, casting withering looks at his Democratic colleagues preparing to vote against the measure. “How ironic. How cynical.”

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Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) once brought an avowed neo-Confederate secessionist she’d known for decades to deliver the opening prayer for the House of Representatives.

Blackburn, who is currently running for the Senate, invited the Rev. David O. Jones, a Tennessee pastor and Christian home-school program head who says he’s known her since the late 1970s, to give the opening prayer for the House in 2004.

Jones, who has long advocated southern secession, told TPM this week that while slavery was abhorrent it was “basically cradle to grave security” for many southern blacks. His decade-old homeschooling curriculum includes a high school course on the South designed to refute “propaganda imposed from everywhere else” about slavery and the Civil War. Required reading:  “Myths of American Slavery” and “The South Was Right.”

When Blackburn invited him to Congress, Jones was in the middle of a long tenure heading the Tennessee chapter of the League of the South — an explicitly secessionist group that has been designated a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center since 2000 because of leader Michael Hill’s racist comments as well as its ties to co-founder Jack Kershaw, best known for serving as the lawyer for Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassin and erecting a statue outside Nashville of the Ku Klux Klan founder, Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Rev. David O. Jones poses with Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). Courtesy of Rev. David O. Jones.

The League has grown increasingly militant and became explicitly white supremacist in recent years. It was a main organizer of the bloody Charlottesville protests in August and recent “White Lives Matter” rallies in Murfreesboro and Shelbyville, Tennessee, last weekend that spurred at least one violent confrontation in its wake.

Jones left the organization in 2015 because of its full embrace of white supremacism, he told TPM, though watchdogs said the League began making the turn towards hardline militancy as early as 2008.  He also continued to run a non-profit founded by Kershaw that funded both his homeschooling program and the League of the South (including for “self-defense” gun training classes). His involvement with the non-profit ended this summer after local TV news investigated its ties to the League of the South.

Blackburn praised Jones as an influential figure in the state’s homeschooling movement as she introduced him on the House floor in 2004.

“Reverend Jones has a long and distinguished history of dedication to his faith and to his community. He is a pioneer in the home-school movement who has made a real difference in the lives of thousands of Tennessee children and their families, and has worked to ensure that we protect the sanctity of life as an example to each and every one of us,” she said, according to a transcript on the House Clerk’s website.

He donated more than $1,000 to her in 2005 and 2006 — his only contribution to a federal candidate in the last three decades.

Jones’ prayer can be seen below (C-SPAN apparently cut to Jones after Blackburn’s introduction):

Blackburn’s campaign told TPM Thursday that she had no idea about Jones’ controversial views and ties and hasn’t seen him in a long time, but declined to say whether or not she plans to return his campaign donations or discuss their earlier relationship.

“Marsha is appalled by saddened by the actions and words of these hate-filled organizations. Marsha has not seen Rev. Jones in over a decade and was not aware he was affiliated with this organization,” Blackburn spokeswoman Andrea Bozek told TPM in an email.

Blackburn walked away and ignored TPM’s question about Jones after saying hello as she entered the House floor on Wednesday afternoon.

Jones agreed it was possible, even probable, that Blackburn wouldn’t have known about his views, and while he thought he had last seen her six or seven years he agreed  a decade might well have elapsed. But his description of their “moderately close” earlier relationship suggested closer ties than Blackburn wants to acknowledge now.

Jones said he and Blackburn had been “friends for a long time, since 1979,” when they were involved with the Williamson County Young Republicans. In the early 2000s, back when she was first a congresswoman, her district office was across the street from his, and they’d pop in to visit each other every few weeks — “I’d walk in on her, she’d walk in on me, that kind of thing.”

At one point, Jones said Blackburn called him with a favor to ask.

When her sister got married she called me to officiate the wedding,” recalled Jones, saying he’d wedded her sister Karen to Nashville news anchor Dan Miller. He said that years later he also performed the wedding ceremony for Miller’s daughter.

Around the same time, he recalled, he told Blackburn it was a dream of his to give the opening prayer to Congress, and she happily obliged.

“At the time I did the invocation, the time Ms. Marsha invited me to do that, the League was a whole different ballgame. It’s not what it is now,” he said, stating both he and the League of the South were “secessionist” but not racist and saying he’d long argued with Hill to stress the Christian rather than white roots of southern pride. 

Blackburn’s campaign didn’t push back on Jones’ description of their relationship.

Jones wrote a piece about his prayer in Congress for the Southern Patriot, The League of the South’s newsletter, saying he’d been asked not to mention Jesus on the House floor but ignored that request.

Jones’s article in Southern Patriot, courtesy of the Anti-Defamation League’s Mark Pitcavage.

Jones’ prayer was fairly innocuous, but many of his other views are considerably more controversial.

Jones told TPM Martin Luther King Jr. was a “devout womanizer” who “had no morality,” while Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson were “good, righteous men” — why his homeschool program gives off a day for Lee-Jackson Day but not King’s birthday. He blamed the north for starting the Civil War — “Lincoln kind of set up the firing on Fort Sumter to make it look like the South fired the first shot” — and said while he opposed segregation, “resolving Jim Crow laws would have been a lot better if the individual states and localities had been encouraged to make the adjustments rather than forced to a one-solution-fits-all type adjustment” by the federal government.

His most controversial views are about slavery, which he said was an immoral practice but described as “basically cradle to grave security” for many southern blacks.

“You go to an antebellum historical site up in Nashville and they say, ‘The slaves lived in these little one-room cabins and all they had to play with was a hoop and a stick…’ They don’t mention the fact that the white sharecroppers lived exactly the same way, had exactly the same deprivation of substance,” he told TPM. “It’s like they’re trying to paint slavery as this wrong, this burden.”

Jones said most slave-owners treated their slaves well and provided them medical care.

I’m not going to to defend slavery. But I say look at the historical facts, don’t paint something with such a broad sweeping brush,” he said.

Jones says he feels “really bad” about the SPLC’s view that he was part of a “hate group” — “I am not a hater” — and talked about his efforts to create an integrated church and allowing non-Christian families to join his home-schooling program.

I realize my views aren’t necessarily in the mainstream but they’re not caused by any animosity or hatred towards anyone. They’re views I think can legitimately reconcile people with one another. Christ has called us to a ministry of conciliation and that’s what I hope to do with my life,” he said.

Blackburn, who in her Senate campaign launch video declares she’s “politically incorrect — and proud of it” — has long taken some controversial stances of her own on charged racial and religious issues, though nothing like Jones’ comments.

Her early Senate campaign has hit hard on attacking the NFL players who’ve knelt during the national anthem to protest police brutality against black people. A member of the Trump presidential transition team executive committee, she says she believes in Trump’s “immigration ban” and wants to “build the wall.”

In 2015, she called a Tennessee state curriculum for seventh graders that includes a section in Islam “reprehensible” and warned of “indoctrination.” And in 2009, she helped lead the charge against President Obama’s openly gay safe-schools chief partially, signing a letter from House Republicans that claimed he was “pushing a pro-homosexual agenda in America’s schools.”

But those views aren’t nearly as controversial as Jones’.

Those who have long monitored the League of the South were split on whether Blackburn should have known about Jones’ ties.

“I have no idea how ignorant Marsha might be but there’s many public references to the League and what they stood for that predated her invitation,” The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Heidi Beirich told TPM. “I don’t know why she brought him in but it’s abhorrent that she did.  … It’s completely unacceptable she’s showered him with this high honor. You have to wonder about Blackburn’s own views.”

Jones remains a leader of the Southern National Conference, a group that wants “Southern State governments creatively solving our own problems without interference or dictates from sources outside our respective States.”

While Jones said he doesn’t oppose a weak federal government, he wants the South to have significantly more sovereignty. “Let communities, let states figure out for themselves what will work for their community. That’s where secession comes in,” he told TPM.

 

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