By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, who helped lead GOP objections to President Donald Trump’s loss and came under fire for remarks he made preceding the attack on the U.S. Capitol, on Wednesday stressed his support for Trump as he began his Senate bid but declined to commit to supporting Sen. Mitch McConnell for GOP Senate leader.
The north Alabama firebrand is seeking the seat that will be vacated when Sen. Richard Shelby retires. He ran for Alabama’s other Senate seat in 2017 but finished third in the primary when he faced a barrage of attack ads from a McConnell-aligned super PAC that accused Brooks of disloyalty to Trump. This time out, Brooks said things are different,
“This time I have an established reputation that people can discern that, ‘Yep, Mo Brooks has been beside Donald Trump’s side through thick and thin over the last four years trying to advance the Make America Great Again agenda,’ ” Brooks said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Brooks, who in 2017 referred to McConnell as a “swamp king” said his vote for GOP Senate leader would go to the most conservative candidate. He also disagreed with McConnell’s assessment that Trump was morally responsible for the violence at the Capitol.
Brooks, 66, doubled down in support of Trump’s unproven claim of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election and maintained there is no evidence so far of a link between the Trump rally and the riot that followed at the U.S. Capitol.
The outspoken Congressman has come under fire for telling the pro-Trump rally that preceded the Jan. 6 Capitol riot that it was time to “start taking down names and kicking ass.”
Brooks said Wednesday that the phrase, said as he was wearing a hat reading “Fire Pelosi,” was intended to fire up the crowd for the next election cycle and is being misconstrued as advocating the violence that followed.
“Anyone with a brain larger than a pea knew that I was not advocating violence,” Brooks said Wednesday.
Shelby announced earlier this year that he would not seek reelection in 2022, igniting what is expected to be a messy GOP primary at a time when the national Republican Party is trying to chart a direction following Trump’s departure.
Brooks joins former Trump ambassador Lynda Blanchard in a Republican primary field that is expected to attract several other hopefuls. Others sometimes mentioned as potential candidates are Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill and Shelby’s former chief of staff, Katie Boyd Britt, who now heads an influential business lobby.
Brooks has served five terms in the House, where the former prosecutor joined the conservative Freedom Caucus. He serves on the Armed Services Committee and Science, Space, and Technology, two important committees for his north Alabama district.
Brooks told The AP that he had spoken to Trump many times about the Senate race, but declined to say if he had asked Trump for an endorsement or if he expects the former president to weigh in on the race.
“Let’s wait and see what President Trump does when he decides to do whatever he is going to do,” Brooks said.
Former Trump adviser Stephen Miller threw his support to Brooks at the Monday rally. Miller was widely viewed as the driving force behind the Trump administration’s hardest-line immigration policies. “Nobody has had President Trump’s back more over the last four years than Mo Brooks,” Miller said.
The blunt congressman has a history of controversial remarks. In 2014 he accused Democrats of engaging in a “war on whites.”
In what could be a war of a GOP primary, Brooks is leaning hard into his combative image, “America can simply not afford senators who cower in their foxholes when the political battles are being fought.”
“I am seeking the position of the United States Senate because I believe our country is at risk. I fear for our country’s future more so than any time in my life,” Brooks said.