Speaker Ryan backs GOP’s Bergman on military experience

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Traverse City — President Barack Obama is “basically phoning it in” on national security, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said Monday in Michigan, telling local Republicans that retired Marine Corps. Lt. Gen. Jack Bergman has the kind of experience needed in Congress.

Ryan joined Bergman at a GOP field office in Traverse City, making a rare appearance in Michigan to help the party defend the 1st Congressional District seat held by retiring U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls.

Local officials said the Wisconsin Republican was also helping Bergman by appearing at a pair of local fundraisers, including a morning event on Mission Point Peninsula. The sprawling congressional district includes a wide swath of Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula and the entire Upper Peninsula.

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Bergman, a Watersmeet resident who has never held elected office, is facing a tough match-up in Lon Johnson of Kalkaska, former Michigan Democratic Party chairman. Supporters acknowledge the race is likely to be one of the closest in the state.

“We do not have a real strategy to take down ISIS, let alone a strategy to keep us safe here at home,” Ryan told roughly two-dozen Bergman volunteers and supporters. “... We need men and women who are dedicated to securing our homeland and keeping us safe by going on offense. I can’t think of a better person than Lt. Gen. Jack Bergman to help us.”

Democrats are heavily targeting the 1st District in their long-shot bid to regain control of the U.S. House. Republicans enjoy a 247-188 majority, including nine of Michigan’s 14 seats.

Ryan also attended a Monday fundraiser for incumbent Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, and spoke with reporters at the Oakland County International Airport.

Bishop “really hit the ground running” and is one of the “stars in our conference,” Ryan said, praising the first-term Republican, who is running for re-election in the 8th District against Democrat Suzanna Shkreli, an assistant Macomb County prosecutor.

Bergman scored a surprise victory in his Republican primary, beating state Sen. Tom Casperson of Escanaba and former state Sen. Jason Allen of Traverse City. Johnson coasted to a primary win after raising more campaign cash than any other congressional candidate in the state.

Ryan, stumping for Bergman, repeatedly jabbed the Obama administration as he touted the “Better Way” agenda he is pushing in Congress. The policy platform includes proposals for addressing poverty, the economy, health care and more.

Businesses, including northern Michigan cherry growers, are facing “stifling” regulations under the Democratic president, Ryan said. He said the Obama administration is “trying to claim jurisdiction over regulation of our farmers” through the Environmental Protection Agency’s rule the redefines what bodies of water can be regulated.

While Ryan has disagreed with Donald Trump on various fronts, he has also said electing the party’s presidential nominee will help Republicans get more of their proposals through Congress, an argument he echoed while making the case for Bergman.

“Please help us get this country back on track by helping us win this election, so we can get this agenda put into place, so we can meet the moment the way it needs to be met, by confronting our country’s challenges and not kicking the can down the road,” the speaker said.

The Johnson campaign on Monday suggested Bergman would help Ryan “in his schemes to privatize Social Security and turn federal Medicare dollars over to private insurance companies.”

“I will defend these programs from politicians like Jack Bergman and Paul Ryan who want to sell out our seniors and send their Social Security and Medicare dollars to Wall Street,” Johnson said in a statement.

Bergman said Monday that protecting Social Security is one of his top priorities “so we can keep our promises to our seniors.” He did not take questions.

“I consider issues from an outsider’s perspective that is in sharp contrast to my opponent, who was the ultimate insider as the chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party,” Bergman said.