ProgressKentucky is a progressive group that first made headlines by announcing its intention to fund a tea party candidate to run against Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) in the 2014 primary. On Tuesday, the group’s leadership tried to defend itself after a series of tweets this month referencing the ethnicity of McConnell’s wife, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, and her father’s business ties to China.
Kentucky public radio station WFPL has the story:
In a Feb. 14 Twitter message, Progress says: “This woman has the ear of (Sen. McConnell)—she’s his wife. May explain why your job moved to China!”
The Tweet links to a website run by conspiracy theorist and radio host Jeff Rense, alleging Chao, who was born in Taiwan, discriminated against American workers during her tenure.
Other messages from Progress’s social networking account about Chao have run for the past several days, saying her “Chinese (money)” is buying state elections. According to campaign finance records, members of Chao’s family donated $80,000 to the Kentucky GOP last year.
Chao was labor secretary for the entirety of George W. Bush’s eight-year tenure. She is now a distinguished fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank. Her father, who fled China for Taiwan after the Communist Revolution, founded the New York-based Foremost Group, a shipping company.
The tweets in question:
Curtis Morrison, a spokesperson for the group, told WFPL the tweets were not a big deal.
“It’s not an official statement. It’s a Tweet. And we will remove it if it’s wrong,” he told the station. “I follow Ashley Judd on Twitter and she removed a Tweet the other day, she Tweeted to you Phillip. People make mistakes in Tweets. It happens. Inferring that Elaine Chao is not a U.S. citizen was not our intention.” (Judd is widely thought to be considering a run against McConnell in the 2014 general election.)
Morrison told the station ProgressKY “was trying to show how Chinese interests influence McConnell’s decision-making, but admits the super PAC may have crossed a line and offended Asian-Americans residents.”
Republicans say the tweets are a very big deal. Jesse Benton, a spokesperson for McConnell’s campaign, told WFPL the tweets amounted to “race-baiting” and said ProgressKY “should really be ashamed.”
“Progress Kentucky strongly denies that the organization has engaged in any such thing,” Shawn Reilly, executive director of Progress Kentucky, said in a statement. “Benton’s statements are an attempt to divert attention from the fact that Mitch McConnell has engaged in the selling of the American middle class overseas for decades.”
Reilly did not respond to a follow up call about the tweets.
The NRCC piled on, calling on Democrats up and down the line to repudiate the tweets.
“This disgusting attack and this organization must be condemned immediately by top Democrats across the board, including Jim Messina, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, DSCC Chairman Bennet, and DCCC Chairman Steve Israel - not to mention Senator Schumer and Senator Reid,” said NRCC spokesperson Brad Dayspring.
The woman who answered the phone at the Kentucky Democratic Party headquarters told TPM all the staff were out for the day and couldn’t be reached for comment.
Update: Kentucky Democratic Party chair Dan Logsdon rebuked the Progress Kentucky.
“There is no question that Sen. McConnell needs to go, and that Kentuckians deserve someone in the Senate who is working to bring all Kentuckians a brighter future,” he told TPM. “However, these kinds of comments are deplorable and have absolutely no place in Kentucky, and frankly are just the kind of divisive politics that Sen. McConnell himself has used for too long.”