Politics & Government

Meet the GOP candidates receiving Trump money: Critics, agitators, non-supporters

President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign is giving money to a surprising group of Republican candidates this fall — those who are not only more moderate than he is, but also those have openly defied him on key issues of immigration and trade.

Some didn’t even vote for him.

Reps. Jeff Denham of California and Carlos Curbelo of Florida, who led a failed effort opposed by the White House to circumvent House leaders and force a vote on granting citizenship to so-called Dreamers, are getting Trump’s money, according to a list of favored candidates obtained by McClatchy.

Also on the list is Rep. Scott Taylor of Virginia, one of the few House Republicans to support a federal ban on LGBT discrimination, who blamed Trump’s divisive rhetoric for Democratic victories in his home state this year.

And Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas, who joined with Democrats last week to push for an investigation of the Trump administration for separating 2,500 migrant children from their parents at the southern border, also will benefit.

One surprising omission: Rep. Devin Nunes of California, who as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee has been one of the president’s most ardent supporters in the wake of Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether Trump aides worked with Russia to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

Some vulnerable Republicans may not welcome the donations, fearful that Democrats will seize on the money as they look to tie the GOP to a controversial president in districts he lost in 2016 or where he remains unpopular.

“We have neither solicited nor received said contribution,” said Joanna Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for Curbelo, who represents the most Democratic-leaning House district in the country held by a Republican seeking re-election.

Curbelo of Miami is a frequent critic of Trump and did not support him in the 2016 race.

But Denham, who was also unaware of the contribution, portrayed it as a typical show of party support.

“I’m working on building new water storage, stopping the Sacramento water grab and fixing our broken immigration system,” he told McClatchy. “The president supports my efforts in the same way Nancy Pelosi supports (Democratic opponent) Josh Harder.”

The Trump campaign announced last week that it would donate the maximum amount allowed by law — $2,000 per candidate — to 100 Republicans running for Congress in November, perhaps a sign that the GOP is worried it will lose its majorities in Congress. Democrats need to pick up a net of 23 seats in the House and two in the Senate to gain control of the chambers.

The Trump campaign did not disclose which candidates would receive contributions and did not respond to subsequent questions about how the candidates were selected, but McClatchy obtained a detailed list.

Some Trump donations will go to Republicans in safe districts, such as House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana. Both are Trump allies considering running for House speaker and don’t need the money for their own re-elections.

Trump had already endorsed some of the candidates, including those running for U.S. Senate in states Trump won in 2016, including Rick Scott of Florida, Patrick Morissey of West Virginia, Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania and Josh Hawley of Missouri.

Doug Heye, a veteran Republican strategist, said Trump’s list makes sense taken as a whole. And he predicted accepting a check from the president, even for a vulnerable Republican, isn’t going to damage the campaign the way appearing at a rally with him could be.

“A campaign to campaign check isn’t a seal of approval that could damn members in their own district,” he said.

None of the half-dozen campaigns contacted by McClatchy said they were aware of the donations. Some declined to comment while others, including Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who supported the immigration proposal opposed by Trump, did not immediately respond to a message.

Rep. Andy Barr of Kentucky, who is on the list, represents a district that Trump won in 2016 by 15 points. But the congressman is considered vulnerable and has walked a fine line with the president, particularly over Trump’s tariffs, which the state’s influential bourbon industry and Toyota — which has a plant in his district — have opposed.

Barr stops short of criticizing Trump, saying he’s trying to influence the White House from the position of a strong supporter of the administration’s tax cuts and its efforts to roll back regulations.

“We appreciate everyone who donates to our campaign, including President Trump,” his spokeswoman Jodi Whitaker said. “Andy Barr is trusted by Kentuckians who have sent him to Congress to get results – and that’s exactly what he has done. We are proud to have President Trump supporting our campaign - as opposed to the Nancy Pelosi liberals from outside Kentucky who are funding our opponent.”

Congress Immigration
Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., left, and Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., second from left, accompanied by Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., right, respond to a reporters question during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 27, 2018. Andrew Harnik AP

Denham issued a similar statement even though Trump opposed his effort to force a vote on Dreamers, the young immigrants whose parents brought them to the United States illegally as children, in part because it did not include an increase in border security.

Curbelo, who worked with Denham on immigration, appeared with Trump at an official White House event in Key West earlier this year, though he has not yet appeared in any campaign-related event with him. He chided Trump’s decision to withdraw from a global pact to combat global warming and has worked to build a bloc of Republicans to address climate change.

“The conditions for anyone to support me, to campaign for me, is that they support my work and are helping me achieve it for the benefit of the country,” Curbelo said in May when asked if he would welcome Trump on the campaign trail.

Taylor, considered the most vulnerable Republican in Virginia, has sometimes criticized Trump’s contentious statements. He has supported some of the president’s policies, such as enacting tax cuts and abolishing the Affordable Care Act, but broke with Trump when opposing drilling off the Virginia coast. His campaign said it was not aware of the donation and did not comment further.

It’s less surprising that Yoder is on Trump’s list. Trump endorsed Yoder this month in a tweet thanking him for securing $5 billion in funding for his border wall in the House’s homeland security spending bill and invited him aboard Air Force One when the president flew to Kansas City, Missouri, to speak at a veterans’ event.

But last week Yoder supported Democratic efforts to investigate family separation as well as a Democratic plan that would make it easier for migrants fleeing domestic abuse or gang violence to claim asylum in the United States. But he backed off and pledged to work with the administration after a conservative backlash.

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Trump’s vocal support will help Yoder shore up his base, but it could harm his chances of winning over moderate Republicans and independent voters in November. He is running for re-election in a suburban Kansas City district where Democrat Hillary Clinton narrowly won in 2016. His campaign declined to comment.

In a press release, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale hinted there may be more assistance to come. “We donated these funds from our campaign directly to theirs as a boost to these members of Congress so we can maintain the momentum of the Trump agenda, including record job creation and economic growth,” he said. “This is just one step in our plans to commit our resources and strategic support to these campaigns in the mid-terms.”

Lesley Clark, Alex Daugherty, Kate Irby, Ben Wieder and Lindsay Wise in Washington contributed.

Anita Kumar: 202-383-6017, @anitakumar01

Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article misspelled Joanna Rodriguez, who is a spokeswoman for Rep. Carlos Curbelo