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WV politicians tight-lipped on Trump tweets

By JAKE ZUCKERMAN

Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Despite a growing chorus of rebukes of President Donald Trump’s recent Twitter barrages, most of West Virginia’s congressional delegation is keeping quiet on the commander-in-chief’s words.

This week, Trump tweeted a video of him attacking a wrestler with a CNN logo superimposed over his face, after tweeting several insults last week about the intelligence and appearance of Mika Brzezinski, co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe. His remarks sparked outrage from several press associations and politicians.

When asked for a reaction on the president’s words, U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., who is also running for Senate, said he doesn’t respond to such requests, calling them “distractions.”

“Candidly, the idea of trying to solicit reactions to the tweet of the day, which is all-consuming, when you see it on TV, and see it in the press in general, my weighing in on those simply adds to the distraction from what I think is really most important and that is the policy work we’re doing in congress, and the work coming out of this administration,” he said.

Though Jenkins, a Trump-supporter, said he does not necessarily agree with every comment the president has made, he said the media should be focusing more of its attention on policy-driven issues instead of the Trump’s comments. He said issues like national security and health care deserve more attention than the recent media attacks.

“What the president says is important, it gets noticed and gets pressed, but my point is the president speaks about many different things and there are things he speaks about through social media or from the podium that is very policy oriented,” he said

Jenkins is hardly the first politician to avoid questions regarding Trump’s words and actions. Belinda Biafore, chair of the state Democratic party, said the four Republicans in West Virginia’s congressional delegation have an established history of avoiding critical questioning.

“The great thing about the three congressmen I’ve seen is they sidestep every issue no matter what you ask them about, if you can even find them to ask them,” she said. “I saw three different events over the holiday weekend that Congressman [David] McKinley and Congressman Jenkins showed up at, and the minute somebody questioned them on health care, you saw them turn away or walk away.”

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, Rep. Alex Mooney, and McKinley, all Republicans, did not respond to interview requests for this story.

One state politician who was willing to comment on the remarks. U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said while the tweetstorms aren’t likely to slow down anytime soon, they’re too harsh and unwarranted for his liking.

“They’re just horrific, I wish they wouldn’t happen, but that’s what we’re going to live with and we’ve got to learn to work around it,” he said.

He added it’s Trump’s right to speak his mind, and while he wishes the president might change up the subject matter or slow down with his Twitter use, such is unlikely.

“We just weren’t raised that that was acceptable behavior,” he said. “To this day, I still don’t believe it is acceptable behavior. But again, I’ve got to work, as you might think, around it, or do something. I’m not going to condemn somebody, it’s just not acceptable behavior in my eyes or how I was raised.

“You don’t see me condemning or raising all kind of Cain, I just wish it wouldn’t happen and I think it’s something unbecoming of any of us.”

A spokesman for Mooney said in a statement Trump’s use of social media allows him to share his conservative message, that he did so on the campaign and it shouldn’t surprise people to see him continue to do so. He did not respond to questioning about whether Mooney approves of the substance of the recent Tweets.

Different press freedom associations, meanwhile, are weary of Trumps’ rhetoric in light of escalating tension between politicians, the public at large and the media. Alexandra Ellerbeck, an Americas program researcher with the Committee to Protect Journalists, said lawmakers have always served as a check and balance on the executive branch, and it’s troubling to see them evading questions about these attacks.

“I think it’s concerning that a representative would dismiss concerns about press freedoms so quickly,” she said. “…I think that representatives and congressmen have frequently answered questions about the behavior of the executive branch, they do that all the time when it touches on important issues like freedom of the press. I think it’s part of their role to field those concerns from the media who is actually being targeted by this rhetoric.”

To that point, Biafore noted she regularly took heat for President Barack Obama’s administration’s less popular moves, and as much is part of the job.

Other press associations issued statements on the matter as well.

“We condemn the president’s threat of physical violence against journalists” said Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in a statement. “This tweet is beneath the office of the presidency. Sadly, it is not beneath the president.”

In an almost metaphysical sense, Conrad Lucas, state Republican party chair, said the fact that news outlets are covering Trump’s tweets are a sign of his ability to drive the national conversation. While his policy-oriented tweets tend to not pick up the traction his lashes do, Lucas said going after a critical news media can help his policy aims in a way.

“He’s done an effective job of discrediting those who oppose him in the media via Twitter, and that is perhaps part of a larger policy goal,” Lucas said. “If he’s able to discredit individuals and his natural detractors with under 140 characters, then it seems as if he’s doing a good job of that.”

Lucas, who has said he’s considering running for Jenkins’ seat in the third district himself, said he realizes if he decides to run, he’s likely to need to publicly opine on Trump’s words and actions. After reviewing the Brzezinski tweet specifically, Lucas said Trump probably could have made his point in fewer words.

“I think he could have gotten his point across without that comment,” he said.

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