A secretly recorded tape of U.S. Rep. Martha McSally talking to potential donors offers a rare glimpse into what the two-term Tucson Republican is thinking in the current political climate.

During the 63-minute recording made in late May at a closed-door meeting in Tucson, McSally tells the Arizona Bankers Association that since January, her critics have painted her with the same brush as President Trump.

“There’s just an element out there that’s just, like, so against the president. Like they just can’t see straight. And all of a sudden on January 20, I’m like his twin sister,” she said, in audio that was recently posted online by a grassroots political group called Indivisible Southern Arizona.

“I’m, like, responsible for everything he does, and tweets and says,” McSally continued. “And they want me to be spending my time as a pundit. ‘I disagree with that. I agree with this.’ I have a job in the legislature!”

“We’re doing the best we can through the minefield that we have to navigate with a tremendous amount of distractions out there.”

His tweets are a consistent distraction and were becoming a liability for the Grand Old Party, she added.

McSally, a retired Air Force colonel, said she doesn’t relish the politics, telling the bankers she finds “political theater” exhausting.

“I have to navigate the political theater, but I don’t breathe life into it, and I don’t enjoy it. To be frank actually, it drains me more than it fills me,” she said. “It sucks the life out of me.”

She said she’s not out being wined and dined all the time, and that she sleeps in her congressional office on a pullout couch and takes showers in a nearby building.

An analysis of key McSally votes shows that she votes 97.3 percent of the time in line with Trump’s position, according to FiveThirtyEight.com, a data journalism organization.

Despite winning 57 percent of the vote in her Southern Arizona congressional district last November, McSally acknowledged she is vulnerable.

“We’re going to hand the gavel to Pelosi in 2018; they only need 23 seats and the path to that gavel being handed over is through my seat. And right now, it doesn’t matter that it’s me, it doesn’t matter what I’ve done. It is just that I have an ‘R’ next to my name and right now, this environment would have me not prevail.”

She joked that in her Congressional District 2, it is easy to get 45 percent of the ballots.

“Generally no matter of who is on the ballot, 45 percent are going to vote straight ‘D’ and 45 percent vote straight ‘R’ and you have to win over the middle 10 percent. It is just the way it is in this district. We used to joke that if you put Mother Teresa and Charles Manson on the ballot, it would be 45/45. And then you switch ’em, it would (still) be 45/45.”

She complained about gerrymandering in Arizona, saying her district is one of the only competitive districts in the state, and noting that Tucson Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva doesn’t have to worry about a Republican taking his seat.

“The Republicans are never going to take him out of his district because this district is like a (Democrat) plus fifty district right now. This is not an option.”

She acknowledged that Republicans have strongholds in other districts, specifically pointing to Reps. Trent Franks and David Schweikert.

McSally said she believes the majority of the U.S. is slightly right of center.

“I think the country, on average, is center slightly right where they want the federal government to function in an appropriate but limited role to give an opportunity for people to be able to meet their full potential.”

She recounted her conversation with President Trump in which she described the A-10 “Warthog,” a mainstay at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, as a “badass plane with a big gun” and told him President Barack Obama wanted to kill the entire program.

“I told him, ‘Well, the last administration tried to put it in the boneyard’ which I said on purpose because you know he doesn’t want to do anything that the last administration tried. And I said, ‘But you’re going to have to pry it out of my cold dead hands, Mr. President.’”

McSally’s go big or go home moment appears to have worked, with more funding provided in the current National Defense Authorization Act and the Trump administration praising the Warthog.

Between war stories, McSally addressed one of the bankers’ hot-button topics, the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

“Within the public, there is often a perception that we had a financial meltdown and then Dodd-Frank was good, and it was, you know, saving us from future financial meltdown,” she said. “You guys are all experts in the industry, you know that’s not true, right, you know that really what Dodd-Frank did is provide additional compliance and legislative regulations and more burdens upon you doesn’t actually protect the consumer any more, it just adds more work and compliance.”

But McSally said she deferred to them as the experts on financial issues.

“This is not my wheelhouse. I mean, I know all enough about it to be able to speak at this level with you. I’m certainly not an expert in the industry, you know. If you want to talk about defeating ISIS, I’m your gal.”

Days later, McSally voted to kill Dodd-Frank.

Trump adviser
coming to Tucson

For 25 bucks, Southern Arizonans can get a front-row seat to hear from a major Donald Trump adviser, Roger Stone.

Longtime Trump associate Stone is scheduled to give speeches in Tucson and in Green Valley on Wednesday, July 26.

Stone is the subject and star of the documentary “Get Me Roger Stone.”

During the 2016 campaign he repeatedly made statements he was aware of forthcoming leaks from WikiLeaks. He has denied that he ever talked with Russian agents or Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks.

Tickets for the shows can be bought directly from the Pima County Republican Party.

No word on whether he’ll show off the famous tattoo of Richard Nixon on his back.

Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at jferguson@tucson.com or 573-4197. On Twitter: @JoeFerguson


Joe has been with the Star for six years. He covers politics as well as the city of Tucson and other municipalities in Southern Arizona. He graduated from the UA and previously worked for the Arizona Daily Sun.