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Sen. Roger Wicker

Analysis: Wicker praises Trump as ’18 Senate race approaches

EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS

Facing a potential Republican primary battle in 2018, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi is stepping up his praise of President Donald Trump, who won the state with 58 percent of the vote last November.

When Trump spoke to the United Nations in September, Wicker said the president “was unapologetically clear and firm about America’s priorities, namely our resolve to counter a nuclear-armed North Korea.”

On proposed tax changes, Wicker said in a Sept. 27 statement: “One of my top priorities is to help President Trump reform our country’s broken tax code and ensure that Mississippi families keep more of what they earn. This particular proposal has the potential to make the economy roar, help job creators, spur innovation, and renew the spirit of the American Dream.”

Last week, Wicker praised Trump for issuing an executive order designed to change some health care regulations.

“President Trump’s actions will help give individuals and families the freedom to find the best rates for health coverage with increased competition and choice,” Wicker said.

State Sen. Chris McDaniel was backed by tea party groups when he came close to unseating Mississippi’s senior U.S. senator, Thad Cochran, in a bitter Republican primary in 2014. McDaniel is now considering a 2018 run against Wicker, and McDaniel is being supported by Steve Bannon, a former Trump adviser who is seeking to upend the Republican establishment.

McDaniel told The Associated Press last week that GOP congressional leaders, including Wicker and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, are trying to obstruct Trump on removing a 60-vote filibuster requirement, repealing and replacing the health care law enacted under former President Barack Obama and enacting significant changes to tax laws. McDaniel also said the GOP leaders are increasing the national debt.

“Just about every conceivable thing McConnell has done is counter to conservative beliefs,” McDaniel said. “Roger Wicker has been the yes man on that on every single vote.”

McDaniel said he intends to decide by late October whether to make a Senate run in 2018 or seek a state government office, probably lieutenant governor, in 2019. He said the Senate race has looked more likely since another Bannon-backed candidate, Roy Moore, defeated incumbent U.S. Sen. Luther Strange in the recent Alabama Republican primary.

McDaniel and Wicker differ on an issue that divides Mississippi voters — whether to keep the Confederate battle emblem on the state flag, where it has been since 1894. State flag design won’t be decided by federal lawmakers, but that won’t stop people from asking the candidates about it.

People who voted in a 2001 statewide election chose to keep the flag by about a 2-to-1 margin. But the flag and other Confederate symbols have come under increased scrutiny since June 2015, when a white man who had posed for photos with the Confederate battle flag killed nine black worshippers in a church in Charleston, South Carolina. Wicker was among a few Mississippi Republican leaders who advocated dropping the symbol from the flag to better represent a state with a 38 percent black population.

After Confederate battle flags were carried when white supremacists rallied this summer in Charlottesville, Virginia, Wicker was asked again about the state banner.

“I’ve said that it would be more unifying if we took the Mississippi flag and put it in a museum and replaced it with something that was more unifying…. That’s still my position,” Wicker said Aug. 14 in Jackson.

Days later, a Wicker ad said the senator opposes the removal of Confederate monuments.

McDaniel advocates keeping the Confederate battle emblem on the flag and keeping the monuments. He said Wicker is “playing political games.”

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