Cunningham Takes On McConnell, Fights Offshore Drilling In Eventful District Visit

August 9, 2019 by Dan McCue

Freshman Representative Joe Cunningham, D-S.C., certainly didn’t expect to be taking on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., let alone talking about gun control, when he returned to his South Carolina district for the August recess, but after mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio his first weekend home, the turn of events made it impossible to do otherwise.

Rubbed raw, as most people were from the senseless killing of 32, Cunningham was dumbfounded by McConnell’s response to the tragedy on Twitter, in which the Senate leader acknowledged the “entire nation” was horrified by the “senseless violence.”

“Then do something about it,” Cunningham Tweeted in response.

“We sent you a bill requiring universal background checks and a bill that closes the Charleston loophole. But you refuse to bring it up for a vote. If you’re really horrified, let’s start there,” the representative said.

Later, still angry, Cunningham told the State newspaper, “I don’t give a damn about the politics of this issue.”

“I was elected to protect the people of the Lowcountry, not the gun lobby. And the safety of your family is more important than the electoral safety of any politician,” he said.

The legislation Cunningham referred to is a House-passed bill he and fellow South Carolina Democrat, House Majority Whip James Clyburn sponsored in the wake of the slaughter of nine black parishioners by an avowed white supremacist at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church.

If it were to pass the Senate and be signed by the president, it would close a loophole in federal law that allows a gun purchase to go forward if a federal background check has not been completed after three days.

Had the loophole not existed, the church shooter, Dylann Roof, would not have been able to buy the gun with which he carried out the massacre.

In the same interview with the State, which took place just before Cunningham was to take the stage at a town hall meeting at Patriot’s Point in Mount Pleasant, a suburb of Charleston, the representative also rebuked McConnell for not bringing to a vote a separate House bill requiring universal criminal background checks for all gun purchases.

“The vast majority of Americans support background checks for the purchase of firearms, and here in Charleston we’re still trying to heal from the massacre that occurred at Mother Emanuel,” Cunningham told the newspaper.

Later that night, Cunningham would attend a downtown vigil to honor those killed in the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton.

While there he’d say, “I don’t think there’s one, singular cure for this.”

“First and foremost we’re going to have to put an end to this divisive and hateful rhetoric that spews into our homes, through media and through our elected officials, through public officials,” Cunningham said.

Such is the life of a concerned member of Congress in complicated times. In its own way, the long scheduled town hall in Mount Pleasant was also an emotionally charged event for those who gathered for it.

During the meeting, which was attended by the members of several local environmental groups, Cunningham sounded as if he is already back on the campaign trail, focusing on the issue – the threat of oil and gas exploration off the South Carolina coast – that enabled him to flip a previously safe Republican district and go to Washington.

“We ran a campaign about not just saying ‘no’ to offshore drilling, but saying ‘hell no,’” Cunningham said, inspiring many attendees to erupt in loud cheers.

“We know if the past can teach us anything, when you drill, you spill. And we don’t want to expose our shoreline to that,” he said.

Cunningham noted that 14 East Coast governors and more than 250 towns and villages up and down the coast have resolutions opposing offshore drilling and seismic blasting. He also noted that opposition to the drilling plan espoused by the Trump administration, is as bipartisan as it is unwavering.

“In an age where Democrats and Republicans are having trouble finding anything to agree on, this is one of those things we can all agree on,” he said.

As for Cunningham’s impending re-election campaign, the Charleston Post and Courier has reported he already garnered the support of 314 Action, a PAC that seeks to support congressional candidates with science or environmental backgrounds.

The group spent more than half a million dollars to get Cunningham elected in 2018, and has already indicated it will likely make a similar investment over the next year.

“For us, Joe Cunningham is one of our front-line candidates, and we are going to make sure we do everything we can do to defend his seat,” said Josh Morrow, executive director of 314 Action, in an interview with the Post and Courier. “It’s no secret the Republicans are targeting this race as an opportunity for them. They’re going to spend heavily to try and beat Joe. We’re going to spend equally as much to ensure Joe gets elected.”

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