Republican battle with MLB intensifies

Republicans are spoiling for a high-profile fight with MLB as they ramp up pressure on the league’s commissioner to reverse a decision to pull the All-Star Game from Atlanta over Georgia's new voting law.

GOP lawmakers are publicly scrutinizing Commissioner Rob Manfred’s membership at Georgia’s exclusive Augusta National Golf Club and threatening to take away MLB’s long-held antitrust exemption.

The fight is quickly spreading to other states as well, with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) saying he won’t throw out the first pitch at the Texas Rangers' home opener after MLB adopted “what has turned out to be a false narrative about Georgia’s election law reforms.”

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“It is shameful that America’s pastime is being influenced by partisan politics,” Abbott tweeted.

Conservative writer and radio talk show host Erick Erickson, who is based in Atlanta, called on other Republican governors to follow Abbott’s lead.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators Only two people cited by TSA for mask violations have agreed to pay fine Senators reach billion deal on emergency Capitol security bill MORE (R-Ky.) took a shot at soaring ticket prices at expensive ballparks like Yankee Stadium, where the average ticket price last year was $145, according to Statista.com.

“If needing to show an ID to vote is racist, perhaps NY Yankees tickets that average over $100 are discriminatory? Will ‘woke’ @MLB mandate free tickets to allow equal access?” Paul tweeted.

A couple hours later, Paul suggested a Republican-wide boycott of professional baseball.

“If @mlb is boycotting states that pass Republican election integrity laws, maybe Republicans should boycott Major League Baseball?” he tweeted.

The suggestion came after former President TrumpDonald TrumpMeghan McCain: Democrats 'should give a little credit' to Trump for COVID-19 vaccine Trump testing czar warns lockdowns may be on table if people don't get vaccinated Overnight Health Care: CDC details Massachusetts outbreak that sparked mask update | White House says national vaccine mandate 'not under consideration at this time' MORE on Friday urged his supporters to “boycott baseball and all of the woke companies that are interfering with Free and Fair Elections.”

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GOP strategists are confident that the MLB fight is a winning issue for Republicans.

“It’s good politics,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist.

“This is not the last time the Democrats are going to try to do this, bully corporate America into taking their side,” he said, urging Republicans to run TV ads in Georgia pushing back on claims of voter suppression and highlighting the economic impact on the state.

Republicans argue that Democrats and the media have dramatically overstated the provisions in Georgia’s new election law, especially when comparing it to rules in states like New York.

The decision to relocate the 2021 MLB All-Star Game is estimated to have a $100 million impact on the state economy, something that Republicans argue will hit many small and medium Black-owned businesses in the Atlanta area.

Chip Saltsman, a Republican strategist based in Tennessee, said “this is an unforced error by Major League Baseball.”

“They’ve forgotten who their base is, they’ve forgotten who buys a lot of tickets and, quite frankly, they spoke before I think they knew the details, the commissioner did,” he said.

“Six months ago, Georgia was a little bluer than usual and this tints it back to red,” he added, referring to the teetering status from a Republican-leaning state to one that voted for President BidenJoe BidenCDC chief clarifies vaccine comments: 'There will be no nationwide mandate' Overnight Defense: First group of Afghan evacuees arrives in Virginia | Biden signs Capitol security funding bill, reimbursing Guard | Pentagon raises health protection level weeks after lowering it Biden urges local governments to stave off evictions MORE in November and then two Democratic Senate candidates in January.

Some of the Republicans who are pouncing on the MLB issue most aggressively are lawmakers with an eye on running for president in 2024.

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioBreak glass in case of emergency — but not for climate change Democrats join GOP in pressuring Biden over China, virus origins Senators introduce bipartisan bill to expand foreign aid partnerships MORE (R-Fla.), a potential White House contender, published a letter to Manfred on Monday asking if he would resign his membership at August National, host of the annual Masters tournament, which did not allow a Black player to compete until 1975 and did not admit a Black member until 1990.

“I write to ask you whether you intend to maintain your membership at Augusta National Golf Club. As you are well aware, the exclusive members-only club is located in the State of Georgia,” Rubio wrote.

The Florida senator also asked whether MLB would suspend commercial ties with China and Cuba because of those countries’ records on human rights.

“Taking the All-Star game out of Georgia is an easy way to signal virtues without significant financial fallout. But speaking out against the Chinese Communist Party would involve a significant loss of revenue and being closed out of a lucrative market,” Rubio wrote.

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward Cruz228 Republican lawmakers urge Supreme Court to overrule Roe v. Wade GOP, Democrats battle over masks in House, Senate Human rights can't be a sacrificial lamb for climate action MORE (R-Texas), another potential White House contender in 2024, said he will join an effort to review professional baseball’s long-held antitrust exemption.

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“It’s a curious business decision, for MLB to announce that they hate most of their fans. Let’s see how that works out for them,” he tweeted on Friday.

Cruz circulated a list of official MLB sponsors and asked, “Do all or them oppose voter ID? Are all of them willing to be the woke enforcers of the corrupt Democratic Party?”

Scott Jennings, a Republican strategist based in Kentucky, said the decision to pull the All-Star Game out of Atlanta has become “a cultural flashpoint” that unifies Republicans who are otherwise often divided on policies like trade and immigration.

“Republicans see this as another one of these cultural flashpoints, a ‘whose side are you on?’ moment,” he said. “The Republicans largely defined themselves the last few years not really around policy but mostly on jumping on these moments. From that perspective, it makes a lot of sense.”

Trump famously picked a fight with ex-NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and other professional football players who knelt during the national anthem at the start of games to protest police brutality.

Then-Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceOfficers' powerful Capitol riot testimony underscores Pelosi's partisan blunder RealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Want to improve vaccine rates? Ask for this endorsement MORE even walked out of a game between the Indianapolis Colts and the San Francisco 49ers when several players took a knee.

In the current fight with MLB, Republicans are the “righteous on this one,” Jennings said.

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“The decision that was made by baseball was based on a complete lie,” he asserted. “The disinformation around the Georgia law is causing these corporations to make terrible decisions.”

Republicans have frequently pointed to an analysis in The Washington Post that said a section of the new law that created an additional mandatory day of early voting on Saturday and codified two days of early voting on Sunday actually “expanded early voting for many Georgians.”

The Post also gave Biden “four Pinocchios” for claiming the new Georgia law would end voting hours early so that working people can’t cast their votes after their shifts are over.

An analysis by The New York Times, however, identified 16 provisions in the law that it said would “limit ballot access, potentially confuse voters and give more power to Republican lawmakers.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden sets new vaccine mandate as COVID-19 cases surge Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire Trump takes two punches from GOP MORE (R-Ky.) weighed in more generally on Monday by warning corporate America not to get involved in high-profile political fights. 

“I found it completely discouraging to find a bunch of corporate CEOs getting in the middle of politics,” he said. “My advice to the corporate CEOs of America is to stay out of politics. Don’t pick sides in these big fights.”