Georgia lawmakers back bill to reopen government

Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Nearly all of Georgia's lawmakers cast votes Monday to reopen the federal government, just as state agencies announced plans to furlough thousands of workers.

All but two members of the state’s congressional delegation backed legislation ending the three-day government shutdown, which had sowed confusion among local federal workers, contractors and school systems, and prompted a deluge of calls to the lawmakers’ offices on Capitol Hill.

The compromise legislation would keep the government’s lights on through Feb. 8 and was accompanied by a promise from Senate Republicans to hold a future vote on legislation addressing the legal status of young unauthorized immigrants.

There was no similar commitment from House leaders, which worried the state’s most liberal representatives.

“This is something that we have an obligation to take up,” U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, said of language protecting so-called Dreamers who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. He voted against the proposal, as did Atlanta Democratic U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a frequent sparring partner of President Donald Trump’s.

The compromise to reopen the government was spearheaded by a bipartisan group of nearly two-dozen senators, including Republican U.S. Sen Johnny Isakson of Georgia.

“It’s an agreement to do our jobs,” Isakson said in an interview. “So we’ve got the shutdown out of our system and hopefully we won’t have any others.”

Georgia U.S. Sen. David Perdue also backed the bill, as did the state’s 10 House Republicans, who framed Monday’s vote as a clear-cut win for the party.

“The House (GOP) did exactly what we said we were going to do. We stayed unified,” said U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville, the House’s No. 5-ranking Republican.

The state’s two more centrist Democrats, U.S. Reps. David Scott of Atlanta and Sanford Bishop of Albany, supported the proposal, citing the shutdown’s impact on the military and Georgia’s economy more broadly.

“It’s the right thing to do at this time,” Scott said. “It’ll give us a chance to go to work.”

Even though lawmakers were able to break through the political impasse, deep rifts between and among the two parties over immigration remain, and it’s possible there could be another shutdown showdown when government funding expires next month.

House Republican leaders say they only plan to take up legislative proposals that can attract the support of a majority of GOP lawmakers, which has been a high bar on immigration in past years.

“Everybody fights for their own principles,” Collins said. “But up here immigration is a much bigger issue than just simply getting in a room and saying, ‘OK, we’re going to have everybody agree.’ ”

And many Democrats say they are wary that the House GOP would agree to hold a vote on immigration legislation at all because the chamber did not take up a broader Senate-passed bill in 2013.

“I do share that view,” Lewis said Monday. “We’ll have to I guess wait and see what happens in February. But it’s my hope that people will fool us by bringing it up and that all of the members have an opportunity to cast a vote.”

Shortly after the Senate cast a procedural vote to move forward on the shutdown plan, Perdue and a handful of other immigration hard-liners headed to the White House to meet with Trump to discuss the next steps on the issue.

Earlier Monday, Perdue said the funding agreement would give lawmakers “plenty of time to work out the details” on a broader immigration plan.

"In the business world, this is a deal that should get done. It shouldn't get kicked down the road," said Perdue, who has sought to nudge Trump to the right on immigration. "The president wants a deal, and I think he's been more than flexible in terms of what he's asked for."

Isakson predicted that coming to an agreement on the issue would be “probably the hardest exercise that any of us have been a part of in a long, long time.”

Read more about the government shutdown: 

ExploreThousands of federal employees furloughed in Georgia amid shutdown
ExploreHow the federal shutdown affects Georgia schools
ExploreGeorgia unemployment agency furloughs 18 due to federal shutdown
ExploreGeorgia feels the pain from federal government shutdown
ExploreHere’s what to expect in Georgia in case of a government shutdown