November 8, 2019 Marietta: Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives David Ralston greets President Donald Trump as he arrives at Dobbins AFB on Friday, November 8, 2019, in Marietta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

The Jolt: Donald Trump, Stacey Abrams and David Ralston all agree about this

On Monday, in a chat with the sheltered-in-place “Fox & Friends” trio, President Donald Trump addressed measures that Democrats had attempted to insert into the recent coronavirus relief bill -- measures they insisted were necessary to protect voters.

“They had things, levels of voting that if you ever agreed to, you would never have a Republican elected in this country again," the president said. “They had things in there about election days and what you do and all sorts of clawbacks, and they had things that were just totally crazy.”

It turns out that many Republicans, some more important than others, agree with Trump. So does Stacey Abrams.

During a Wednesday virtual press conference to highlight her work on the census, Abrams went off-topic to address the president’s remarks.

“It’s deeply troubling that President Trump and his advisers believe that gaming the system is more important than supporting a system that brings everyone to the table,” she said. “Voter suppression begins by believing that power is more important than people.”

Abrams later Tweeted out the video of Trump’s comments with this message:

For once, @realdonaldtrump spoke the truth, when he said that if all eligible Americans are able to cast their votes that he and his cronies will lose.

We must make sure that happens.

Meanwhile, up in north Georgia, Brian Pritchard of Fetchyournews.com, a local news website, had a 30-minute interview with House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. For the last two weeks, Ralston has applied pressure to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, encouraging him to move the state’s May 19 primary into June.

So far, Raffensperger has resisted -- though he appears willing to bend under the right circumstance. “If and when the governor extends the state of emergency [which expires April 13], we can reevaluate the situation and determine if moving the election is appropriate,” the secretary of state said in a statement texted to us Wednesday evening.

Gov. Brian Kemp has thus far stayed out of the fray. The state Democratic party, with a presidential primary at stake that same day, is satisfied with the May 19 date, but wants the state to pay for the stamps that voters will need to mail their ballots in. 

In past statements, Ralston has emphasized his concern for the health and safety of poll workers, and he did so again in the Fetchyournews interview. But he also went further:

“I’m concerned about politicizing this health care crisis that we’re in. We’re in an unprecedented period in our history, not only in the state and the country, but the world – with this pandemic that we’re in.

“And to use that for political purposes, in my view, is just so incredibly wrong. And so, when you hear Speaker Pelosi saying that’s one of their objectives – and then you look at the people here in Georgia that have lined up to support Secretary Raffensperger’s proposal. I mean, it’s every extreme liberal Democratic group that’s out there.

“It kind of makes you wonder what their agenda is. And I believe if we’re going to have that kind of fundamental change in our voting procedures – procedures that have served us well, have withstood litigation, have withstood Justice Department review -- if we’re going to have fundamental change in those procedures, I think that is in the purview of the legislative branch, where members of the state House and state Senate can consider and debate and discuss and vet these things.

And then decide if that’s going to be the policy of this state.”

And then the House speaker said even more, with a reference to “ballot harvesting” by Democrats in the 2018 gubernatorial campaign:

“I think the possibility of fraud are incredibly prevalent in this kind of voting. You send a ballot application into a home on a mass scale. You don’t know who’s going to vote the ballot….The possibility of fraud is very concerning to me.

“...But you’re absolutely correct. The president said it best. This will be extremely devastating to Republicans and conservatives in Georgia.

“It’s going to be every registered voter in Georgia. Let me say that again. Every registered voter is going to get one of these...This will certainly drive up turnout.”

Primaries are low-turnout, internecine affairs -- Republican on Republican, Democrat on Democrat. So you have to wonder how much of the above is simply intended to put more pressure on Raffensperger. One of the cruelest things you can say to a Republican is that he’s carrying water for Democrats.

But if this pandemic is still with us in the fall, then May 19 could be a vote-by-mail dress rehearsal for Nov. 3.

If that should happen, President Trump might be right. So might David Ralston. And Stacey Abrams, too.

***

Stacey Abram’s virtual press conference at the National Press Club -- made necessary by travel and social distancing restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic -- also covered other ground, including rumors once again that she is on a short list of those being considered as a running mate for either Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders.

She reiterated that she was interested in serving and that it was important to say so, especially given that women of color are often excluded from top-tier positions. Abrams also said Biden made the right call by promising to nominate a woman to join him on the ticket.

“I think it's essential, and I'm very pleased that Vice President Biden has lifted it up as a hallmark,” Abrams said. “Women are not only more than half of the voting population, but they are an essential part of how leadership happens.”

That being said, she still has not endorsed either candidate nor has she spoken to either man about joining either campaign. If she isn’t their VP pick, Abrams said she would also be open to serving in the Cabinet.

***

Axios is reporting that the FBI processed a record 3.7 million gun background checks in March — more than any month previously reported.

***

Already posted:

-- With his shelter-in-place order, expected to take effect on Friday, Gov. Brian Kemp is now where his hometown of Athens has been for several weeks.

-- From the AJC editorial board:

...Kemp will have to live with these facts: He was slow to act in a state where the statistics on this pandemic are among the worst in the nation; his delayed action almost certainly means things will be worse than they might have been in Georgia.

The governor earlier shut down bars, banned many gatherings, canceled public school through late April and urged the “medically fragile” and others vulnerable to the disease to stay at home.

He repeatedly urged citizens to follow the guidance from disease experts, but until now refused to use some of the considerable power he’d been given by the Georgia General Assembly. Those powers are in place until April 13. At that point, they could be extended.

It didn’t help that the governor’s staff sent a confusing message on Saturday.

A top aide upbraided local governments for “overreacting” to the coronavirus outbreak by enacting tougher restrictions on movement and commerce than those called for by the governor….

***

Georgia Power’s parent company is warning investors that the coronavirus pandemic could disrupt its nuclear power expansion at Plant Vogtle, a project that already is far behind schedule, our AJC colleague Matt Kempner reports:

Still, it is “too early to determine what impact, if any, the COVID-19 outbreak will have on the current construction schedule or budget” for Vogtle’s two new nuclear-reactor units, Atlanta-based Southern Company said in a filing Wednesday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

To that point, Tim Echols, vice-chairman of the state Public Service Commission, is urging that utility workers be considered as “essential” personnel during the shelter-in-place order scheduled to go into effect on Friday. A formal vote on the recommendation will come Tuesday.

"This includes those working to get power plants completed in case of a worst case long-term scenario," Echols told us this morning.

***

Americans For Prosperity, a pro-business conservative political action committee, launched a six-figure digital campaign Thursday to support U.S. Sen. David Perdue.

The organization said it’s the largest spend in the race so far and it’s coupled with phone calls and texting. It plans to run digital ads through November and will also finance direct-mail to support the former Fortune 500 chief executive.

The ad touts focuses on health care -- a topic considered a vulnerability for Republicans in 2018. It doesn’t mention any of his potential Democratic opponents, a crowded field that includes Sarah Riggs Amico, Jon Ossoff and Teresa Tomlinson. You can watch the AFP ad here.

***

In endorsement news: C.T. Vivian, the former president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, has endorsed Teresa Tomlinson’s campaign for U.S. Senate. 

***

As the AJC’s analysis of Kelly Loeffler’s latest financial disclosures circulated, Georgia’s junior senator faced a fresh round of criticism for selling millions of dollars in stocks even as the coronavirus spread.

Among the first to weigh in was Dan McLagan, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Doug Collins’ campaign to unseat Loeffler. He made it clear that Collins will question Loeffler’s trading during the lead up to November’s special election, where multi-millionaire Loeffler is expected to spend over $20 million self-funding her campaign.

“She’s not a public servant. She’s a pandemic profiteer,” McLagan said. “We will know that every dollar she spends on TV ads was stolen from terrified families and shuttered businesses. We won’t ever forget that.”

The executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which has endorsed Loeffler over Collins, came to her defense on Tuesday, telling the Washington Examiner, “The NRSC supports Sen. Loeffler 100%.”

Kevin McLaughlin blamed the media for whipping up controversy, saying news articles improperly framed Loeffler’s financial transactions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Liberal journalistic malpractice will not change that, and there is a special place in political hell for any so-called Republican who perpetuates liberal lies against another Republican during a national crisis in a Hail Mary attempt for political gain,” McLaughlin said to the Examiner.

American Bridge, a super PAC that supports Democratic candidates, said statements like that indicate that Republicans are nervous about Loeffler’s chances in November.

“The fact that Washington Republicans felt the need to announce they still support Senator Loeffler despite her corruption scandal shows how much trouble she is in,” spokesman Zach Hudson said.

***

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins has written to the Federal Communications Commission to request expansion of satellite TV offerings in four “orphan counties” that currently have no access to Georgia-based news.

Nearly 94,000 people living in the northeast Georgia counties of Franklin, Elbert, Hart, and Stephens receive their local news programming from South Carolina and North Carolina stations, Collins wrote. He believes the FCC should grant applications to allow providers to carry Atlanta-based TV stations in these areas.

“In recent weeks, I’ve heard from several constituents worried they will miss an important coronavirus-related order issued by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp or that they will miss updates regarding the number of Georgians affected by this pandemic,” Collins said. “It is unacceptable that Georgians cannot receive the information they need in the midst of a global health emergency simply because media conglomerates are weary to make the fix.”

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