Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, speaks to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu during a meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019. Putin said that Russia will abandon the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, following in the footsteps of the United States, but noted that Moscow will only deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles if Washington does so. (Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Photo: Alexei Nikolsky/AP
Photo: Alexei Nikolsky/AP

The Jolt: Sam Nunn & Co. on the nuclear downside of that #MoscowMitch hashtag

A U.S. president inclined to ditch nuclear arms treaties, a Europe uncertain about leadership from Washington, a lack of dialogue and increased threats from “cyber-space” had already increased chances of a nuclear collision between the U.S. and Russia.

But continued turmoil in Congress over Russian interference in the 2016 presidential contest isn’t helping, say Sam Nunn and Ernest Moniz, co-chairs of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

They do not cite it, but in essence Nunn and Moniz point to the downside of this week’s most popular hashtag: #MoscowMitch.

Nunn, of course, is the former Georgia senator. Moniz is a physics professor who served as Secretary of Energy during the Barack Obama administration. They’re co-authors of an article in the September/October issue of “Foreign Affairs” with the cheery title of “The Return to Doomsday.”

“Not since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis has the risk of a U.S.-Russian confrontation involving the use of nuclear weapons been as high as it is today,” the pair writes.

The lack of dialogue between the U.S. and Russia – not just at the higher echelons, but at the mid-level military and diplomatic levels as well – is not a new topic for Nunn. It was one of his raps on the Obama years.

President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, over concerns that Moscow has been cheating, is one sign of a deteriorating arms control system. But there’s also this:

Political fissures in the United States bear some of the responsibility for this communication breakdown. In Congress, distrust of Trump’s handling of relations with Moscow and justifiable outrage over Russia’s election interference and its actions in Ukraine are widespread. As a result, members of both political parties increasingly characterize all dialogue with Russia as suspect.

Congress has passed, with overwhelming majorities, laws codifying existing sanctions against Russia and enacting new ones, making it extremely difficult for the president to alter or remove them on his own. More problematic, it has passed legislation prohibiting the U.S. military from cooperating with the Russian military. (Dialogue for limited purposes is still permitted but discouraged.) This restrictive legislation has had a chilling effect on much-needed military-to-military interactions.

Nunn and Moniz call for a House-Senate working group, with “relevant senior administration officials” to address the situation. Write the duo:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, need not wait for a call from the White House to get such a group up and running… If the Trump administration objects or demurs, Congress should use its legislative and appropriations powers to establish the liaison group regardless and use committee hearings to call administration witnesses.

Every work of prophecy needs a good last word. From Nunn and Moniz: “Washington and Moscow are acting as if time is on their side. It is not.”

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On this morning’s edition of “Political Breakfast” at WABE (90.1FM), former state attorney general Sam Olens said it’s time to revise the state’s gun laws.

The first topic was “red flag” legislation that would allow judges to order weapons seized from an individual thought to be a danger to himself or others. A quick transcript:

Olens: It’s a state issue. And clearly, the discussion is compliance with due process – having an appropriate standard such as ‘clear and convincing evidence,’ and requiring that promptly there will be a court hearing with the party who would be losing the weapons having the ability to show that they should be able to retain them.

Denis O’Hayer: Is it time for the state to take another look at this?

Olens: Look, I think the state needs to change its laws. The GBI for years supported changing Georgia law where, after five years, you purge the records of folks that lost the right to have a weapon because they were involuntarily hospitalized due to mental illness. That’s ridiculous. There’s nothing magical about five years. It should require that you get documentation from a doctor… 

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The city of Brookhaven serves as a dateline for a just-published Washington Post piece on GOP fears that the current gun debate -- and general turbulence caused by President Donald Trump -- is costing them American suburbia.

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All but one of the state's Democratic members of the U.S. House have signed a letter calling on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to cut the August recess short in order to pass gun control legislation. 

Specifically, Georgia U.S. Reps. Hank Johnson, Lucy McBath, John Lewis and David Scott and more than 200 of their Democratic colleagues are urging McConnell to advance a pair of Democrat-authored bills that would require federal background checks for all firearm sales and transfers, and an expanded FBI review for gun purchases flagged by the current background check system.

The one Georgia Democrat who didn’t sign on was U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop of Albany, although he endorsed the push separately. The Blue Dog Democrat has an “A” rating from the NRA, and apparently didn’t want to pile on.

Bishop voted for both of the aforementioned bills earlier this year, and said the Senate should pass them “in an effort to prevent more senseless death and violence.”

“The Second Amendment of the Constitution is appropriately subject to sensible measures including reasonable background checks to limit access by individuals who are a danger to themselves or others," he said in a statement this week. 

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For his part, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday that background checks and so-called "red flag" laws will “lead the discussion” in the Senate, per Politico. But the chamber is likely to focus on finding a bipartisan compromise version of the former rather than adopting House Democrats' proposal. 

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We welcome the Georgia Recorder, headed up by longtime Atlanta journalist John McCosh, to the regional political scene. The non-profit online operation debuted this week. Among their first works is a bit of counter-programing, given the current climate. From Staffer Beau Evans:

Speaking at a lunch at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art, state Sen. Chuck Payne (R-Dalton) touted the diverse makeup of the 54th District he represents. Payne estimated his district is 42% Latino. He said many of the Latinos living in the district immigrated 25 years ago and “simply want a better life not only for themselves, but for their children and their grandchildren.”“The people that I represent are honest, they’re hard-working, seeking to realize the American dream,” said Payne, who quoted Leviticus midway through his speech as well as former President Ronald Reagan’s reference to the biblical “shining city upon a hill” in his 1989 farewell speech.

Payne was at an event marking the two-year anniversary of a lobbying group that advocates for prison reform and immigrant asylum.

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Our AJC colleague James Salzer received word Thursday that Georgia House Budget director Martha Wigton, one of the most highly respected staffers at the state Capitol, became the staff chair of the National Conference of State Legislatures at its summit in Nashville.

In that position, she will be the staff counterpart to the president of NCSL. It’s not a full-time gig: she will keep her state job running the Georgia office that helps develop the state budget for the Georgia House. But it does involve a good bit of travel to conferences and events across the globe. It is the highest position a legislative staffer can have in the organization.

House Budget Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn, who has worked closely with Wigton for years, isn’t worried about her slacking on her day job.

“She’ll come back in from meetings on the West Coast late on a Sunday night and she’s back on it the next day (at the Capitol), ready to go,” England said. “She will knock the ball out of the park this year as staff chair. She has worked for 29-30 years to get to this point, and I am proud that others recognize what we have known for a long time, how special she is.”

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Former Columbus mayor Teresa Tomlinson made public a slate of hires to round out her U.S. Senate campaign this week that included Kendra Cotton, a former political director for the state party, to serve as her campaign manager.

That triggered an oppo-backlash. The conservative Washington Free Beacon dug up a tweet from Cotton in June 2018 asserting the “SHAM that is white evangelicalism is being exposed for the perversion and fraudulent strain of Christianity that it is!” 

Here’s what the Tomlinson campaign wrote in response:

“The Free Beacon should turn its attention to the offensive and destabilizing tweets of the president. But, since it sees the Tomlinson campaign as a threat to the Republican Senate majority it is searching back to year old tweets before this campaign was launched to try and distract from the failed leadership of David Perdue. As to the substance of the year old tweet, the politicization of the Trump wing of the Evangelical movement is a subject robustly discussed among people of faith, scholars and concerned people of Christianity, such as Kendra Cotton. The Trump movement which seeks to intertwine the sacred and the secular threatens both, and people of good conscience should be debating it.

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Try to hide your shock: A new Pew Research Center study found 46% of adult social media users say they feel “worn out” by the number of political posts and discussions they see on social media. That’s a 9% boost since mid-2016, when the center last posed the question. It concluded that “across every major demographic group, there is more exhaustion than excitement over seeing political content on social media.” Think about that before you post your next long rant on Facebook. Read more here. 

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Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network is set to air a four-part series later this month with Ozy Media that will feature a segment with former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. The program will focus on black women and also feature comedians, activists and a leading physician. Read more here. 

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