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What Dems’ House takeover means for Georgia lawmakers


When U.S. Rep. Doug Collins first announced his bid to lead the powerful House Judiciary Committee, the Gainesville Republican presented a vision that included advancing prison reform legislation, overhauling immigration laws and bolstering intellectual property protections. 

But Democrats’ House takeover has forced Collins to readjust his pitch to his fellow Republicans. Relegated to running for ranking member instead of chairman, Collins is now highlighting his defensive chops against energized Democrats weighing an endless string of subpoenas and potentially impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. 

“We can get stuff done if they’re willing to work, but if they want to simply showboat or play to their socialist base then that’s not going to work,” Collins said in a post-election interview. “We’re going to fight hard for the president and Republican values on that committee.”

Collins isn’t the only Georgia lawmaker whose D.C. plans were dramatically altered by last week’s election results. 

More than a half-dozen local Republicans are now grappling with being in the minority for the first time in their Washington careers, and the future of one GOP lawmaker, Rob Woodall of Lawrenceville, remains in limbo as local elections officials sift through previously-rejected absentee ballots. 

Meanwhile, the delegation’s more senior Democrats have begun readying their plans for new leadership positions and potential oversight work over an administration they had been all but powerless to challenge for the last two years. 

Here’s what the Democrats’ House takeover could mean for members of Georgia’s congressional delegation: 

Democrats 

Georgia’s five D.C. Democrats will enjoy substantially more power with their party in control of the House for the first time in eight years. Several are in line to lead powerful subcommittees, including Albany Democrat Sanford Bishop. 

The 25-year House veteran is aiming to become the chairman of the Appropriations panel that funds the Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration, a position that would give him immense influence over his former Georgia Senate colleague Sonny Perdue. The two have maintained a close relationship since Perdue was sworn in as Trump’s ag secretary, but the duo notably split on food stamps after Perdue endorsed a House GOP effort to boost work requirements for some recipients.

U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, appears poised to take over a House Judiciary subcommittee that would give him oversight over the federal courts system, information technology and patent and trademark law. A Johnson spokesman said he plans to focus on issues such as copyright law, diversity in film and media and judicial ethics. Johnson would also notably gain subpoena power, a tool he previously said could be used to further investigate Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Johnson is also expected to be a key player as the committee more broadly moves to investigate Trump’s firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the president’s handling of the Russia investigation and potential business conflicts of interest. The panel would also lead any impeachment proceedings against the president. 

The most senior member of the Georgia delegation, Atlanta Democrat John Lewis, said he plans to use his position on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee to push for an investigation into Trump’s tax returns. He also wants to “revisit” aspects of the GOP’s tax cuts. 

“I think we should take a serious look and analyze what the tax cuts did and failed to do,” Lewis said in a recent interview. 

Lewis, who led a sit-in on the House floor in June 2016 after a mass shooting in an Orlando nightclub, said he would also like House Democrats to “do something” on gun control, as well as advance legislation restoring key provisions of the Voting Rights Act that were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013

Atlanta Democrat David Scott is expected to maintain a senior spot on the House Agriculture Committee as chairman of the subcommittee that oversees commodity exchanges and rural development. 

And then there’s Lucy McBath, the newest member of the Georgia delegation. The Marietta Democrat, who edged out Karen Handel in the 6th Congressional District last week, has not discussed her specific plans for the new Congress but campaigned heavily on gun control and safeguarding Obamacare.

Republicans 

The Democratic takeover will mean massive changes for the state’s nine House Republicans, all but one of whom have not been in Washington long enough to have served in the House minority. 

Unlike the Senate, the lower chamber is majority-rule, which means the minority party is often entirely locked out of the decision-making process. In addition to casting far more “no” votes on the House floor, there are also a bevy of smaller indignities that come with being in the minority, including crummier office space and fewer plum committee assignments. 

That’ll mean less clout for the House Freedom Caucus, of which Monroe Republican Jody Hice is a member, and fewer chances to see their priorities enacted into law. Junior lawmakers could lose their slots on top committees such as Armed Services or have a harder time gaining a foothold on others such as Ways and Means. 

Before the midterms, Tom Graves was waging a dark-horse bid for chairmanship of the House Appropriations Committee. Now the Ranger Republican is pining for the far less powerful position of ranking member, selling himself as a disruptor who will stand up to the committee’s Democrats rather than blindly bowing to the panel’s deal-making culture. 

"This role requires a new mindset," Graves said in an email to House Republicans last week. "We do not have the luxury of pulling punches or preaching bipartisanship. Democrats will give us no quarter and do us no favors. It's time to fight."

And then there’s Collins, who has campaigned for the better part of a year for the Judiciary position. He’s considered the favorite among the GOP leaders who will help make the selection, but a wrinkle was added earlier this week after Trump reportedly intervened on behalf of ally Jim Jordan. 

Collins said he’ll fight hard against any Trump investigations but is willing to be more collaborative with Democrats on certain policy issues like intellectual property.

One bipartisan bright spot could be prison reform. Collins has quietly worked for more than a year with Democratic colleagues and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner on a bill that essentially mirrors Georgia’s state-level effort. With Sessions out and the Senate nearing a bipartisan deal of its own, a version could become law in the months ahead. 


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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.