Congressman Andy Harris, R-Md.-1st, simply won’t restrain his extremist, far-beyond-the-mainstream behavior in Congress.
Just last week, the so-called “Freedom” Caucus Republican met infamous Holocaust denier and notorious white nationalist Chuck Johnson. There is a photo on the web of Harris and Johnson on Capitol Hill. Harris claims he met with this odious anti-Semite to discuss “DNA sequencing.”
This would be laughable, were it not so serious and part of a long-established pattern. A 30-second search on Google would have shown Harris — and his large staff, who no doubt he would like to blame — the nasty reputation of exactly who he was engaging with.
How encouraged Johnson must have been to win face-time and a public photograph, which went viral showing Harris and another hard-right congressman with Johnson at the Capitol.
Harris talked with Johnson literally one day after Harris had, at long last, joined in criticism of his good friend and longtime Freedom Caucus ally, Congressman Steve King of Iowa, by voting, with all other Republicans and Democrats, to condemn King’s latest outrageous bigoted remarks. Hardly a difficult call after King’s hateful comments.
But Andy Harris, in addition, showed how unfit he is to represent the people of District 1. The next day, after meeting Johnson, Harris voted to lift punitive U.S. sanctions on Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of Vladimir Putin, Trump’s favorite strongman.
Tellingly, Republican House leaders voted with Democrats to keep the sanctions on Deripaska. Not our Congress member. Did he conveniently forget that the shady Deripaska had paid convicted felon and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, millions of dollars, which special counsel Robert Mueller investigated? But then Manafort gave money to one of Harris’s past campaigns.
We should hardly be surprised at these alarming associations, since Harris continues to vehemently back Hungarian strongman Viktor Orban, divisive prime minister of Hungary, rightly called a noted “neo-fascist” by the late Sen. John McCain. Orban, who used anti-Semitic tropes to win re-election, is another of Andy Harris’s tawdry heroes.
District 1 electors once had an honorable Republican congressman, former Marine Wayne Gilchrest, who represented them for a decade and, briefly, they had a moderate to center-right Democrat in Frank Kratovil. Were it not for the shameful gerrymander by Martin O’Malley of District 1 and Tea Party Harris’ nasty negative primary attacks on Wayne Gilchrest, Harris would not enjoy a majority of votes in each election.
It is less than two years till the next election, in November 2020. And it is high time this gerrymander was changed and the District 1 boundaries revised to provide a palatable democratic choice to voters.
Republican voters need to wake up to the fact that Harris, now in the minority in the Congress, never a committee chairman, and who never passed a law, does not and cannot serve their interests.
Harris, in the past two weeks, has voted down every attempt to get the government opened again. This loud-voiced onetime “deficit hawk” also voted against the latest farm bill, and he firmly supports the damaging agricultural sanctions that Trump has put on China and that provoked the Chinese to cancel wheat and soybean sales from Maryland farmers, which may drive some of them out of business.
It is time for Dr. No/Dr. Do Little to go. The evidence above, in just the last few weeks, shows that Andy Harris, extremist, never changes his spots. Republicans of District 1 need to stand up for democracy with a small “d.” We do not need Steve-King-Lite.
Michael McDowell is a former CBC and BBC journalist and project director at the Aspen Institute and Carnegie Endowment. George Shivers is professor emeritus at Washington College. They both live in Chestertown.