Michigan Republican Senate candidate notes places 'I disagree with' Trump

Republican John James, a rising star who is running in Michigan’s closely watched Senate race, underlined areas of disagreement he had with President TrumpDonald John TrumpMulvaney: 'We've overreacted a little bit' to coronavirus Former CBS News president: Most major cable news outlets 'unrelentingly liberal' in 'fear and loathing' of Trump An old man like me should be made more vulnerable to death by COVID-19 MORE, bucking a common trend among Republican down-ballot candidates who have sought to embrace the White House.

Speaking on a video conference with black community leaders last week, James was asked if there were topics on which he disagreed with Trump given the president has vociferously backed his Senate campaign. 

“Plenty, plenty of issues,” James said. “Everything from cutting Great Lakes funding to ‘shithole countries’ to speaking ill of the dead,” he remarked in an apparent reference to Trump's broadsides against the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe 10 Senate seats most likely to flip What does Joe Biden believe about NASA, space exploration and commercial space? The Memo: Activists press Biden on VP choice MORE (R-Ariz.).

ADVERTISEMENT

“I mean, where do you want to start?” he added. “And so, yes, there's gonna be places that I disagree with the president, and those are just a couple.” 

James, who is challenging Sen. Gary PetersGary Charles PetersThe 10 Senate seats most likely to flip The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump threatens coronavirus funds for states easing voting Pelosi blasts Senate GOP subpoenas MORE (D-Mich.), also pushed back against Democratic claims that he is being financially backed by Trump and Michigan power brokers, such as Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosThere is a way to determine risk in bailouts for higher education Bipartisan group of lawmakers calls on DeVos to issue guidance on child abuse reporting amid pandemic Trump assault on women's choice continues despite pandemic MORE.

“I haven’t gotten any money from Donald Trump. I haven't gotten any money from Betsy DeVos. I haven’t gotten any money — that’s political talking points. Very little of that is true,” James said during the appearance.

While James has not received any direct financial funding from Trump or DeVos, DeVos’s family has donated heavily to a super PAC that is backing his Senate run.

James's remarks were first reported by Politico and confirmed by The Hill.

ADVERTISEMENT

The comments come as James faces headwinds in his challenge to Peters, with polls showing the incumbent ahead of his challenger and Trump trailing former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Americans debate life under COVID-19 risks Biden set to make risky economic argument against Trump Hillicon Valley: Tech companies lead way on WFH forever | States and counties plead for cybersecurity assistance | Trump weighing anti-conservative bias panel MORE in Michigan, a crucial battleground state.

However, James maintained he was not attacking Trump.

“I do recognize it as human to disagree with people, and like I've said millions of times, I can agree with the president without worshipping him. I can disagree without attacking him, and having somebody who can bring stuff back home because they have an ‘in’ with all branches and we have a voice regardless of whose in the majority or who is in the White House — that's how we start to change things,” he said. 

“There's plenty I disagree with the President on. There's plenty I disagree with myself on. It's called a mistake,” he added. 

A campaign official told The Hill that James supports the president and that his remarks should not be interpreted as an effort to distance himself from Trump.

ADVERTISEMENT

“John James is willing to tackle tough conversations with voters. He is his own man who will point out when he agrees with the president as well as respectfully point out when he disagrees,” campaign spokeswoman Abby Walls told The Hill. 

The campaign also pointed to remarks James has made throughout the race, noting that he will run his own campaign and that he is neither beholden to the White House nor attacking it, suggesting his most recent comments did not buck a personal trend.

“This race isn’t about President Trump,” James said during the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference in September. “This race is about people in the state of Michigan who’ve been failed by their leaders for generations. This race is about people who are hurting in this state, and I’m going to make this race about Michigan.”

He also said this month that Trump has “done everything that he has thought was best” in his handling of the coronavirus and noted during his failed 2018 campaign against Michigan Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowThe 10 Senate seats most likely to flip Bipartisan senators introduce bill to make changes to the Paycheck Protection Program Democrats press USDA on worker safety at meat processing plants MORE (D) that he was “2,000 percent” behind the president.

Still, other Republicans running in down-ballot races have been loath to utter a negative remark about the White House, in part in fear of drawing fire from the president, who retains a tight grip on the GOP base.

The Michigan Democratic Party seized on James’s recent remarks, saying they were evidence he was “changing his tone” on the White House. 

“A failed politician who says one thing in public and another behind closed doors will continue to be a failed politician,” said Michigan Democratic Party spokeswoman Elena Kuhn.