Markwayne Mullin takes his last risk: a candidacy for the Senate

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He was also the first House member to join Capitol police to respond to pro-Trump rioters trying to break into the chamber on Jan. 6, 2021, despite voting to not certify the election results of 2020. Then there was the physical confrontation at last year’s House GOP retreat between Mullin, a former mixed martial arts fighter, and a man who had verbally accosted Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo).

The man in question ‘tried to take off’ after showing up at the Orlando hotel where GOP lawmakers were staying and calling Boebert names ‘threatening, vulgar and disgusting’, Mullin said in a wide-ranging interview. . So Mullin pulled the man to the ground as he tried to leave the complex: ‘I do drugs [sic] bring it back and let the police take it from there.

Mullin would easily win the crowded Republican primary to succeed the retired senator. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) if it was based solely on who voters might want to hang out with. As it stands, the fifth-term daredevil faces real competition from other candidates, including Inhofe’s former chief of staff. Still, he’s leaning into his black belt in jiujitsu and his spot in the Oklahoma National Wrestling Hall of Fame, posting a recent campaign ad titled “You don’t want to fight him.”

And it opens in typical freewheeling style to his most publicized national moment: his unofficial attempt to cross into Afghanistan during the U.S. withdrawal last summer to evacuate a family from the war-torn country. war.

Mullin said he coordinated this effort, funded by private donors, with State Department and Pentagon officials. But as he explained, he began to run into obstacles that he blamed on the US government and, in response, cut off communications with them.

Shortly after he fell into obscurity, Mullin said, news reports emerged that he was missing – including a broadcast that showed his picture and described him as a missing congressman carrying a large bag of ‘money. Published reports of his attempts to enter Afghanistan, he claimed, put a target in his back and ultimately forced him to abandon his rescue attempt.

In typical uncensored style, Mullin is anything but coy about who he blames for leaking his location. The White House, he said, didn’t want him to show in real time that American citizens, like the family he tried to help, were left behind when the movie came out. army of Afghanistan.

“Without a doubt, they tried to kill me,” he said, alleging the White House deliberately put him in danger.

“All we were trying to do was just help get the Americans out because we had the ability to do that. Why is this a bad thing? Mullin added.

The White House referred questions about Mullin’s version of events to the Pentagon, where spokesman John Kirby said in a statement that the government was clear about its limited ability to support “uncoordinated travel to Afghanistan” and that he opposes ‘any suggestion’ that he was not trying to help save lives. The State Department highlighted its clear travel warnings to Afghanistan; a spokesperson said “the brave men and women of the American diplomatic and military corps worked around the clock” to protect and relocate Americans and their Afghan allies last year. “Not all statements to the contrary are based on fact,” the spokesperson added.

But the Republican, whose trip to the region alarmed officials at the time and who lambasted the State Department on Fox News after returning to the United States, said he knew the risks when he left . The father of six children, three of whom were adopted, had gone so far as to tell his wife Christie and two eldest sons that there was a good chance he would not be coming home.

And while Mullin has the support of his fellow Republicans, some of them privately chafe at his propensity to fight, regardless of the underlying political dynamics.

Fellow Oklahoma GOP Rep. Stephanie Bice describes Mullin as a “renegade”, acknowledging that his approach doesn’t always win him fans. Despite the controversy surrounding his trip to Afghanistan, she said “it really shows that he just wanted to be helpful.”

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) simply says, “He’s intense. And he’s always trying to figure out what he can fix or what he can do.

While Mullin said he longed to go to Ukraine amid the Russian invasion, he is staying in the United States this time around.

Hailing from the Cherokee Nation in eastern Oklahoma, Mullin draws on his persona as a rural rancher as well as his experience transforming a family plumbing business and creating hundreds of jobs in the state to stand out in the GOP primary. As staunchly conservative as he is, having voted with Trump most of the time between 2017 and 2020, he is not considered one of the former president’s biggest conference acolytes and he does not belong in the House Freedom Caucus.

According to a polling memo conducted by Cygnal for Mullin’s campaign, Mullin leads the other four primary candidates by double digits.

His habit of putting himself in harm’s way while trying to be helpful dates back to his own first term. Another Oklahoma Republican, Rep. Tom Colerecalled that while on a 2013 tour of his hometown after tornadoes tore through the area, Mullin decided to crawl “through all the rubble” to put out a hose spraying water into a damaged home.

Mullin brings his own unorthodox background to his job as a member of the House Intelligence Committee: He was among the House Republicans who, in 2019, walked into the chamber’s secure intelligence facility, known as the name “SCIF”, to interrupt the testimony of an official who was testifying as part of the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into then-President Donald Trump’s contacts with Ukraine. Mullin doesn’t regret it, arguing that Democrats treated Trump badly.

Mullin also won’t respond directly to the conclusion some of his colleagues have drawn from another part of his pre-Congress background — that he once worked as an intelligence community contractor, which gave him strength. experience in dangerous situations.

Asked to elaborate on this hypothesis about his past, Mullin replied only: “No.”

He is more open about his defense of Boebert during last year’s GOP retreat. After hearing Coloradan’s first term describe his encounter with the heckler, Mullin said he grappled with the man in question and then referred the situation to nearby Capitol police.

It was also not the first time that he defended his female colleagues. At a closed GOP conference meeting near the height of the #MeToo movement raising awareness of sexual harassment, Mullin stood up to warn fellow male lawmakers about how some of them were touching or talking to women in Congress, both members and staff.

Some GOP colleagues called the episode puzzling. But Mullin suggested he was talking to specific Republicans who were serving at the time, saying he also confronted those members privately and they were no longer serving in the chamber. (More than half a dozen members of Congress retired or resigned during the 115th Congress amid allegations of sexual misconduct, including five House Republicans.)

“I just wanted to let people know,” Mullin said, “that’s not right.”

Burgess Everett contributed to this report.

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