01/17/2019 -- Atlanta, Georgia -- Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church welcomes no guests at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park in Atlanta, Thursday, January 17, 2019. The U.S. Federal Government has been dealing with a partial shutdown going on four weeks. It is the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

The Jolt: Kelly Loeffler to attend MLK Day ceremony at Ebenezer Baptist Church

Multiple sources have told us that U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler will follow the example set by Johnny Isakson and attend the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on Jan. 20.

Isakson, who retired on Dec. 31, made an annual pilgrimage to the historic church once pastored by King and his father -- staying for the entire four-hour ceremony.

But here’s what makes Loeffler’s commitment significant: To serve the final two years of Isakson’s term, she must win an all-comers election in November. One of several Democrats still being mentioned as a possible opponent is the Rev. Raphael Warnock, Ebenezer’s current pastor.

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The Ebenezer decision by Kelly Loeffler isn’t that much of a surprise, given that she’s retained Joan Carr, Isakson’s chief of staff, as her own. More staffing details can be found here. Carr, the wife of Attorney General Chris Carr, headed up U.S. Sen. Zell Miller’s staff as well.

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At home, the base of the Georgia GOP is watching Kelly Loeffler to see how closely the new U.S. senator hews to the Donald Trump line.

In Washington, the focus will be somewhat different, if this Wall Street Journal lede is any guide:

A new U.S. senator whose spouse both runs and owns a minority stake in a major exchange operator will help oversee one of the company’s main federal regulators, setting up a potential conflict of interest.

Republican leadership assigned interim Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R., Ga.), whose husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, is chairman and chief executive of Intercontinental Exchange Inc., to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee.

The committee oversees the federal Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which regulates markets for derivatives that trade on ICE exchanges. The committee also oversees agriculture, logging, forestry and nutrition programs.

Loeffler, by the way, says she will recuse herself on a case-by-case basis.

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Posted earlier this morning: Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire and Democratic presidential candidate, will take part in an invitation-only voting rights summit in Atlanta on Friday, organized by the group Stacey Abrams launched after her 2018 campaign for governor.

Bloomberg has been a major financial contributor to Abrams’ Fair Fight organization. In December, he announced a $5 million donation to the group, which expanded last year to promote voting rights in 20 states.

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Speaking of Stacey Abrams: She’ll be out with a book about voting rights in June. “Our Time is Now: Power, Purpose and the Fight for a Fair America,” to be published by Henry Holt & Co., will be released just prior to the Democratic presidential nominating convention in Milwaukee.

“The future of our democracy depends on correcting all that is wrong with our elections process, including the insidious practice of voter suppression,” Abrams said in a statement.

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It will be a tough sell in an election year, but a conservative group is pushing the idea of a change in Georgia election law to allow an “instant runoff” in contests with more than two candidates.

State law currently requires a runoff between the two top finishers, in primaries and general elections, if neither candidate gets a majority of the vote. In primaries, the requirement has triggered drawn-out intra-party battles that stretch almost two months. 

The “instant runoff” proposal would require voters to rank candidates for office -- first choice, second choice, thus eliminating the need for a second round of voting.

Republicans have generally been cautious about such an overhaul. Over several decades, because their voters are older and more apt to vote, they’ve won every major general election runoff. 

The Take Back Action Fund is pushing the change, and has launched a scaled-down website promoting the instant runoff as a way to drive up turnout, reduce election costs and reduce the “spoiler effect” of a third-party candidate forcing overtime. 

We’re also told an influential House GOP lawmaker is reviewing a draft of the proposed overhaul and could soon introduce the legislation. 

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State Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, has filed a bill that would require state universities to award 90% of early admissions to in-state students, according to the Marietta Daily Journal. “We are not going to take kids from Texas before we take our own Georgians,” Beach said. The measure is SB 282.

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Important news you might have missed:

-- A legislative committee studying Georgia’s troubling record of maternal deaths has found the state could save lives by extending Medicaid coverage for poor mothers to one year following birth. Despite pending budget cuts, GOP lawmakers say they’re interested in the initiative.

-- A new state audit says weak controls over Georgia’s politically popular but expensive film tax credit program have allowed some companies to receive credits they didn’t earn.

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This morning, Georgia Republicans in Congress are following President Donald Trump’s example -- and staying quiet after last night’s retaliatory flurry of Iranian missiles aimed at military bases in Iraq occupied by U.S. troops. No casualties were reported.

The last Tweet from Trump is now 10 hours old, and included the phrase “all is well.”

U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who has praised the Trump administration for killing Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, did not post on social media about the missile strikes launched in reply.

Other GOP members of the Georgia delegation were measured in their posts on Tuesday evening, expressing support for U.S. troops overseas.

“Praying for our men and women in uniform stationed in Iraq and all others who are being deployed to the Middle East,” posted U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Monroe. “May God continue to bless and protect the defenders of freedom. @POTUS @realDonaldTrump has been crystal clear: America will not be bullied by terrorists.”

Georgia’s Democratic lawmakers also were largely silent. U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson of Lithonia was among those who described Soleimani’s killing and the Iranian retaliation as acts of war.

“The world is less safe because @realDonaldTrump committed an act of war against Iran,” Johnson wrote. “They have predictably responded. As war appears imminent, I call on @POTUS to hold fire and don't escalate. I call on Iran to cease offensive action against the U.S. Give peace a chance!”

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Democratic Senate candidate Teresa Tomlinson’s campaign manager Kendra Cotton had a sharp reaction on Twitter to news of Iran’s missile attacks late Tuesday on two U.S. military bases.

“I blame @SusanSarandon, @DrJillStein and the 53% of WW that voted him in,” she wrote, referring to the actress who refused to support Hillary Clinton, the third-party candidate and an acronym for white women.

That drew a response from John Burke, head of the Georgia Action Fund pro-David Perdue booster. 

“Clearly your campaign isn’t taking this seriously, since your own campaign manager just tweeted this shamelessly partisan attack on @realDonaldTrump’s supporters in response to the #IranAttacks. Do you stand by @kendra_cotton’s comments?”

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Defending President Trump against impeachment has endeared U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, to the White House. 

But it might not have put him at the top of the short-list to serve on the president’s defense team during the Senate trial - at least according to an Associated Press report.

U.S. Reps. John Ratcliffe of Texas and Jim Jordan of Ohio are under consideration for official roles defending Trump, the AP wrote after speaking with a person familiar with the discussions on Tuesday.

Except … maybe they aren’t. Politico is out with a conflicting report this morning that says no House members are expected to serve on Trump’s defense team.  

Still, we’re told there’s a strong possibility Collins could play a role in the trial if Trump wants to tap any House members to handle his defense, building off Collins’  position as the top-ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

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U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign made a stir earlier this week by hiring a string of Georgia staffers, making her the first Democratic 2020 hopeful with a significant paid apparatus in the state.

The Massachusetts Democrat added another Georgia staffer in a national role on Wednesday with the hire of Dasheika Ruffin.

She will work as a national adviser to Warren’s campaign to work with coalitions that focus on religious voters as well as females, minorities and LGBTQ in Georgia and other diverse states.

A former regional director of the ACLU’s Atlanta-based chapter, she led campaigns to overhaul criminal justice in seven states and later worked for U.S. Sen. Doug Jones’ 2017 campaign in Alabama. 

She’s also served as a top aide to U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, a Massachusetts Democrat and Warren ally.

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