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Republicans Mostly Shrug Off Bill Maher Threat

King, above, isn't afraid of being targeted by Maher. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
King, above, isn't afraid of being targeted by Maher. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

If Bill Maher’s announcement that he would be trying to oust a member from Congress was meant to scare Republicans, it doesn’t seem to be working.  

Republicans expressed little trepidation at the prospect of Maher putting his influence — and his HBO show — into the effort of ejecting them from Congress as part of his plan to “flip” a district.  

Maher’s executive producer, Scott Carter, told The New York Times they wanted to pick a truly competitive race and would likely pick a Republican to target.

Rep. Steve King, the Iowa firebrand known for making provocative statements — like the one about the calf size of illegal immigrants carrying drugs across the border — has been a frequent target of Maher already. But King didn’t show any fear Wednesday at the prospect of becoming the comedian’s pet project.

“I think he should run for office, that’s what I think,” said King, who won re-election in 2012 with 53 percent of the vote. “He’s got a safe seat right now. Anybody that’d put their name on the ballot is deserving of our respect, so let’s see if I can start to respect Bill Maher.”

King added that if Maher decided to run, “then all the comedians can make fun of him.”  

That’s not to say that every Republican wants to take on the cable comedian.  

Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia, who faces a tough Democratic challenger in former Pentagon official Suzanne Patrick, wasn’t about to trash the HBO star.  

“The idea that he could influence a number of people is not in dispute,” Rigell said.  

The second-term Republican said many people, “in particular many young people,” are getting their news from Maher, “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” and he said it was “not wise to provoke someone.” Freshman Andy Barr, R-Ky., who eked out a victory over former Democratic Rep. Ben Chandler in 2012 with 51 percent of the vote, gave perhaps the answer you would expect — he is focused on doing the job he was elected to do.  

“And I don’t worry about what Hollywood says about me or any other member of Congress,” Barr said, adding that he is “too busy” with his work for Central and Eastern Kentucky “to worry about what other people in Hollywood or elsewhere around the country are saying.”  

House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., who was the leading force against an amendment that would have ended the National Security Agency’s blanket collection of phone metadata, won his 2012 re-election with 59 percent of the vote.  

CQ Roll Call caught up with Rogers and moderate New York Republican Michael G. Grimm, who recently threatened to throw a reporter off a balcony , as the duo came out of the bathroom during Tuesday afternoon votes.  

“I think he ought to stick to Hollywood,” Rogers said of Maher.  

“I concur,” said Grimm, who won his re-election bid with 52 percent.  

Republicans in some of the safest districts had a reaction akin to “bring it on” — even though Maher seems intent on targeting more vulnerable members.  

Asked if he was afraid, Missouri Republican Rep. Jason Smith said “absolutely not.”  

“Try a district that’s a plus-17 Republican district,” he challenged.  

Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., who has represented his conservative Tennessee district since 1988, dismissed Maher.  

“Bill Maher is an extremist on the far-left in American politics,” Duncan said. “He’s out of step with all but a very small minority in this country, and certainly I don’t think he could ever be elected to anything anywhere.”  

Rep. Cory Gardner of Colorado suggested Maher wasn’t particularly popular in his district either. “I would welcome him and share with him all the things that make my district great,” he said.  

When asked whether Maher’s stated affinity for marijuana, which is newly legalized in Gardner’s home state, might draw him to the district, Gardner said he’s not worried.  

“That, in my district, is not too popular either,” he said.  

Republican Lynn Westmoreland, who sits in a safe Georgia seat and was unopposed in 2012, made it clear he wasn’t afraid of Maher, but, ever the politician, he wasn’t about to condemn or provoke him.  

“This is a free country, and I mean everybody’s open to run,” Westmoreland said.  

Daniel Newhauser contributed to this report.

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