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Freshman U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell of Dryden turned heads last week on Twitter by criticizing President Donald Trump’s comments about a white supremacist rally in Virginia, but the Macomb County Republican made clear this week he is not part of the #NeverTrump contingent.

“I support the president and what he’s trying to achieve in terms of policy,” Mitchell told reporters Tuesday in Lansing, where he endorsed Shelby Township Clerk Stan Grot’s bid to be Michigan’s next secretary of state. “I support most of the policies he’s put forth.”

Mitchell noted he has disagreed with some of Trump’s budget proposals, including a plan to scrap funding for the $300 million Great Lakes Restoration Initiative that was restored by congress. But he reiterated their shared interest in overhauling the federal health care law, reforming the tax code and addressing crumbling infrastructure.

“There will come a time when I disagree with him …, but people should not interpret that as I suddenly turned into what some might refer to as a Never Trumper,” Mitchell said. “That’s ridiculous. This isn’t a personality cult. This is about policy, moving things forward in Washington, and we need to focus on those things.”

Mitchell last week took exception to Trump’s assertion there were “some very fine people on both sides” of a white nationalist protest and counter protest in Virginia that erupted into violence. The president also condemned white supremacists and Neo-Nazis but suggested not all of the protesters fit those descriptions.

“You can’t be a ‘very fine person’ and be a white supremacist @POTUS,” Mitchell wrote on Twitter. He declined to elaborate Tuesday.

“One of the problems the president gets into is he answers questions parsing what he meant by his statement,” Mitchell said. “I’m not going to do that. I think it speaks for itself.”

Grot likes absentee, not no-reason

Shelby Township Clerk Stan Grot waffled on a high-profile election policy issue Tuesday even though he was spent months preparing his run for the Republican nomination for Michigan secretary of state.

Grot introduced a six-point “voter integrity” plan in January, but he was less sure at the Michigan Capitol on an absentee ballot issue that has sparked considerable debate in Lansing.

Asked by a reporter where he stands on the prospect of no-reason absentee voting in Michigan, Grot initially said he’d prefer to “let the voters decide” and indicated he would be unlikely to advocate for expanding absentee voting if elected secretary of state.

But the Macomb County Republican later changed his tune, suggesting he might be open to a no-reason absentee voting plan if there are “a lot of safeguards” in it to protect against fraud.

Current GOP Secretary of State Ruth Johnson supports what she calls a “secure” form of no-reason absentee voting, but the Republican-led state Senate failed to take up related legislation the House approved in 2015. Her GOP predecessor, Terri Lynn Land, proposed early in-person voting as a “logical first step” toward no-reason absentee voting, which is now allowed only with a valid excuse.

Asked his general thoughts on early voting, Grot told reporters he likes absentee voting as a local clerk, “because every time we can bank a ballot, it’s less headache for a clerk at the polling location.”

“I’m not sure if it’s called early voting, but I call it absentee voting,” he said. “Clerks call it that.”

Under current law, Michigan voters can request an absentee ballot for six specific reasons, including old age or plans to be out of town on Election Day. They must list a reason on their signed request. In his experience, voters follow the law by citing a legitimate reason “to some extent,” Grot said.

“I’ll be very honest with you, I had people that came in and told me that, ‘I’m going to have to pick and choose because I’m not sure which one fits me,’” he told reporters. “They do that, yes, they do that. At least my voters in Shelby Township are very honest.”

Carson’s rally appearance

Detroit native Ben Carson made a surprise appearance at President Donald Trump’s Tuesday rally in Phoenix, where he made an impassioned plea for unity while likely breaking a federal law.

Carson was officially introduced at the rally as the secretary for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The announcement effectively leveraged his Cabinet position at a political event, which likely violated the Hatch Act, according to the Washington Post.

The Office of Special Counsel advises federal employees: “Do not engage in political activity while on duty or in the workplace. ... Federal employees are ‘on duty’ when they are in a pay status, other than paid leave, or are representing the government in an official capacity.”

At the rally, Carson used his upbringing in the Motor City to highlight his unity message. The 65-year-old retired neurosurgeon discussed growing up facing hatred.

“Our lives are too short to let our differences divide us,” said Carson, the only African-American in Trump’s Cabinet. “Our differences are nothing compared to our shared humanity and the values that unite us.”

Banks may run for Senate District

Democratic former Rep. Brian Banks of Harper Woods has formed a campaign committee to start raising money for a potential state Senate run in the 2nd District – a seat held by embattled Sen. Bert Johnson, who has been federally indicted over an alleged “ghost employee.”

Banks, 40, resigned from office in February in a plea deal with the Attorney General’s office over an issue involving a fake pay stub to get a $7,500 bank loan.

Johnson, meanwhile, has been accused of funneling money to someone he listed on his payroll but who prosecutors contend did not actually do any work for his office. Johnson has pleaded not guilty.

Banks was elected to the state’s 1st House District twice despite prior criminal convictions. After resigning, he remained politically active.

His most recent push was helping 1st House District candidate Tenisha Yancey – who has a criminal past of her own – win the Democratic primary to face off against Republican and Libertarian candidates in the November general election in a heavily Democratic-leaning district.

Banks also helped Latisha Johnson in her bid for the Detroit City Council and is involved in a political action committee that donates to various political candidates.

Contributors: Jonathan Oosting, Richard Burr and Michael Gerstein

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