NASHVILLE — U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise told state Republicans Friday night that while he remains "confident" the GOP will retain control of the chamber in November elections, they must boost their control of the U.S. Senate by electing people like Rep. Marsha Blackburn.
Citing the narrow 51-48 Senate approval of President Donald Trump's $1.5 trillion tax bill, the Louisiana Republican took direct aim at former Democratic Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, who has been critical of the law that made deep and lasting cuts in corporate tax rates while temporarily lowering taxes for individuals.
"He would have voted against the tax bill and he actually used Nancy Pelosi's language of the 'crumbs'," Scalise said, referring to the House minority leader's referring to the effect the tax cuts would have on many middle- and lower-income Americans. "That's what's at stake here."
Scalise spoke to some 1,800 Republicans gathered at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center for the GOP's annual Statesmen's Dinner fundraiser.
With polls showing a tight race so far between Bredesen and Blackburn for the seat now held by retiring Republican Sen. Bob Corker, a Chattanoogan, the congresswoman also criticized Bredesen.
"I am running to take our Tennessee values to Washington to help President Donald Trump," Blackburn said.
She charged Bredesen is "running to bring back the values of Barack Obama, Nancy Peolosi and Hillary Clinton."
State Democrats' Tennessee Victory 2018 spokesman Mark Brown fired his own shot across Blackburn's bow in a prepared response.
"Tennesseans deserve to know if Marsha Blackburn supports President Trump's job-killing tariffs. Yes or no," Brown said. "While Blackburn says "Let's wait and see," Tennessee businesses are being hit with higher costs and they will pass those along to Tennesseans in higher prices.
"For once in her Congressional career, Marsha should give us a straight answer," Brown added.
Republican gubernatorial candidates attending and speaking were U.S. Rep. Diane Black of Gallatin, Tennessee; Knoxville businessman and former state economic commissioner Randy Boyd; state House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville, and Franklin, Tennessee, businessman Bill Lee.
The Opryland ballroom was packed with GOP stalwarts in an election year in which Blackburn faces no major primary opposition, while four major Republicans are vying for the open governor's seat now held by the term-limited Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.
Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Scott Golden said the event raised an estimated $760,000, making it the third most successful dinner in the event's 42-year history.
This year's dinner chairman was Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, of Ooltewah, Tennessee. Fleischmann was responsible for securing Scalise, a friend, as the fundraiser's keynote speaker.
Scalise's Tennessee appearance comes almost exactly a year to after a gunman on June 14, 2017, opened fire on Scalise and others at a House Republican baseball team practice in Alexandria, Va.
A severely wounded Scalise spent weeks clinging to life before he slowly began to recover. Fleischmann, also a player on the team, was present but not shot.
Fleischmann described coming to his first Statesmen's Dinner in the 1980s and told the audience "I never dreamed I would someday chair this wonderful event."
"We've got to unify and get behind our Republican candidates and make sure our Republican candidates win in November," Fleischmanns said.
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