Trump staffer Gibbs launches campaign for Congress in district held by Meijer

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Republican John Gibbs, a software engineer who served as a housing official in the Trump administration, announced this week he is running for the U.S. House in the west Michigan district held by freshman U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer. 

Gibbs, a Michigan native from Lansing, was nominated last year by former President Donald Trump to serve as director of the Office of Personnel Management, but the Senate never confirmed him to the post. 

Republican John Gibbs is running for Congress in Michigan's 3rd District

After his nomination last year, CNN reported a number of inflammatory tweets by Gibbs from 2016, including a debunked conspiracy claiming that John Podesta, who managed Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign, participated in a satanic ritual.

Based on archived versions of Gibbs' Twitter feed, CNN also reported that Gibbs criticized “cucks,” a derogatory slang word used by some to insult establishment conservatives, and he described Democrats as the party of "'Islam, gender-bending, anti-police, 'u racist!'"

Gibbs' campaign did not immediately respond Friday to email requests for comment.

He was questioned about his rhetoric when he appeared before a Senate committee last year, including by Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, who asked if Gibbs regretted his previous comments. 

“I regret that it’s unfortunately become an issue,” Gibbs replied. "Like all Americans, I have political opinions that I've expressed in the past. But I'm very proud to say that during my service in the government, I've always led in a nonpartisan manner. I've always treated people fairly and never allowed any type of discrimination.'

As a Black man who experienced discrimination, he also said he would not tolerate it as personnel director for federal employees.

Gibbs told Peters he would sit down with the Muslim groups upset with his nomination, and "I believe if they got to know me, they would realize quickly that I'm not the kind of person would ever tolerate any type of discrimination based on religion, or any other type of factor."

Meijer of Grand Rapids Township has attracted at least three other primary challengers since he voted earlier this year to impeach Trump for his role in instigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Meijer's campaign declined to comment Friday. 

Gibbs' campaign website says he's been "called, for the sake of our state and our country, to the high purpose of serving my community in Congress, in Michigan’s 3rd Congressional district."

Michigan is in the middle of redistricting based on the 2020 Census count, so it's unclear what the contours of the 3rd District might ultimately look like. The existing district includes Ionia, Barry and Calhoun counties along with portions of Kent and Montcalm counties.

Gibbs on his site touts a number of GOP issues such as opposition to abortion, Second Amendment rights and election integrity and also bashes President Joe Biden, using the expression, "Let's Go Brandon!" — a conservative code phrase meaning "“F— Joe Biden.” 

Gibbs served for more than three years at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development where he was acting assistant secretary for community planning and development, overseeing 700 employees and an $8 billion annual budget.

His former boss, Detroit native and HUD Secretary Ben Carson, tweeted his support for Gibbs on Friday. 

"John Gibbs is the type of person we need in Congress," Carson tweeted. "He's pragmatic, compassionate & firm in his beliefs which are driven by God & duty to country. John served under me for 4 years at HUD and was an outstanding leader who can get things done."

The White House said last year that, before his time at HUD, Gibbs did nonprofit work in Japan and implemented homeless outreach strategies for Japanese churches. 

"I wanted to make a difference in combating the high suicide rate and other social ills in that nation," he told the Senate hearing last year.

Gibbs also worked as a software engineer in Silicon Valley for Symantec, Palm and Apple, including working on the first version of the iPhone, and wrote academically on the application of behavioral economics to policymaking, according to the Trump White House. 

Gibbs' website says he is the grandson of Black sharecroppers from the deep South, and the first in his family to attend college. He has a bachelor's degree in computer science from Stanford University and a master's in public administration from the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government.

mburke@detroitnews.com