Political Insider

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The Jolt: Jeff Flake's ouster could spell more silence from Ga. lawmakers

You’ll have to pardon us for the upcoming pronouncement, but Tuesday afternoon’s C-SPAN 2 was some must-see TV.

We know, we know. But seriously.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, considered one of the most vulnerable Senate Republicans running for reelection in 2018, stepped onto the floor and announced his retirement after only one term. He then proceeded to give one of the most blistering rebukes of Trumpism your Insiders have ever heard on the record from a GOPer. 

“Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has been excused as telling it like it is when it is actually reckless, outrageous and undignified," Flake said in a 17-minute speech. "When such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy."

Flake no doubt faced an uphill battle for reelection, with formidable challengers on both the left and the right, but his departure shows the extent to which the president and his supporters have reshaped Washington's political climate among Republicans.

Trump has been able to mobilize his allies against Flake and his other retiring GOP colleague, Tennessee's Bob Corker, after they spoke out against him. They would have struggled to win reelection. That puts other Republicans on notice: keep quiet or risk their political futures.

U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, explained it like this on Tuesday:

Trump "came out with a message of ‘make America great again,’ but nobody really defined what that meant. But everybody felt that America was not as good as it once had been ... and it could be better. And everyone interpreted it their own way. So they don’t necessarily look at Trump as an individual as far as what his beliefs are, what he says. But they’re behind his idea, which is a positive idea, looking over the horizon as we could be much better than we are today. And I think when I somebody in the same party comes out and openly criticizes him, the American people see that as you’re criticizing the idea of making America great again."

There are few Flake-esque elected officials in Georgia. Trump, you'll recall, did very well here in November, and many of the president's most ardent supporters constitute Georgia GOP lawmakers' own bases.

The state's Republicans on Capitol Hill have left little ambiguity about where their loyalties lie. They've all lined themselves up squarely behind Trump during his first months in office, even those who are considered to be more aligned with the so-called establishment ethos than Trump's more populist tendencies.

Those lawmakers have refrained from broadcasting their displeasure with the president when they disagree with him, for fear they could turn off the supporters key to their reelection. If they do break with Trump, they focus on the policy and not the man, if they comment at all. Flake's departure could further cement that pattern.

"I don’t know if it changes the ideological approach that we’ve been taking, but it may cause people to think twice just before they air their dirty laundry out in public," said Loudermilk. " I think what it may do is show folks we’ve gotta be focused on our common agenda, not personality differences. That’s really what it comes down to.” (Tamar Hallerman)


Back in Georgia, some of Trump's biggest supporters cheered the news of Flake's retirement, including Republican gubernatorial candidate Michael Williams:

The Georgia Democratic Party was also quick to pounce,using the occasion as an opportunity to once again ding Mary Norwood as a closet Republican.

The party launched a full-scale online attack against the city councilwoman earlier this month, labeling “Mary the Republican” as a far-right conservative who has a web of connections to GOP figures.

Norwood labels herself an independent and has led in recent polls ahead of the Nov. 7 contest. (TH)


Before the Flake news broke, much of the focus on Capitol Hill was Trump's revived spat with Corker. U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., who considers himself an ally to both, wouldn't take sides. He did offer this intriguing nugget in an interview with your Insider, comparing Trump to U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill:

"I think he’s misunderstood. People see him through the lens of Washington, and I don’t have that lens. I really liken him to a man like Winston Churchill. Winston Churchill didn’t fit that mold either, even though he was in politics and all that. But he was nobody’s choir boy at the time. He was a man of destiny who pulled that country together and survived one of the greatest debacles in their history. Here we’ve got, I believe, a man that’s willing to break some eggs in Washington. He doesn’t know what the traditions are or the rules or anything else. He’s just trying to get results. That’s why the people back home relate to that so strongly, I believe.”



We've got more details about a former Georgia Republican Party staffer who filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the GOP has settled with her former employer. Qiana Keith filed the lawsuit claiming that she overheard co-workers refer to her by using a racial slur, showed her disrespect and humiliated her. The  complaint was settled in September after a lengthy legal battle, but neither side would comment on what brought both sides to the table. Federal disclosures show that the Georgia GOP paid Keith's law firm $29,000 in late September to resolve the case. (Greg Bluestein)


Democrat Jon Ossoff made one of his first formal forays into state legislative politics with an endorsement of state Senate candidate Jen Jordan. The former 6th District candidate tweeted a video calling Jordan's  "highly qualified" candidate who will fight to strengthen Medicaid. She is one of eight candidates running to succeed state Sen. Hunter Hill, who is campaigning for governor, and she's picked up several other notable endorsements. (GB)


Georgia Republican U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Johnny Isakson went separate ways last night during a vote for emergency hurricane relief. Isakson backed the $36.5 billion disaster aid package, which would help finance recovery efforts for the victims of hurricanes Maria, Irma and Harvey. Perdue, whose home base of Sea Island was in Irma's path, was one of 17 GOP senators to reject the proposal. The freshman indicated his concerns were tied to the fact that would add to the deficit and not be offset. “Four words not in Washington’s vocabulary: ‘We cannot afford it,'" he said in a written statement. "Unless we solve our debt crisis, we won’t be able to deal with emergency situations, invest in our infrastructure, or fund any of our national priorities.” (TH)


Plenty of folks around the Capitol were wondering if an online gambling site had some inside intel when it published odds that made Atlanta the 2-to-1 favorite to land Amazon's new headquarters. The site Paddy Power, which specializes in sports and politics wagers, gave Atlanta the edge of Philadelphia, Boston and Toronto. Care to bet? (GB)

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that impact Georgia.