Hanna's Critique of Trump Reflects Challenges for Claudia Tenney By Luke Perry
The contrast between Congresswoman Claudia Tenney (R-NY 22) and her predecessor, Richard Hanna, is stark. Both are Republicans, but differ on many issues surrounding Trump’s First 100 Days.
Hanna spoke at Utica College on March 9. He questioned Trump’s war on the media and executive actions regarding immigration and refugees, reminding the audience that Tenney once claimed: “I was Trump before Trump.”
Hanna was the only sitting GOP Congressman to endorse Hillary Clinton, choosing her over Trump primarily because of competence. Tenney supported Trump because of his leadership skills, rather than Clinton, “the poster child for corruption and cronyism.”
Upon taking office Congresswoman Tenney promised to support much of President Trump’s agenda, including repealing the Affordable Care Act, financial deregulation, tax breaks, and renegotiating trade deals to help bring jobs to upstate New York. Hanna said the GOP’s lack of readiness to lead after winning control of the White House and Congress has become seemingly obvious.
Tenney supports Trump’s executive action regarding immigrant and refugees, dismissing the “political hysteria,” and believing this was a wise and necessary step to enhance national security. Tenney considers herself an advocate for refugees and did not think the actions were anti-Muslim or anti-refugee.
Hanna recognizes the inherent difficulty of vetting people from certain countries, like Syria, but believes these actions sent “an inappropriate, unsophisticated message to the world.” People are being “taught to see immigrants as criminals” while propagating the “myth we are not vetting people well in this country.”
Hanna claimed the president’s emphasis on loyalty illuminates the authoritarian nature of his administration and defended the press in Trump’s self-declared war on the media. Its “ability to release and expose information constitutes one of the single most important components of democracy.”
Hanna has clearly become more outspoken after deciding not to run for reelection. Though out of politics, at least for now, Hanna's concerns reflect a potential challenge for Tenney and should not be understood as a unique case.
Tenney won the GOP nomination in a contested, three way primary in which a majority of Republicans voted for someone else. She has clearly tied her political future to Donald Trump, which helped her get elected as Trump carried the district by 15 points.
Importantly, however, representatives in this district have long been more moderate than Tea Party or Trump conservatives. This could make reelection more difficult than it seems even with incumbency advantage.
If Trump falters, Tenney fails to win over the Hanna faction of Republicans, and enthusiastic liberals elevate turnout in urban areas, 2018 or 2020 could prove to be more competitive than the recent open seat.
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Chair and Associate Professor of Government at Utica College.