In this photo taken Tuesday, April 9, 2019, Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., talks to reporters just outside the chamber as Senate negotiations over a disaster relief package for Puerto Rico broke down, at the Capitol in Washington. Six months after hurricanes devastated the Southeast, Washington infighting has shelved a widely backed disaster aid package that President Donald Trump's allies in Florida and Georgia are desperately seeking. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The Jolt: The quandary an impeachment trial poses for Johnny Isakson – or his replacement

A Republican political dilemma has begun to take shape in Georgia.

The U.S. House will very likely approve articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump in mid-December. A trial in the U.S. Senate would follow.

Which means a vote on whether or not to oust Trump from the White House would be either 1) one of the last votes cast by U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson; or 2) one of the first cast by his Republican replacement, who will be appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp – then will have to face voters in November.

The first might be personally distasteful to Isakson as a cap on his 40-year career in public life. The second could prove a serious handicap to a fresh face, particularly in a state that is quickly shifting from red to purple.

Some Republicans have already wondered out loud if Isakson would consider delaying his retirement in order to take one for the team.

 On Monday’s edition of GPB’s “Political Rewind” – held in a newly finished HD studio, we asked Isakson consultant Heath Garrett if the senator had considered this. Said Garrett:

 “Dec. 31 is a pretty hard deadline for him. If anything, it was maybe a month or two longer than he would really have liked. He was doing that to give the staff and the Senate and the state of Georgia and the governor an opportunity to get their feet under them and not thrust more chaos upon the state.”

Garrett said that Isakson has always prided himself on answering calls to public service. And yet. “Parkinson’s is also overwhelming at this point in time. I don’t think there are any plans for him to stay beyond Dec. 31,” he said.

But before we left the topic, Garrett offered one more thought. “One option is the governor can hold off on swearing somebody in,” he said.

That would require some serious vote-counting on the part of Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

***

U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s criticism of the House inquiry and close ties to President Donald Trump have caused his Democratic opponents to question whether he can be impartial if formal articles of impeachment are filed. 

So on Monday, we caught up with the senator at a meeting of the Rotary Club of Atlanta and asked him about it. Perdue said he has and will remain objective. Said the senator:

“My oath of office says I am to uphold and protect the Constitution of the United States; that’s what I intend to do.”

Yet Perdue remains critical of the Democrat-led House’s impeachment probe. The senator also said he has reviewed the evidence himself and sees no proof the president has committed any crimes.

***

On Monday, Gov. Brian Kemp unveiled his long-awaited alternative to the Affordable Care Act:

The governor’s long-awaited waiver plan would impose requirements that recipients of a limited Medicaid expansion be employed or involved in other activities, an idea that pleases conservatives but is meeting stiff resistance in federal courts.

The potential impact of his “Georgia Pathways” proposal falls far short of what a full-scale expansion of the Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act would achieve. That prospect is a nonstarter under Kemp, who campaigned against it.

Kemp’s alternative, known as an 1115 waiver, takes aim at some of the state’s poorest residents: the 408,000 or so adult Georgians who make less than the federal poverty level — about $12,000 a year for an individual — but do not qualify for Medicaid.

Kemp’s aides estimate a fraction of those — about 50,000 people — will be enrolled under this plan.

As the article notes, Grady Memorial Hospital, which handles more indigent patients than any other facility in the state, released a statement that said it was “deeply disappointed” by the plan.

Late Monday, we also received a note from Earl Rogers, president and CEO of the Georgia Hospital Association. Rogers said he appreciated the work that Kemp had put in, and recognized that it would increase the number of insured people in Georgia. And yet:

“Our initial impression is that the “Georgia Pathways to Coverage” Medicaid Waiver does not significantly move the needle for the rural and safety net hospitals who care for the state’s uninsured patients…

“We were hopeful that the 1115 plan would have covered all of the eligible individuals under 100% of the poverty level and would have specifically addressed Georgia’s behavioral health and substance abuse crisis, as well as focus on solutions for maternal mortality. That said, GHA is grateful that Governor Kemp envisions addressing those challenges on an ongoing basis.”

***

Roll Call, the D.C. newspaper that focuses on Congress, on Tuesday published its list of 10 most vulnerable U.S. House members in 2020. Eight were Democrats. But none were U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta.

***

From the ICYMI file: President Donald Trump plans to use Atlanta as a launching pad for his new African American coalition with a Friday rally at the Georgia World Congress Center. The president will kick off the Black Voices for Trump Coalition initiative at 3 p.m. Friday at the downtown Atlanta convention center after a high-dollar fundraiser in Buckhead to support U.S. Sen. David Perdue.

***

It’s Election Day and the national media will be looking at the hints that races in Kentucky and Virginia offer for 2020. In the former state, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has closed the gap against Democrat Andy Beshear with an intense focus on his ties to President Donald Trump.

But as we have mentioned before, the most important 2020 contest in Georgia won’t be a presidential race or two senatorial campaigns – but the fight over control of the state House. A victory would give Democrats a seat at the table in the 2021 redistricting session.

And so many Georgia Democrats will be watching the balloting in Virginia tonight. From the New York Times:

Republican majorities of 20-19 in the State Senate and 51-48 in the House of Delegates are threatened by demographic changes that have remade the state.

A transfer of power would enable Democrats, who already hold the governor’s mansion, to advance liberal priorities including gun restrictions and civil rights protections for women and L.G.B.T. people, and, most crucially, to draw new voting districts in 2021. Polling shows voters agree with Democrats on expanding background checks to all gun buyers, banning assault weapons and protecting abortion rights.

The prospect of a change in ideological direction has attracted a torrent of money on both sides, with 16 candidates raking in more than $1 million each and warring TV ads airing in the most competitive races. Outside interest groups are a big factor. For Democrats, those include Everytown for Gun Safety ($1.4 million) and EMILY’s List, which works to elect women who support abortion rights ($2.1 million). Republicans’ largest donor is the Republican State Leadership Committee ($3.2 million), which seeks to keep the drawing of voting districts in G.O.P. hands.

***

Yes, Stacey Abrams was in Iowa on Monday. But she was on the phone after her evening speaking gig, putting in some long-distance calls to Georgia voters – who will decide municipal and a handful of other contests throughout the state. Among the races we’re watching:

-- The four-way contest in Savannah that pits Mayor Eddie DeLoach, the first Republican to win the nonpartisan seat in decades, against three Democrats: Alderman Van Johnson and two former candidates, Regina Thomas and Louis Wilson Sr. Locals expect a runoff between DeLoach and Johnson in December and some predict upheaval in council contests, too.

-- Another four-way mayor’s race in Valdosta, where Republican early voter turnout has been strong. 

-- Five candidates are on the ballot to replace Smyrna Mayor Max Bacon, who along with his father has led the city for four decades. He’s endorsed Mayor Pro Tem Derek Norton, a lobbyist for the Medical Association of Georgia, but four other candidates are distancing themselves from the Bacon dynasty.

-- In Dunwoody, the race for mayor may test how much the city’s politics have changed. Democrats have performed well in recent races, with Jon Ossoff, Stacey Abrams and state Rep. Mike Wilensky carrying most of the city’s precincts. The contest pits Councilwoman Lynn Deutsch, who is targeting more Democratic and moderate voters, against Councilman Terry Nall, whose base of support tends to skew more conservative. 

***

On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia identified 70 people who it says voted in November 2018 but are targeted for cancellation. However, our AJC colleague Mark Niesse reports:

The ACLU based its findings on voting records from a month after the 2018 election, but a more recent state voting list obtained last month by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows that no voters who have cast ballots since September 2016 will be canceled…

Many of the 70 people identified by the ACLU as questionable cancellations appear to have moved away. They filed change-of-address forms, their mail was undeliverable or property records show their homes have been sold.

***

Be on the lookout: There’s a conservative-leaning poll making the rounds from Magnolia Research that seems to be testing messages for Republican candidates. Among the questions are two proposals we haven’t seen surface yet:

-- Would you support or oppose a constitutional amendment to ban socialism as a form of government in Georgia?

-- Regarding environmental regulations, would you support or oppose implementing a methane tax on livestock in an effort to reduce greenhouse emissions by the agricultural industry?

-- Would you be more or less likely to support a member of the State House of Representatives who was supported by House Speaker David Ralston?

***

Historically black colleges and universities like Morehouse and Spelman, which often receive high-dollar donations, can mask the reality that most of the nation’s HBCUs are strapped for cash.

And that was before a federal program that funnelled millions to these institutions expired at the end of September, because Congress couldn’t agree on how to keep the program going.

Earlier this year the Democrat-led House passed the Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education (FUTURE) Act, reauthorizing a $255 million program benefiting HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions. But a key member of the Republican-controlled Senate has insisted on adding the FUTURE Act language to a slate of other higher ed proposals instead of keeping it as a standalone, Inside Higher Ed reported.

As a result, the issue stalled in that chamber and the money dried up.

Atlanta is home to four institutions that have received grants worth tens of millions of dollars over the years: Morehouse, Spelman, Clark Atlanta University, and the Morehouse School of Medicine. Other Georgia HBCU’s that benefited from this funding include Fort Valley State University, Albany State University, Paine College and Savannah State University. 

Thirty-eight Senate Democrats sent a letter to chamber leaders on Monday asking for the FUTURE Act legislation to be revived. And they plan to use time on the floor Tuesday -- in between executive sessions to consider judicial nominees -- talking up the impact of HBCUs. 

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