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The Jolt: Jockeying for position ahead of Donald Trump's visit to Atlanta

April 24, 2019 Atlanta - Air Force One approaches as people wait to see President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport on Wednesday, April 24, 2019. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump addressed the Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Atlanta on Wednesday afternoon. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
April 24, 2019 Atlanta - Air Force One approaches as people wait to see President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport on Wednesday, April 24, 2019. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump addressed the Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Atlanta on Wednesday afternoon. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

President Donald Trump's hour-plus excursion to Georgia today has been preceded by more intense political maneuvering than usual.

Let’s start with Republican Senate candidate Doug Collins, who plans to greet Trump on the tarmac of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

On Tuesday, the congressman's campaign released an internal poll that showed him with a 9-point lead over his rival, U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler. The survey landed Collins a dream headline in Politico: "Did Republicans pick the wrong candidate in Georgia?"

The four-term congressman also took to trolling Loeffler for her use of a private plane to hit a campaign stop in coastal Georgia, tweeting that "Air Collins will be traveling at an altitude of three feet and an air speed of 65 mph" en route to west Georgia.

Loeffler’s campaign primed its own angle of attack on Tuesday, this one focused on Collins strategist Chip Lake.

Lake was a notable Georgia GOP voice of opposition to Trump during the 2016 campaign and shortly after. Ahead of Trump's arrival, Loeffler's campaign pointed to a 2017 comment from Lake acknowledging that he didn't vote for the president and suggesting that Trump might leave office before his first term was up. Said Loeffler spokesman Stephen Lawson:

"Doug Collins hiring a Never Trumper to lead his campaign affirms how he really feels about our president. Congressman Collins is a career politician who only backed President Trump after his choice candidate was crushed in the primary. His entire campaign is built on lies, and his record as a fake conservative and total fraud is finally being exposed."

The reply from Collins campaign spokesman Dan McLagan:

"Attacking staff is sad. It's also silly since Kelly herself was a Mitt Romney never Trumper and her top strategists have been attacking the President for years. Kelly, Inc. sounds frightened and weak. Like mewling little kittens."

At the same time, the Collins campaign also riposted this morning with news that Loeffler's newly hired legislative director in Washington, Wesley Coopersmith, has an anti-Trump history: "Friends don't let friends vote for con-artists"...here's looking at you Florida #nevertrump," he posted in March 2016.

Loeffler also released this gauzy digital video welcoming Trump back to Georgia, which he carried by five percentage points in 2016. "He continues to fight for all Americans. He's the only person that can do it again. Joe Biden has no clue what's at stake in this election," Loeffler says.

Meanwhile, Democrat Jon Ossoff, the nominee to challenge Republican incumbent David Perdue in Georgia’s other U.S. Senate race, welcomed Trump to town in a different way.

Ossoff took aim at the White House's new policy for hospitals to report coronavirus data directly to the federal government -- and bypass the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ossoff assailed Trump’s decision to “ignore, undermine and smear” the CDC and called for the White House to guarantee the public “uncensored access” to the data. Said Ossoff:

"The accuracy, credibility, and transparency of COVID-19 data is essential to our national public health effort. Today's move raises grave concerns that the Administration is placing this information under political control, whereby its credibility will be in doubt, and it could be manipulated to serve partisan ends.

***

Republican congressional candidates Karen Handel (Sixth District) and Rich McCormick (Seventh District) will also be on hand when Trump steps out of Air Force One, we're told.

But GOP congressional candidates still enmeshed in north Georgia runoffs have apparently been left off the invitation list.

In the Ninth District, that’s state Rep. Matt Gurtler and firearms retailer Andrew Clyde. In the 14th, construction executive Marjorie Taylor Greene faces neurosurgeon John Cowan.

The decision has at least one advantage: Greene has achieved some renown for her endorsement of QAnon conspiracy theories and racist comments. Having her in the same camera frame with President Trump might be inconvenient.

***

In decades past, when a president is both unpopular and a member of one's own party, there has been a temptation for state leaders to be suddenly called out of town when a presidential visit is announced. But that was then.

In today's polarized climate, there is little upside for a Republican who wants to distance himself or herself from Trump. In fact, refusing the president can be dangerous.

Consider the case of former U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions’ hopes for a senatorial comeback were dashed Tuesday by former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville -- and President Trump.

Tuberville had Trump’s backing in the Republican primary runoff to take on Alabama Democratic Sen. Doug Jones. During the Alabama campaign,Trump repeatedly criticized Sessions for recusing himself from an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

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The Trump event will be contained within the Hartsfield-Jackson universe, so the impact on Atlanta traffic should be minimal.

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We told you on Tuesday that the Trump Administration had eliminated the Atlanta-based US Center for Disease Control and Prevention as a first recipient and compiler of coronavirus data from hospitals across the nation. More this morning from The New York Times:

The new instructions were posted recently in a little-noticed document on the Department of Health and Human Services website. From now on, the department — not the C.D.C. — will collect daily reports about the patients that each hospital is treating, the number of available beds and ventilators, and other information vital to tracking the pandemic.

Officials say the change will streamline data gathering and assist the White House coronavirus task force in allocating scarce supplies like personal protective gear and remdesivir, the first drug shown to be effective against the virus. But the Health and Human Services database that will receive new information is not open to the public, which could affect the work of scores of researchers, modelers and health officials who rely on C.D.C. data to make projections and crucial decisions.

But don't expect Trump to address the coronavirus or the sidelining of the CDC this afternoon. Instead, the president is expected to announce a new federal rule to speed up the environmental review process for proposed highways, gas pipelines and other major infrastructure. Critics are describing the move as a dismantling of a 50-year-old environmental protection law.

***

ProPublica reports that since President Trump took office, the Comptroller of the Currency has quietly shelved at least six investigations into discrimination and redlining by major banking institutions -- including Atlanta-based Cadence Bank: 

Flagstar Bank, a leading lender in Michigan, wrongly charged Black homeowners more through a network of mortgage lending affiliates, OCC officials concluded in 2017. That same year, agency examiners found that Colorado Federal Bank, an online lender, was doing the same to female borrowers.

Another inquiry by OCC officials concluded that Chicago-based MB Financial, a lender acquired by Fifth Third Bank last year, charged Latinos too much on mortgage loans. Cadence Bank, a lender in several Southern states, was turning away minority borrowers in Houston, according to an OCC investigation. Fulton Bank, a lender based in Pennsylvania, had been discriminating against minorities in parts of Richmond, Virginia, and its home state, regulators concluded.

***

National Archives employees working at home during the pandemic have used this time to improve public access to black history documents, including records of Martin Luther King Jr. and U.S. Rep. John Lewis.

More than 5,000 documents and photos have been tagged with descriptive keywords to make them more searchable online, the federal agency said. Now that additional records have been identified, archivists are beginning the process of transcribing them.

The trove of documents connected to Lewis includes congressional speeches and resolutions, pictures and even FBI reports of his activity during the Civil Rights Movement.

***

An endorsement of President Donald Trump by state Rep Vernon Jones was rewarded with a trip to the White House on Monday.

Jones, a Democrat who lives in either Lithonia or Atlanta depending on who you ask, was asked to join a roundtable with Trump and other guests "positively affected by law enforcement." The goal of the discussion was to counteract public debate about police brutality and reforms.

Among the other invitees was Jo Etta Northcutt, whose family credits an off-duty officer with saving her grandson from an attempted kidnapping at a Florida hotel. Northcutt said she lives in Atlanta and currently feels less safe -- with crime on the upswing and protests occurring in the streets.

Jones's remarks centered on his time as DeKalb County CEO, and he spoke about tending to the families of police officers who died in the line of duty. He said most officers are acting honorably and "we have to stand with them."

***

Fulton County's elections office is once again accepting absentee ballot requests submitted by email, the AJC's Mark Niesse and Ben Brasch report.

The county's reversal came quickly after complaints that its refusal to process emailed ballot requests would reduce voting access and violate Georgia voting laws.

Fulton, the most populous county in the state, initially rejected emailed absentee ballot requests following struggles to manage a flood of applications before the June 9 primary election. Many voters in Fulton said they never received their absentee ballots, forcing them to wait in line for hours to vote in person during the coronavirus pandemic.

Voters who emailed absentee ballot requests Monday and part of Tuesday received a response from Fulton asking them to instead send paper applications by mail.

The county on Tuesday restarted processing absentee ballot requests for the Aug. 11 runoff, with some limits meant to avoid problems that surfaced before the primary. Only one absentee ballot application may be attached to each email. Absentee ballot applications submitted by email must be less than 5 megabytes in size, legible and in pdf or jpg file format.

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