On nearly any other day in Washington, Republican Congressman James Comer would likely be calling for oversight investigations into the Biden administration.
But on Wednesday, Comer — who represents Kentucky’s 1st District and is the top Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform — accompanied President Joe Biden throughout his trip to Kentucky to survey damage in the wake of deadly tornadoes.
Comer’s congressional district includes Mayfield and Dawson Springs — two towns the President visited where tornadoes had ripped across neighborhoods, destroying homes and businesses.
The Republican congressman’s appearance next to a Democratic President marked a rare moment of putting politics aside. The moment was propelled by tragedy, with at least 71 people dead in the state in the wake of last weekend’s extreme weather.
During his speech in Dawson Springs, Biden briefly thanked the congressman for giving him a “passport” into his district.
Biden also reaffirmed his frequent call for unity during the trip, saying, “People just come out of nowhere to help as a community, and that’s what it’s supposed to be. That’s what America’s supposed to be.”
“There’s no red tornadoes or blue tornadoes. There’s no red states or blue states when this stuff starts to happen. And I think, at least in my experience, it either brings people together or really knocks them apart,” he continued.
CNN has asked Comer’s office for comment on the trip.
Kentucky’s entire congressional delegation, which has only one Democrat, was invited to travel with the President, according to the White House.
The delegation includes Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as well as Republican Sen. Rand Paul. Both Paul and McConnell were in Washington on Wednesday for Senate votes and are expected to return to their home state later in the week.
In Washington, where he leads Republicans on the House Oversight Committee, Comer has said the business dealings of the President’s son, Hunter Biden, will be a top priority if the House majority is flipped, calling the first son “a national security threat.” He’s criticized the Biden administration for the US’ chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan as well as the President’s approach to border security. And he’s asserted that Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, has been granted “the ability to unilaterally set foreign policy and bind the United States to international agreements without consent from Congress.”
On the House floor in recent days, Comer sparred with House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, over the investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia and Hunter Biden’s business dealings.
The district Comer represents heavily leans toward Republicans. Voters in the state chose Trump in the 2020 presidential race and Comer’s district has been represented by Republican members of Congress for more than 25 years.
Tragedy, unfortunately, can be a rare unifying force in politics. And though comparatively trivial beside death and destruction, those moments of comity can be politically consequential.
Notably, then-New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie commended then-President Barack Obama, a Democrat, in 2012 following Hurricane Sandy.
Christie credited Obama for springing into action to meet his requests, thanking him and calling it a “great working relationship to make sure we’re doing the jobs that people elected us to do.”
Christie’s praise, along with photos of Obama placing his hand on the governor’s shoulder, became a political cudgel for opponents within his own party, including its eventual leader.
During a presidential rally in 2015, then-GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump said he thought his rival was “going to vote for Obama” when he saw the image.
“I don’t call it a hug, I call it a hug mentally. It was like — it was unbelievable,” Trump continued. “He was like a little boy: ‘Oh, I’m with the President.’ Remember he flew in the helicopter and he was all excited to be in the helicopter? I said, ‘I would have put you in my helicopter. It’s much nicer.’ “
Known for the same kind of polarizing and controversial moves as many far-right House members, Comer is a Trump supporter. He campaigned for Trump ahead of the 2020 election and voted against impeachment following the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol.
But Comer had told The Washington Post in 2017 that he wasn’t sure if “this Trump thing” was sustainable.
Asked if it was difficult for Biden to prepare to visit a conservative-leaning area, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday that the President looks at the victims “as human beings, not as people who have partisan affiliations.”
“I wouldn’t say it’s hard to prepare, I would say the President just wants to send a clear message and stand by people in these communities as they’re going through this difficult time,” she said.
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