U.S. Rep. John Lewis in an April file photo. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM
Photo: Cliff Owen/AP
Photo: Cliff Owen/AP

The Jolt: Vote to condemn Israeli boycott prompts maneuvers from John Lewis, Hank Johnson

On Tuesday, the U.S. House gave overwhelming approval to a measure that condemned a movement to boycott Israel over its policies toward Palestinians.

The issue had sharply divided Democrats and two Georgians adapted – each in his own way. Some background from the Washington Post:

The 398-to-17 vote comes after months of turmoil centering on Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), two Muslim freshmen who have stood accused of anti-Semitism over public remarks they have made referencing Israel and the Holocaust.

The congresswomen, repeatedly singled out by President Trump in the past week, opposed the resolution, arguing that it infringes on free speech and the right to participate in boycotts for human and civil rights.

Enter U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta:

Lewis co-sponsored another resolution with Omar and Tlaib that “affirms that all Americans have the right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights at home and abroad, as protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.”

But Lewis actually voted in favor of condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in this case.

Then there was U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia. Three years ago, Johnson was forced to go on an apology tour after he likened Israel's settlement policy in the West Bank to "a steady [stream], almost like termites can get into a residence and eat before you know that you’ve been eaten up and you fall in on yourself."

Johnson was one of five House members voting “present” on Tuesday.

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Former special counsel Robert Mueller’s two-part hearing was already underway as we punched the button on this post. The House Judiciary Committee is expected to take up the first three hours focusing on potential obstruction of justice allegations, while the House Intelligence panel will take over after lunch and zero in on the question of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election. Click here to read a Georgia-focused preview.

A man to watch during the first half is Gainesville’s Doug Collins, who will be the GOP standard-bearer on Judiciary.Read more here about how he’s approached his job as the panel’s top Republican during the Mueller era.

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We expect Mueller’s testimony will be a major topic of discussion tonight as U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Monroe, holds a telephone town hall meeting with constituents. The House Freedom Caucus member has accused Democrats of doing "everything in their power to relitigate a closed case and inflame impeachment rhetoric" against Trump. "Time to move on," hetweeted yesterday.

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Also in Washington, FBI Director Christopher Wray, the former Atlanta attorney, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, offering news outlets a number of different headlines.

Some emphasized his willingness to describe China as the biggest national security threat to the U.S. The Washington Post went with Wray’s assertion that bureau has recorded about 100 arrests of domestic terrorism suspects in the past nine months. Most involve white supremacy. But this paragraph, also in the Post account, also stood out, emphasis ours:

The FBI director said he had been involved in a number of meetings within the Trump administration, including the president himself, describing Russia's efforts to interfere with the 2018 midterm elections and elections going forward. Wray said he would also support elections officials using backup paper ballots during elections.

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This Newt Gingrich quote in a recent New York Timesarticle about President Trump’s non-populist governing record is something to behold: 

The president’s allies say that his talent is in scorching the opposition, and he is unlikely to deviate much from that task.

“I think he doesn’t mind if it happens, but it’s not his primary focus,” Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, said of racking up policy accomplishments. “His primary focus is to so thoroughly define Democrats as the party of the radical left. I think that matters much more to him than any particular bill.”

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We’d like to quickly call your attention to three notable votes cast by U.S. Sen. David Perdue yesterday afternoon. The first-term Republican voted along with 89 of his colleagues to confirm Mark Esper as the new secretary of defense. (His colleague Johnny Isakson, who’srecovering from four broken ribs in a Marietta hospital, said he would have voted to confirm Esper.)

Perdue also supported a bill to add billions to a compensation fund for sick 9/11 first responders and voted in favor of advancing the nomination of a former Delta executive to lead the Federal Aviation Administration. Steve Dickson’s nomination advanced on a party-line vote -Democrats are unhappy about the way he handled a whistleblower case while at the airline – and he’s expected to be confirmed today. 

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Your state Capitol has official rules, which are written down, and unofficial ones that are not.

One of the unwritten rules is that state Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, the longest-serving member of the Legislature, can kill a bill with a glance – even if he’s a member of the minority party.

On Tuesday, Smyre tackled an issue that has been roiling African-American leaders across Georgia – a legislative effort to pull the state’s historically black colleges and universities out from under the state Board of Regents to form their own smaller system.

Smyre came out against it, essentially dooming its chances. From our AJC colleague Eric Stirgus:

The bill “would also unnecessarily and perhaps unwittingly diminish the particular role each public HBCU plays in this state by assuming that their needs and ability to educate Georgians are different from those of non-HBCUs,” state Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, said in a press release. Smyre’s comments were part of a letter he wrote Monday to University System of Georgia Chancellor Steve Wrigley.

State Sen. Lester Jackson, D-Savannah, introduced the legislation, Senate Bill 278 just before the legislative session ended in March. The bill would consolidate Albany State, Fort Valley State, and Savannah State universities, representing a total of some 13,000 students, into a Georgia Agricultural and Mechanical University System. The schools receive funding through the Georgia Board of Regents.

From Smyre’s letter:

“I want to go on record that I unequivocally do not support Georgia Senate Bill 273 in its original form nor SB 278 in its present form. Both would create the Georgia Agricultural and Mechanical University System and consolidate ASU, FVSU and SSU, which I could not more strongly oppose.

“Notwithstanding the dilution of FVSU’s singular role as Georgia’s only 1890 land-grand institution, SB 278 would also unnecessarily and perhaps unwittingly diminish the particular role each public HBCU plays in this state by assuming that their needs and ability to educate Georgians are different from those of non-HBCUs.

“I believe strongly that African-American students are perfectly capable of competing against students of any race.”

Smyre said the reorganization that Jackson has proposed would “advertently or inadvertently, provide license for the same abuses the ‘separate but equal’ system created.”

You can read the entire letter here.

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Over at the Daily Report, Katheryn Tucker tells us that former Georgia congressman John Barrow and state appeals court Judge Sara Doyle, both candidates to fill Justice Robert Benham’s spot on the state Supreme Court, have together raised more than half a million dollars for next year’s contest.

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