Screenshot of C-SPAN feed as U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, speaks on the House floor during debate on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act on Thursday, June 25, 2020.

The Jolt: No agreement in Congress on policing bill beyond ‘do something’

Members of Congress from both political parties say protests that swept across the nation have policing and police brutality at the top of their agenda. They want to do something to reduce the number of people — especially Black people — who are killed by law enforcement.

Still, lawmakers find themselves at the same place they have on so many other issues: an impasse largely driven by partisanship

Georgia U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, for example, used his time on the House floor to criticize Democrats for a bill he said would unfairly punish police officers who generally do good work. He mentioned the officers who have been assaulted by protesters, as well as the shooting three years ago that targeted Republican congressmen, including himself. These incidents are just as confusing and troubling as the death of George Floyd, Loudermilke said.

“I also don't understand why we're not working together to improve law enforcement in this nation,” Loudermilk, R-Cassville, said. “I don't know why the media and some here want to take the action of one or two or a few and apply it to law enforcement all across the board.”

U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, the California Democrat who is the bill’s main sponsor, rebutted Loudermilk directly. She said his “trouble understanding” could be remedied by a study on the history of structural racism in America.

“Perhaps my colleague on the other side of the aisle could go to the memorial for lynching and learn a little bit about his state of Georgia where many of the lynchings were carried out by law enforcement officers,” she said.

Loudermilk’s speech also hinted at the elephant in the room on these negotiations: many law enforcement groups are opposed to the Democrats’ bill.

Loudermilk said he met with police chiefs in his district and they are against provisions that would make it easier to charge their officers with a crime or sue them in court if they are accused of misconduct. “They 100% said if you remove our qualified immunity we will not keep police officers and you will shut down law enforcement in this nation as we know it,” he said.

House Democrats, who are in the majority, didn’t need any Republicans’ help to pass their bill Thursday. But they got three GOP votes, including U.S. Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, the sole Black GOP member. Meanwhile, Republicans in the Senate can’t even get their bill to the floor because the vast majority of Democrats blocked a procedural vote.

The Senate GOP’s proposal focuses on training and better data collection while limiting, but not prohibiting, controversial procedures like chokeholds and no-knock warrants. And it doesn’t touch the “qualified immunity” doctrine.

The entire Georgia delegation is divided along these party lines. The question is whether there is appetite in Congress to come to the negotiating table to reach common ground and what that meeting in the middle will leave on the cutting-room floor.

***

Another poll, another deadlock in Georgia. Fox News released a survey of registered Georgia voters that showed Joe Biden with a 47-45 margin against President Donald Trump, within the margin of error.

It’s another in a string of surveys that shows an uncomfortably close race in Georgia for Republicans who have long dominated the state. 

Echoing national polls, the shift away from Trump is linked to softer support among college-educated white men and voters aged 65 and older. Biden also has a commanding 17-point lead among independents. 

There’s good news for Trump in the poll should his campaign shift a focus toward which candidate is best prepared to lead the economy out of the pandemic-induced recession.

More Georgia voters say they trust Trump over Biden on economic issues, while they prepare the Democrat on race relations and coronavirus-related concerns. They’re running roughly even on the topic of immigration.

U.S. Sen. David Perdue is also in a razor-tight contest against Democrat Jon Ossoff, with a 45-42 edge that’s within the margin of error. 

About 6% of Biden supporters split their ticket and back Perdue, while 2% of Trump voters say they’ll cast a ballot for Ossoff. 

***

The narrow poll offers a hint why President Donald Trump’s campaign is stepping up efforts to fortify a state Republicans have held in every White House election since 1996.

The president’s campaign is opening an office in Sandy Springs on Saturday at an event headlined by former U.S. Rep. Karen Handel and ex-state Rep. Betty Price. Both are making comeback attempts for their previous jobs. 

***

Funding for Georgia schools will be reduced by nearly $1 billion, but no state government employees are slated for furlough under a budget the General Assembly agreed to onThursday.

School systems are expected to use reserves and federal money to help make up for the $950 million reduction in state funding for the fiscal year that begins July 1. 

Overall, the $26 billion spending plan reflects a decrease of $2.2 billion in taxes and other revenue caused by the economic downturn during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Also related to how life has changed in the age of coronavirus, the General Assembly signed off on a separate measure to allow grocery and liquor stores and some restaurants to deliver beer, wine and liquor to customers. 

***

Stacey Abrams is starring in a public service advertisement alongside celebrities like Meryl Streep, Connie Britton, Queen Latifah and Justin Timberlake to encourage participation in the Census. The “Be Counted” campaign is sponsored by Fair Count, one of Abrams’ advocacy organizations, and Harness, which encourages entertainers to get involved in social issues. 

***

The Republican candidates in the runoff for the Congressional District 14 seat are sparring over who is more “law and order.”

Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is working to solidify her base after several establishment Republicans denounced her campaign, recently posted a video where she accuses opponent John Cowan of being “too timid, too weak and too afraid” to speak the truth about the “Democrat war on police.”

Cowan, the preferred choice of Republicans who believe Greene’s views are too extreme for Congress, said her latest ad is a sign that “she’s increasingly desperate as the momentum has swung dramatically to my campaign.” He also pointed out that he has the support of nine county sheriffs in District 14 and a local Fraternal Order of Police lodge.

***

A political organization focused on boosting Democratic voter turnout has dispatched door-to-door canvassers to Atlanta, Augusta and Savannah. Progressive Turnout Project is spending $52.5 million nationwide this year with a goal of knocking on over 10 million doors.

Its get-out-the-vote campaign is focused on 17 states that are considered battlegrounds for the presidential race or have hotly contested U.S. Senate seat. Georgia fits all of the above, with both Senate races on the ballot in November and Democratic participation surging.

The canvassers will target inconsistent voters, especially people who did not cast ballots in 2016.

***

U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Monroe, is among three Republicans on the short list to get promoted to ranking member on the House Oversight Committee, Politico reports. Mark Meadows left the role vacant when he resigned from the House to serve as President Donald Trump’s chief of staff. U.S. Reps. Mark Green of Tennessee and James Comer of Kentucky are also in the running for the position.

***

Georgia Power's recent decision to revise its timeline for expansion of the Vogtle nuclear plant is “credit negative,” Moody’s says.

The company cut its workforce at the site near Augusta as the coronavirus spread, and earlier this week it announced changes to the timing of certain testing activities, the credit rating agency reported. A designation of “credit negative” usually means Moody’s is watching the situation and a project’s rating could suffer in the future.

"The unexpected, late-stage changes to these planned activities is credit negative for Georgia Power because it signals that challenges with the project continue, increasing the likelihood of additional cost overruns and further schedule delays," Moody’s said in a statement.

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