Political Insider

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The Jolt: Johnny Isakson, David Perdue split over Donald Trump’s tariffs


Georgia’s two U.S. senators have placed themselves on opposite sides of an internal GOP fight about whether to stop President Donald Trump’s tariffs.

Both Johnny Isakson and David Perdue had previously voiced displeasure over the commander-in-chief’s moves to impose duties on imported steel and aluminum.

But whereas Isakson signed on as a cosponsor of a bill from U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., that would require Congress to sign off on any tariffs levied in the name of national security -- which has allowed Trump to levy the tariffs on his own authority, Perdue on Tuesday said overruling the president was a mistake. 

“I’m tired of members of this body trying to undercut (Trump) at every turn and especially in the middle of a negotiating process,” he said in a 13-minute speech on the Senate floor.

“One thing you learn when you’re dealing internationally, you have to have respect of the person you’re negotiating with across the table. President Trump has earned that. What we’re beginning to do in this body is undercut that,” he said.

Perdue declared himself an unabashed ally of the White House in the fight over trade -- and engaged in some self-identification. “President Trump’s methodology indeed works,” Perdue said. “Like me, President Trump is an outsider to this political process. He is a business guy who spent his career successfully negotiating deals all over the world. For years, he has seen how American has often been treated unfairly when it comes to trade.” Watch it here:

Perdue’s speech came hours after Corker, seeing his bill blocked from consideration on the Senate floor, accused his colleagues of being too fearful of Trump to act on an issue that has otherwise unified most in the GOP. 

"We might poke the bear!" said Corker, emulating his colleagues, in a searing speech on the Senate floor. "My gosh, if the President gets upset with us, we might not be in the majority." 

Corker has far more freedom than most of his GOP colleagues, including Perdue and Isakson -- he’s retiring at the end of the year. But one big reality is impossible for even Corker to escape: Loyalty to Trump is far and away one of the biggest unifying factors in the Republican Party right now Far more than any policy issue such as trade. 

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The primary last night in South Carolina showed us both the limits and the extent of the Donald Trump effect in a GOP electorate that somewhat resembles Georgia’s conservative bloc. 

On one hand, Gov. Henry McMaster failed to avoid a Republican runoff against an outsider challenger, despite boasting a late endorsement from the president and a record of loyalty to him.

McMaster, who was the state’s lieutenant governor in 2016, was the nation's first statewide elected official to back Trump ahead of South Carolina's presidential primary.

He will face businessman John Warren in a June 26 match-up. 

On the other, U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford’s winning streak ended when he was ousted by a first-term state legislator. The president sent an Election Day message via Twitter with a strikingly personal dig at Sanford, writing that he is “better off in Argentina.”

The winner, Katie Arrington, had focused her campaign on Sanford’s criticism of Trump’s rhetoric. She charged that his less-than-total loyalty “offended” the president and deprived residents of the Charleston-based district a stake in key decisions. 

In his first-ever concession speech -- Sanford had never before lost a South Carolina election -- he said he didn’t regret his stands. 

"It may have cost me an election in this case,” he said, “but I stand by every one of those decisions to disagree with the president.”

Arrington, meanwhile, had a decidedly different take. At her victory speech, she unequivocally declared: “We are the party of President Donald J. Trump."

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You can see the Southern narrative that’s building. On Tuesday, Republicans in Virginia named Corey Stewart, a verbose fellow who has made a name championing Confederate symbolism, their candidate in the U.S. Senate Race. Stewart, an elected Prince William county official, will face Democratic incumbent Tim Kaine. President Donald Trump approves of the development.

In Georgia, we have Stacey Abrams, the Democratic nominee for governor, who has called for the removal of the bas relief carving of Jeff Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson from the face of Stone Mountain.

Come September, exploration of the contrast is all but guaranteed.

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Vice President Mike Pence will address the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas this morning. On Tuesday, representatives of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination voted down proposals to disinvite Pence -- or at least separate the religious body from the Republican party. From the Washington Post:

None of the four separate measures passed (a few were referred for consideration in the coming year). But historians say the effort was the first real controversy in the convention about a GOP speaker since the late evangelist Billy Graham pushed for the invite of President Richard Nixon in 1972, and reveals the significant upheaval among conservative evangelicals about Trump and the mixing of partisan politics and religion.

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Many Georgia Republicans on Tuesday signaled they were pleased by news of Trump’s preliminary nuclear agreement with Kim Jong Un. But several also cautioned that the North Korean leader was offering few specifics about how his country would denuclearize. 

“The status quo has failed,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville. “I support President Trump’s new approach. Full denuclearization remains the goal, only time will tell if these negotiations bear fruit.”

Isakson called Trump’s meeting with Kim in Singapore a “good first step” but said it “should be the first of many steps.” 

“We have a long way to go, and we will need to see the details of this initial agreement and what could follow. We must make sure that any commitment made by North Korea to denuclearize is complete, verifiable and irreversible,” said Isakson, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 

Perdue, a major Trump ally, had signaled he was in lockstep with the administration ahead of the Singapore summit. But following a meeting with defense reporters on Tuesday, he expressed concern about Trump’s reported concession to stop military exercises with South Korea. 

Via The Hill newspaper: 

“I was surprised, frankly, because the president had said earlier that that was not necessarily going to be part of the first meeting,” the Senate Armed Services Committee member told reporters at a briefing in Washington, D.C.

“The coordination with South Korean military is absolutely critical.”

Perdue, who has lived in Singapore and China as a businessman before his political career, said it would “be terrible to throw on there any concession except for economic development” in negotiating the denuclearization of North Korea.

Perdue later indicated that he did not think the decision on the so-called “war games” would end up in the final U.S.-North Korea deal, according to the newspaper. 

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A pro-Casey Cagle super PAC has put $250,000 behind a new ad attacking Secretary of State Brian Kemp as “incompetent,” “insincere” and “untrustworthy.” The ad buy from Changing Georgia’s Future was made before Clay Tippins made public his secret recording of Cagle, but it surely comes at a fortunate time for the lieutenant governor’s campaign. 

Watch the ad here.

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On the other side of that coin: So far as we can tell, the Democratic Party of Georgia has become the first entity to put that secret audio recording of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and defeated GOP primary candidate Clay Tippens into a video format. Watch it here. We’ve asked how much money -- if any -- is being placed behind the spot.

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Former Seventh District candidate Kathleen Allen issued a searing 1,300-word press release last night about the two fellow Democrats remaining in the congressional contest, calling one an “oligarch” and the other insufficiently liberal. 

Allen said she’ll vote for Carolyn Bourdeaux, but stopped short of endorsing her because the GSU professor has not backed single-payer health care or a $15 minimum wage. She had far stronger words for businessman David Kim, who she said is “simply an oligarch,” citing his “troubling lack of voting history.” “He’s been a resident of Georgia since 2005 and only registered to vote for the first time a year ago. He never voted against President Trump, whom he rails against at every campaign event. He never voted for President Obama, or for or against any of the candidates who’ve run against Rob Woodall since 2010,” she said. 

Allen, a political organizer, came in fifth in last month’s six-person Democratic primary with 11 percent of the vote.

Update: Kim on Wednesday issued a long response to Allen’s snub, saying she unfairly characterized him with “misrepresentations and distortions” without chatting with him first. And he highlighted his work building his test prep company and his Korean-American roots.  

“Unfortunately her statement is based on assumptions and projections which are neither respectful or welcoming,” Kim said. “Kathleen, you do not know how hard it is as a person of color to be acknowledged for who you are and be belittled for your success earned through hard work and perseverance.”

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In Tuesday’s Jolt, we told you that the International Brotherhood of Police Officers would break with tradition to endorse a Democrat, Charlie Bailey, in the race for attorney general rather than Republican incumbent Chris Carr. Our AJC colleague Mark Niesse sent along this dispatch from yesterday’s press conference:

“He's been a warrior for justice throughout the city,” said IBPO Local 623 President Stephen Zygaj, an Atlanta police lieutenant. “He's the man for the job, plain and simple. Sometimes you need new faces and changes to improve relationships and to work harder.”

Carr also touts support from law enforcement. He previously announced endorsements from 26 district attorneys and 58 county sheriffs.

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U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, has walked back an endorsement he gave in the Rhode Island race for governor. The Democrat had backed incumbent Gov. Gina Raimondo, WPRI reported, but now says he would have held back had he known his “very, very good friend” Matt Brown was challenging her in the party’s primary. Brown is Rhode Island’s secretary of state and co-founded the youth service group City Year.

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U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, is test-driving a new strategy for federal belt-tightening this year. The Republican is using his perch as a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee to force federal agencies to sit on a pocket of money until the country balances its budget. Graves folded language into the fiscal 2019 Financial Services spending bill ,setting aside $580 million, or 2.5 percent of its total, for a “Fund for America’s Kids and Grandkids.” In a new op-ed on Fox News’ website, Graves said the fund could “set a tone for government funding bills.”

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A powerful doctors’ lobby has elected an Atlanta psychiatrist as its president. The American Medical Association tapped Patrice Harris, Fulton County’s former chief health officer, as its leader at its annual conference on Tuesday. Harris is the first African-American woman to be elected as head of the group.

Harris has a long history in Georgia. She is an adjunct assistant professor at Emory University and is a past president of the Georgia Psychiatric Physicians Association.


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