Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) has been part of former Governor Haley Barbour’s political machine for decades, a fact likely conservative Republican challenger Chris McDaniel is sure to highlight in the much anticipated rematch with that machine in 2018.
Wicker’s role as an influential yet beholding cog in Barbour’s Mississippi Republican establishment machine was solidified in 2007 when he was appointed by then-Governor Barbour to replace Senator Trent Lott (R-MS), who resigned just one year into a six year term to begin a lucrative career as a K Street lobbyist.
“I am a mainstream conservative in the mold of Trent Lott, Thad Cochran, Chip Pickering and Haley Barbour,” Wicker stated when he accepted the appointment.
Wicker’s relationship with the Barbour-Lott-Cochran Mississippi establishment was long-standing and well known, as the Guardian reported at the time:
Wicker brings strong name recognition to the table as well as significant influence on Capitol Hill, where he served on the House appropriations committee. A former aide to Lott, he is also personally close to Mississippi’s senior senator, Thad Cochran.
The junior senator from Mississippi has been a fixture in Washington, D.C. for many years.
Wicker first showed up in Washington, D.C more than 50 years ago, where he “held his first job in the Capitol in 1967 as a page for Democratic Rep. Jamie L. Whitten,” Roll Call reported.
He became a loyal member of the Lott-Barbour-Cochran Mississippi Republican establishement 37 years ago in 1980, when “he went back to Capitol Hill to serve as House Rules Committee counsel to Mississippi Republican Trent Lott.” After a few years he returned to Tupelo, Miss., and in 1987 was elected to the state Senate.
He’s been a political player in Mississippi ever since.
“He returned to Tupelo, Miss., and in 1987 was elected to the state Senate,” the Guardian reported.
Then, 23 years ago, in 1994 he went back to Washington, D.C. when he was elected to the House of Representatives, and he has been there ever since.
In the 10 years he has served in the United States Senate, his voting record has been more liberal than his Republican peers there (Heritage Action gave him a 52 percent rating in the 114th Congress, below the average Republican senator’s rating of 56 percent), and he has aligned himself closely with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
In fact, in 2016 he was named chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, where he has worked closely with one of McConnell’s leading political operatives, Ward Baker:
Leading the confab with the incumbents and their chiefs of staff were incoming NRSC Chairman Roger Wicker, the Mississippi senator elected to the position a week earlier, and Ward Baker, the 2014 political director who was promoted to executive director for the new cycle. Unlike the past four NRSC administrations, this one is charged with defending a Senate majority.
Wicker paid tribute to his long term mentor Lott when he took on that position, as Roll Call reported:
Wicker said he would be reaching out for advice about his new role to the other chairmen of the GOP campaign committees and to former Virginia Rep. Tom Davis, who once chaired the National Republican Congressional Committee. But among his first bit of outreach before the leadership elections was to Lott.
“He called some time ago and wondered what I thought,” Lott told CQ Roll Call. “I said, ‘Golly, Roger, why would you want that job? It’s the toughest job in the Senate leadership.’ But he felt like he could do the job, and he asked if I had any advice. I said, ‘Well, do your whip work.’ And apparently he did.”
“I’ve known Roger since he was in college,” Lott continued. “Roger has always done well in anything he’s done.”
Throughout his long career in Washington, Wicker has remained loyal to Barbour.
Perhaps nothing better illustrates that loyalty than the help Wicker provided to Barbour and current Democratic Governor of Virginia Terry McAuliffe in securing EB-5 visas for Chinese investors in the controversial Mississippi-based GreenTech Automotive, a bipartisan crony-capitalist debacle that has unraveled so completely that the State of Mississippi is now suing to recover the $6.4 million it loaned the venture when Barbour was governor of Mississippi.
As Cause of Action noted in a devastating 2013 report:
As GreenTech Chairman, in an email to then-Governor Haley Barbour, McAuliffe cited efforts by U.S. Senators Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) to pressure the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Alejandro Mayorkas into fast-tracking EB-5 visa applications that would provide Chinese investments for GreenTech.
McAuliffe sent numerous emails to Director Mayorkas and Douglas Smith, Departmentof Homeland Security’s assistant secretary for the Office of the Private Sector, expressing frustration with USCIS’ slow visa approval process. Smith attendedGreenTech’s groundbreaking at its temporary Horn Lake facility, where McAuliffe also privately met with President Bill Clinton and Chinese investors.
Anthony Rodham, brother of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is President and CEO of Gulf Coast Funds Management (Gulf Coast) the country’s largest Regional Center for processing EB-5 investments, and the manager of EB-5 investments for GreenTech.
In June 2014, after Barbour’s political machine orchestrated a number of last minute campaign tactics that many believe stole the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate from Chris McDaniel and handed it to incumbent Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS), whose current absence from Washington due to continued health issues has now become another stumbling block holding up the enactment of the Trump agenda, Wicker vigorously defended those tactics:
Mississippi’s junior senator and other GOP senators defended Sen. Thad Cochran’s win in the Mississippi Republican Senate runoff Tuesday night, saying that the strategy helped broaden the party’s appeal. . .
“Going out and broadening the base of the party asking more Mississippians to participate in the ballot that was going to determine the next senator? No, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that,” he said when asked whether Cochran’s overt appeal to minority and Democratic voters was a bad move.
Wicker noted that 90 percent of eligible voters in his state hadn’t voted in the primary, so both campaigns sought to increase their support. “Chris grew his vote, Thad grew his vote. You look at the pool and start looking at eligible citizens. I am thrilled that we broadened the base. I am thrilled that both candidates increased their vote in a runoff – unheard of,” he added.
Asked about McDaniel’s decision not to formally concede the race, Wicker would only say, “I made it clear early on that I was going to endorse and support the winner. Sen. Cochran made it clear that he was going to support Sen. McDaniel if he won. We’ve got some healing to do,” he said.
Conservatives in Mississippi have a long memory, and those comments are likely to come back to haunt Wicker in 2018, especially if McDaniel is his challenger in the Republican primary.