Brooks sparks controversy with Scalise shooting ad

© Greg Nash

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) released a new ad for his Senate campaign Monday that uses audio from the June shooting that injured House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), a controversial move that underscores the contentious race for an Alabama Senate seat.

The Republican side of that race has turned heated in the weeks ahead of the Aug. 15 primary, when nine candidates will compete for the GOP nomination to serve out the rest of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s term. But Brooks is facing criticism from his own party, as well as from those close to Scalise, for the controversial choice.

Brooks’s new ad opens with the sound of five gunshots ringing out at last month’s practice for Republican lawmakers before the annual Congressional Baseball Game. As the audio plays, text emerges on the screen linking the shooter to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), whose presidential campaign he volunteered for.

“June 14: A Bernie Sanders supporter fires on Republican congressmen. Mo Brooks gives his belt as a tourniquet to help the wounded,” the text on the screen reads.

Then, Brooks is shown speaking with reporters at the shooting. The ad characterizes the interview as coming from the “liberal media” as a reporter asks Brooks whether the shooting changed his views on guns.

“The Second Amendment, the right to bare arms, is to help ensure that we always have a republic. So no, I’m not changing my positions on any of the rights that we enjoy as Americans,” Brooks says in the footage.

Five people were injured in the shooting: two Capitol Police officers, a congressional staffer, a lobbyist and Scalise. Scalise remains in the hospital as he recovers from the gunshot in his hip. Last week, MedStar Washington Hospital Center announced that doctors performed surgery on Scalise to manage infection, and he remains in fair condition.

Some in Scalise’s camp slammed the ad as an attempt to use the shooting for political gain.

“I guess some people have their own ideas about what’s appropriate,” Scalise spokesman Chris Bond said when asked about the ad.

Scalise’s chief of staff, Brett Horton, tweeted that the ad “makes my stomach turn.”

In a series of tweets, former Scalise spokesman T.J. Tatum called the ad “beyond perverse.”

“That a sitting member of Congress believes this is even remotely acceptable is a sad and revealing commentary on the state of our democracy,” Tatum wrote.

Brooks defended the ad in an interview with NBC News, saying that “the truth is always appropriate.”

“Senate placeholder Luther Strange has made the Second Amendment right to bear arms a major issue in this Alabama Senate race. … And I believe this ad shows my conviction to defend the Second Amendment,” he said to the network.

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“It’s one thing to talk about defense of the Second Amendment, it’s another thing to have lived through an assassination attempt and to reaffirm your commitment.”

The ad hit airwaves on Monday and will run on broadcast and cable television, as well as on digital platforms, to boost Brooks’s bid for Sessions’s old seat. Sen. Luther Strange (R) was appointed to fill the seat in the meantime but now has to run for the right to fill out the remainder of Sessions’s term, which ends in 2020.

Strange, Brooks and former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore are considered the top candidates in that race, with two expected to move to a runoff after the primary if no candidate wins the majority.

Senate Republicans have decided to treat Strange as an incumbent, a controversial decision that’s raised eyebrows since he was appointed to the seat, rather than winning it in an election. That move has given Strange cover from the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC with ties to Senate GOP leadership.

So far, Brooks has been on the receiving end of a barrage of attacks from the Senate Leadership Fund and Strange for his past criticism of President Trump. During the GOP presidential primary, when Brooks was supporting Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), he called Trump a “serial adulterer” and said he could not support him.

With most polling showing Moore in the lead, Strange and Brooks have been engaged in a tough battle for the second runoff spot. But special elections, particularly primaries, are notoriously hard to predict or model, adding to the uncertainty.

One Alabama Republican who remains neutral in the primary told The Hill that Brooks’s ad seems like a push to “go big or go home” amid concerns about whether he’d make the runoff.

Brooks’s visibility in the shooting’s aftermath raised his national exposure months before the bid. He offered accounts of the shooting in its immediate aftermath, describing how he and others responded and remaining on the phone with CNN as the network spoke to him live for an extended period of time.

On air, he also described his efforts to use his belt as a tourniquet to stop the bleeding of a congressional staff member who was shot in the leg.

“Brooks got a big bump off that shooting incident, he got a million or more than a million dollars worth of free publicity,” longtime Alabama political commentator Steve Flowers told The Hill.

Brooks said in an interview earlier this month that attention from the shooting gives him “mixed emotions,” claiming that he won’t “bring it up” unless asked.

“If you noticed my speeches at these public events, I never bring up that event. If I’m asked about it — as you know, when I’m asked about most anything — I will respond to the question. But I don’t bring it up,” he said in an interview with Birmingham’s Talk 99.5.

While the ad is sparking controversy in Washington, veteran GOP strategist Doug Heye admitted that it could be effective for Brooks in the GOP primary.

“The ad could work, the [Second] Amendment is very popular with Republican primary voters, especially in Alabama,” Heye, a former Republican National Committee spokesman, said.

“I just think that whether it’s pro- or anti-gun control, footage from those events shouldn’t be used by any candidate.”

© Francis Rivera

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