McConnell camp denounces ‘race-baiting’ attack on his wife

Kentucky Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell’s re-election campaign on Tuesday accused a liberal group of “race-baiting,” after the organization, Progress Kentucky, charged that his Taiwan-born wife, Elaine Chao, had helped send American jobs to China during two terms as labor secretary.

Progress Kentucky, which is advocating for McConnell's defeat in 2014, denied its comments were racially motivated. A spokesman said the group was drawing attention to actions the Senate minority leader had taken that benefited China at the expense of American workers.

The sharply worded back-and-forth began with a Feb. 14 tweet.

The link took readers to a piece from a newsletter published by radio host Jeff Rense, accusing Chao of making "racist remarks" against American workers in a July 2007 Parade magazine article.

In that piece, Chao, who helmed the Labor Department under President George W. Bush from 2001-2009, seemed to channel overseas employers' complaints about U.S. workers.

"American employees must be punctual, dress appropriately and have good personal hygiene," she said. "They need anger-management and conflict-resolution skills, and they have to be able to accept direction. Too many young people bristle when a supervisor asks them to do something."

In a statement, McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton said Progress Kentucky "should be ashamed of themselves" for the tweet.

"It is unconscionable that anyone would use blatant race-baiting for political gain," Benton said. "We hope all Americans can agree that these disgusting tactics have no place in American politics as we try to bring people together to solve our difficult problems."

Shawn Reilly, Progress Kentucky's executive director, rejected the charge of race-bating.

“Benton’s statements are an attempt to divert attention from the fact that Mitch McConnell has engaged in the selling of the American middle class overseas for decades,” Reilly said in a statement.

Chao, who came to the United States as a child, was the first Asian-American woman to hold a Cabinet post. She and McConnell married in 1993. She is currently a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Progress Kentucky's Twitter feed also includes links to media interest in actress Ashley Judd, a Democrat who has said she may challenge McConnell next year. Other tweets attack McConnell as a "lying, hypocrite, obstructionist" and highlight business activities of his father-in-law, James Chao, a shipping company owner with ties to Chinese officials.

In another tweet, the group asks whether McConnell is "too close to China" and links to a piece quoting a Chinese dissident expressing concern about Elaine Chao's appointment as labor secretary. And in another, the person handling the account seems to signal uneasiness with a supporter encouraging Progress Kentucky to train its sights on Chao. It doesn't last long.

Criticism of China's economic policies is a mainstay of political discourse in Washington on both sides of the aisle—Ohio's senators, Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican Rob Portman, have joined forces on legislation targeting what they charge are unfair Chinese business practices that cost American jobs.

(Hat Tip: Louisville NPR affiliate WFPL)