04/08/2019 -- Atlanta, Georgia -- Congressman John Lewis speaks during his art exhibit tribute in the atrium of the domestic terminal at Atlanta's Hartsfield Jackson International Airport, Monday, April 8, 2019. The art exhibit "John Lewis-Good Trouble" was unveiled Monday with historical artifacts, audio and visual installations and tributes to the congressman. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

The Jolt: ‘My time is growing near,’ says John Lewis on impeachment

U.S. Reps. Hank Johnson and Lucy McBath on Thursday joined their Democratic colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee and voted in favor of setting the parameters for an impeachment probe of President Donald Trump.

The vote has implications for McBath, who is engaged in a re-election bid for the hyper-competitive Sixth District -- but is also eyeing a U.S. Senate run. As recently as last weekend, at a local town hall gathering, McBath said she wanted to hear more testimony before making a call on impeachment.

Thursday’s committee action was notable as a first step, but McBath’s staff and campaign quickly characterized her vote as support for a deliberate process already in motion -- a vote that did not commit her to the larger question of impeachment, and did not contradict her previous statements demanding more evidence.

The House Judiciary resolution gives committee staff the authority to question witnesses, allows the committee to examine sensitive evidence behind closed doors, and gives Trump’s counsel the right to respond to testimony in writing. 

Nonetheless, Republicans quickly pounced. Former congresswoman Karen Handel, one of several candidates running in the GOP primary for the Sixth, sent out this statement via Twitter: “After months of non-answers and dodging questions we now know the truth: Lucy McBath supports impeaching President Trump.”

But in fact, McBath appears determined to stay a step behind U.S. Rep. John Lewis. The civil rights hero has been among President Donald Trump’s most vocal critics, but out of respect for his ally, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he’s so far sat on the sidelines -- even though more than half of House Democrats have endorsed impeachment proceedings.

That could change soon. A new Politico report that focuses on Lewis as a barometer on the issue included this quote from the Atlanta congressman:

"My time is growing near," the Georgia lawmaker told reporters this week. He added, "I’ve never been supportive of this so-called president. Before he was inaugurated I said he was not legitimate. So I have some very strong feelings."

Should Lewis join the pro-impeachment faction, that could persuade his four Democratic colleagues from Georgia, including McBath, to follow -- never mind other members of the Congressional Black Caucus. And that could change the calculus for Pelosi, who has so far urged Democrats to take a slow and steady approach to ongoing Trump investigations.

***

Republican-led Georgia just placed a hard bet against a trade-war future. At the annual State of the Port event in Savannah on Thursday, Griff Lynch, the port authority’s executive director outlined a plan to double the Port of Savannah’s annual capacity, in part by constructing a new container port on Hutchinson Island, across the Savannah River channel.

Also included in the expansion: A new, taller bridge across the Savannah River, connecting Georgia to South Carolina, at an estimated cost of $1 billion. The current one is named for Gov. Eugene Talmadge, a segregationist governor in the 1930s and ‘40s – something that the city of Savannah has long pushed to change.

***

Last night, while Democratic presidential candidates chatted in Houston, House Republicans gathered in Baltimore for their annual retreat. Billy House of Bloomberg News noted the following via Twitter:

So, the GOP retreat in Baltimore turns out to be all about the defunct USFL New Jersey Generals, for some reason. Trump, who bought the team in 1984 speaks tonight. Herschel Walker, who Trump signed to play for Generals, is the keynote speaker Friday. Where is Flutie?

The Generals aside, Walker’s presence at such an event -- presumably President Donald Trump was involved in the choice -- raises a wild thought. What if Trump wants him to fill Johnny Isakson’s about-to-be vacant U.S. Senate seat?

***

Out-of-sight Democratic maneuvering for the two U.S. Senate seats up for grabs in Georgia next year has grown more intriguing.

We’re told that several potential contenders for U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s open seat -- or maybe U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s race -- have met with state and national operatives for a round of vetting dubbed “Round 1.” 

Among the potential contenders in the sessions: DeKalb District Attorney Sherry Boston, state Sen. Jen Jordan of Atlanta and Lindy Miller, the 2018 runner-up for a Public Service Commission seat. 

U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath and DeKalb chief executive Michael Thurmond were likely in the mix, too, along with other contenders. McBath is considered a potential front-runner, though it’s unclear which of the races she might contest. And Thurmond told us he’s “exploring his options” as well. 

The buzz in Democratic circles is that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York will head down to Atlanta for “Round 2,” though national Democrats quickly said that’s not happening.

Democrats have been strongly encouraged to avoid a crowded race for Isakson’s seat -- a “jungle” special election that will throw candidates from all parties on the ballot without a primary to first hash out a nominee. 

That makes sense: Democrats figure their best shot at winning the seat is an outright victory in November rather than a Jan. 5, 2021 runoff. Republicans have won every major statewide runoff in Georgia since 1992, when Paul Coverdell narrowly defeated U.S. Sen. Wyche Fowler. 

One other note: Miller is a new entry into the mix of candidates eyeing the race. A former Deloitte executive, Miller lost a tight runoff race in December to Republican incumbent Chuck Eaton. She confirmed her interest in the race in a text.

“I’ve been flattered that folks I met during my PSC run have encouraged me to run for Senate and I’ve been seriously considering it,” she said. 

***

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins will be heading to Iowa next month, but probably not for what you think. The Gainesville Republican, President Donald Trump’s top defender on the House Judiciary Committee, will keynote a banquet hosted by the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, Ralph Reed’s Georgia-based conservative political group.

***

The nonpartisan contest to replace Robert Benham on the Georgia Supreme Court may have just become more partisan. On Thursday, former House member Beth Beskin, a Republican from Atlanta, announced her entry into the race. Beskin was appointed to the state Judicial Nominating Commission, which vets candidates for lower bench slots, earlier this year by Gov. Brian Kemp.

Two candidates are already in the race: John Barrow, the former Democratic congressman, and Sara Doyle, who currently sits on the state Court of Appeals.

***

Joel Marrable, a Vietnam War veteran who died of cancer last week, was twice found covered with ants in his room at the Eagle’s Nest Community Living Center on the Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s campus in DeKalb County, Channel 2 Action News reported this week.

This was the response from U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who heads the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee:

“I am shocked, horrified and downright maddened by the news that a veteran under the care of the VA was treated so poorly and without any regard for his well-being. This patient, at the end of his life, was clearly not being monitored closely enough, and I am so sad for his family who had to discover his insect-infested conditions before anything was reportedly done.

“I have spoken with Deputy Secretary Byrne to demand answers and express my dissatisfaction across all levels of the VA for allowing this to occur and for failing to inform Congress about this incident until just hours before news broke.

“I’ve also spoken to the veteran’s daughter and offered my deepest condolences and offered to help in any way I can to ensure that her family is taken care of and that those who allowed these conditions to persist be held accountable to the fullest extent.”

***

During an MSNBC appearance on Thursday, Democrat Jon Ossoff was asked whether he thinks Democrats should move forward with impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. He gave a nuanced response: 

“I think oversight and consideration of impeachment is a legitimate constitutional prerogative of congress. I think if the House moves forward passing articles of impeachment, the evidence must be unimpeachable. I disagree with some Democrats who say we should rule out impeachment on political grounds and when the articles of impeachment are on the floor or if they should come to the Senate, I'll weigh the evidence against the president, against the charges laid out against him on the merits.”


Ossoff, one of four Democrats challenging U.S. Sen. David Perdue, also said he wasn’t sure whether to support a mandatory buyback of certain types of firearms. From the transcript: 

“I don't know about a mandatory buyback. I support strict licenses for all semi-automatic weapons, universal background checks. I think assault weapons shouldn't be available to the general public.”

***

Jim Barksdale, the Democratic nominee to challenge U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson in 2016, turned plenty of heads when he took to Twitter a day after the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks and said the “real takeaway” is that the government is “hiding something from us.”

Your Insider asked Barksdale to elaborate. He pointed to doubts he has about President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.  “I don’t know who was behind it or why, but am confident we have not been told the truth. Similar with Sept. 11. I have no idea who was behind it or why. But am confident we have not been told the truth,” Barksdale said.

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