House Republicans promote 2022 candidates with histories of scandals

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The National Republican Congressional Committee's 'Young Guns' include an ethically challenged former Trump Cabinet member and Proud Boys defenders.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and the National Republican Congressional Committee announced their first eight "Young Guns" candidates for the 2022 elections on Monday — the designation used by House Republicans to indicate their most-promising endorsed nonincumbent candidates.

But at least three of the eight have come under fire for their past behavior.

Monica De La Cruz is a Republican candidate in Texas' 15th Congressional District after losing a 2020 House race. The Washington Post reported Tuesday that she was accused in court filings last month of "cruel and aggressive conduct" toward her teenage stepdaughter, including verbal abuse and pinching.

In an email to the American Independent Foundation, De La Cruz called the allegations "false" and said she is "heartbroken that as we work through some mental health issues that involve a minor this deeply personal matter is now being exposed in the national press."

Derrick Van Orden, who also lost a 2020 race, is running in Wisconsin's 3rd Congressional District. During his last race, he faced questions about a section of a book he published in 2015 in which he recounted exposing a male soldier's scrotum to two young women. In June, he was accused of bullying a teenage library staffer over an LGBTQ Pride display.

Van Orden's campaign did not immediately respond to an inquiry for this story but previously claimed his alleged sexual harassment was just medical training and that he supports equal rights for all but objects to "people who continue to divide us as Americans for political purposes."

The group also includes scandal-plagued former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who is running in Montana's 2nd Congressional District. Zinke resigned from President Donald Trump's Cabinet at the end of 2019 in the face of numerous ethics investigations. Zinke denied alleged conflicts of interest and any other wrongdoing.

The National Republican Congressional Committee website lists a secondary group of "On the Radar" GOP congressional candidates who "show potential" in competitive races.

These include at least four candidates with questionable incidents in their backgrounds.

State Rep. Walt Blackman is running in Arizona's 1st Congressional District, hoping to challenge Democratic incumbent Rep. Tom O'Halleran. In October, CNN reported that Blackman had participated in a rally in support of the Jan. 6 Capitol rioters in September and in his remarks at the event defended the Proud Boys, a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated extremist hate group.

"Let me tell you something about the Proud Boys. The Proud Boys came to one of my events and that was one of the proudest moments of my life," Blackman told the crowd. "Not because of what the media portrayed them to be, but the patriots they showed young people: the example on how to be an American."

Blackman later told CNN that he condemns the group and "wasn't familiar with the totality and breadth" of their conduct.

Eli Crane is also running in that same district. Last September, after he appeared in an ad backing then-Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ), the Phoenix New Times reported the former Navy SEAL had previously defended the use of waterboarding in military interrogations and defended accused war criminal Eddie Gallagher, who was convicted of posing with a corpse but was promoted by Trump anyway.

New York state Assemblyman Colin Schmitt is running in his state's 18th Congressional District, hoping to challenge Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney. In January, he faced calls to resign from his current job after speaking to a group of pro-Trump protesters shortly before they traveled to Washington, D.C., ahead of the Jan. 6 insurrection. He defended them as "neighbors" who were not part of the violence and were "owed an apology for the attacks on me and the attacks on them."

Alek Skarlatos is running in Oregon's 4th Congressional District, hoping to again challenge incumbent Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio after losing to him in 2020. During that campaign, Salon reported Skarlatos had ties to an extremist group called Timber Unity, an anti-environment organization reportedly linked to the Proud Boys, QAnon, and others on the far-right fringe.

The American Independent Foundation reached out to the NRCC and each of the candidates for comment. Only De La Cruz had responded as of publication.

These endorsements come as several top-tier GOP candidates in other races for House and Senate have been accused of domestic abuse.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.