Thad Cochran Campaign: 'Sexist' to Ask Why Assistant Accompanied Him on Taxpayer-Funded Foreign Trips
Sen. Thad Cochran's (R-MS) re-election campaign asserts that questions about his extensive, taxpayer-funded travels with executive assistant Kay Webber are “sexist.”
"This is sexist,” Cochran spokesman Jordan Russell told The Clarion-Ledger. "Why are they questioning her qualifications? All members of Congress have aides that travel with them. If a male had been working with him for 33 years, would that be questioned?”
Russell’s comment to the local paper was in response to a report from Breitbart News late Monday evening. Breitbart News reported—through documents published in the Congressional Record—that Sen. Cochran took Webber on 33 taxpayer-funded congressional delegation trips, or CODELs, to 42 foreign countries.
Since 2002, they visited five of the world’s seven continents, skipping only Australia and Antarctica.
The countries they traveled to are Italy, France, Brussels, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Hungary, Russia, Norway, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Malta, Austria, and Czech Republic in Europe; Colombia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile in South America; Guatemala and Mexico in North and Central America; Japan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, the Republic of the Philippines, and South Korea in Asia; Turkey, Jordan, Israel, Azerbaijan, Oman, and United Arab Emirates in the Middle East; and Morocco, Egypt, Cape Verde, and South Africa in Africa.
Russell echoed comments he made to Breitbart News when he told The Clarion-Ledger that Webber makes about $140,000 per year, and as part of her duties she "attends official meetings and social functions when appropriate, relays information and action items back and forth to the senator's other staff and helps the senator maintain his travel schedule.”
“He said she deals with constituent requests in D.C., staffs his Capitol office, organizes events for constituents and has other duties that belie the title executive assistant,” the Clarion-Ledger’s Geoff Pender added, which is what Cochran’s campaign told Breitbart News previously.
While Cochran allies, former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and a spokesman for Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), have defended Cochran and Webber’s trips, no one has joined Cochran’s campaign in decrying questions about the travel as “sexist.”
Lott said he used to take his longtime aide Susan Wells on trips.
“Lott said that Wells, like Webber in Cochran's office, ‘handled just about anything and everything’ for his office,” Pender wrote, quoting Lott.
“[Wells] started out as a legislative assistant, then an appointment secretary, then got a lot of other responsibilities added," Lott said. "I think [Webber] has done that for Sen. Cochran over the years, coordinates a lot of the things he does, mans his Capitol office.”
Lott has not yet responded, however, to a followup email from Breitbart News asking if he agrees with Cochran that it’s somehow “sexist” to question the legitimacy of taxpayer dollars flowing to such travel for Webber with Cochran.
A spokesman for Cochran’s fellow Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker also has not responded when asked if he agrees with Cochran’s campaign that questions about this travel are “sexist,” but he did defend the travel in a comment to The Clarion-Ledger.
"It would be unusual for staff not to travel with senior members of Congress," Wicker spokesman Ryan Taylor said. "As such, Sen. Wicker is often accompanied by a member of his staff on official government travel.”
Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, declined to publicly defend Cochran, referring questions to Cochran himself when asked about the matter at a Tuesday press conference.
When asked, National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) spokesman Brad Dayspring also declined to publicly agree with the campaign’s accusation that it’s “sexist” for Mississippians to wonder why Cochran is using taxpayer money to take Webber around the world, instead referring Breitbart News to Cochran’s official Senate office.
Dayspring did, however, say the NRSC agrees with Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant—a Cochran supporter—who said on Tuesday, "I'm supporting Thad Cochran. Senator Cochran has done more for [Mississippi] than anyone I know in public service.”
The NRSC more-or-less automatically backs incumbent Republicans. But asked if the NRSC had vetted Cochran before the race began, Dayspring said McDaniel has vetting problems of his own.
It’s hard to imagine that Mr. McDaniel or the Washington, D.C., groups spending large sums on his behalf would want the Mississippi Senate race to become a referendum on candidate vetting, but since the question is being asked, hopefully Mr. McDaniel will agree to unlock the vault and release hundreds of hours of his radio commentary that have been extensively reported on. That kind of transparency may put to rest the persistent rumors and whispers that Democrats plan to use Mr. McDaniel's more controversial comments against him at an opportune moment.
Recently, several liberal media outlets reported on controversial statements McDaniel made when he was a radio host.The Wall Street Journal first reported that McDaniel once used the word “mamacita” on air, BuzzFeed found additional remarks, but there haven't been any new reports along that line since the initial spurt.