03/22/2019 -- Atlanta, Georgia -- Pro-Choice and Pro-Life demonstrators display their signs during the 35th legislative day at the Georgia State Capitol building in downtown Atlanta, Friday, March 22, 2019. The Georgia Senate is set for a lengthy debate on the anti-abortion "heartbeat bill" Friday. Sen. Renee Unterman is carrying the bill for Rep. Ed Setzler. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

The Jolt: ‘Terrified’ Georgia Republicans prep for final anti-abortion vote

Also: Hollywood breaks its silence on ‘heartbeat’ bill

House Republicans have sat for two days on a final vote on the “heartbeat bill” outlawing most abortions as early as six weeks. And the Republican sponsor of the bill is worried supporters are starting to waver.

“There’s a lot of folks who voted yes who kind of have bellyache about it,” state Rep. Ed Setzler told conservatives at an event this week, urging them to prepare for a final vote on Thursday. “They don’t want to have to stand behind this and campaign on this.” 

The measure passed the House earlier this month by a 93-73 vote - giving Setzler and his allies a slim two-vote cushion.

It needs one more vote from House lawmakers to approve the Senate’s version of the measure before it can head to the desk of Gov. Brian Kemp, who is certain to sign it. 

When it passed earlier this month, two Republicans crossed party lines to vote against House Bill 481, while one Democrat voted for it. Another 17 lawmakers were excused from the vote or didn’t record one. Thirteen were Republican.

A handful of additional defections or timely absences could sink the bill, and Democrats are homing in on a few lawmakers in the suburbs and other competitive areas who could be politically damaged by the vote.

Those legislators are in what one described as a “classic no-win” situation. Vote no and face a potential primary opponent. Vote yes and risk losing the seat in the November 2020 election. 

At the GOP event, Setzler said he only had 88 of the 91 necessary votes needed to pass the “heartbeat bill” when debate opened up earlier this month. House Speaker David Ralston, he added, had to call on his lieutenants to rally behind the bill. (In the 180-member House, 91 votes are needed for passage.)

Since then, Setzler said, the pressure on abortion rights advocates who vowed to “come for their seats” is taking a toll. 

“There are some terrified Republicans. So we need to strengthen the people who voted yes, we need to bring over a couple folks who took a walk and didn’t vote, he said. “And we need to prepare to fight this until this fight is done.”

But that slim margin is also why HB 481 supporters are so worried about the call from Georgia Right to Life to defeat the bill -- because it doesn’t go far enough.

Then you have Democrats, who are also trying to ratchet up the pressure. A survey conducted on March 21 from the left-leaning Public Policy Polling firm conducted on behalf of party leaders is circulating around the Capitol. 

It involved 605 voters in a dozen swing House districts and found that nearly 7 in 10 believe abortion should be legal - including 86 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of Republicans.

We’re seeking the crosstabs, but for now take a look at the one-page summary of findings:

***

After a long silence, Hollywood is weighing in on Georgia’s anti-abortion measure. 

The east and west chapters of the Writers Guild of America slammed the “heartbeat bill” in a lengthy statement that raised the possibility of an industry boycott. 

From the letter:

“This law would make Georgia an inhospitable place for those in the film and television industry to work, including our members. If the Georgia Legislature and Governor Kemp make HB 481 law, it is entirely possible that many of those in our industry will either want to leave the state or decide not to bring productions there. Such is the potential cost of a blatant attack on every woman’s right to control her own body. 

“The cost would be most deeply felt by the residents of Georgia – including those who directly work in the film and television industry, and those who benefit from the many millions of dollars it pours into the local economy.”

Here’s more on the issue: Georgia Film Day salutes industry; social issues remain backstage

***

Democrat Stacey Abrams was just on CBS’ “This Morning,” plugging a retitled version of her book. And she again raised the possibility of a 2020 presidential run.

Said Abrams:

“I think the success I had in our election, transforming the electorate, the work I’ve done as a business leader, as a civic leader, as a political leader, positions me to be just as capable of becoming the president of the United States as anyone running.

“My responsibility, though, is to make sure I’m running for the right reasons at the right time. And this is not the conversation I was having with myself last year.”

She also repeated her call for the full findings of Robert Mueller’s report to be released:

“It’s inappropriate for us to assume what the Mueller report says until we can read the Mueller report,” she said. “The best way to know what is said in the report is to read the report.”

She was asked about her recent lunch with former Vice President Joe Biden, who’s still officially mulling a 2020 run for president. Asked whether the pair talked about an instant Biden-Abrams ticket, Abrams was vague:

 “We talked about a lot of things, but that was not the core issue.”

***

Today’s print column handicaps Republican Karen Handel’s decision to attempt a 2020 rematch with U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta.

On a related issue: During that 2018 contest, Handel attacked McBath for shuttling residencies between Cobb County and Tennessee. At her political website All on Georgia, Jessica Szilagyi reports that the Cobb County tax commissioner’s office has revoked three years of homestead exemption claims – for 2016, 2017 and 2018 -- by McBath and her husband Curtis.

The couple has paid the $1,197 -- $399 per year -- that the county said was owed. McBath’s husband lives in Tennessee. During the campaign, she said had briefly moved there to help him work through family issues -- and that she had switched her residency back to Georgia the following year.

***

The AJC’s Bill Torpy puts a pox on both Atlanta City Hall and the state Capitol in this worthy look at shenanigans in both houses.

***

The Daily Report has a strange one today: Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter has asked the GBI to look into a possible breach of the county courthouse’s computer system. It seems as if a Superior Court judge had suspected the DA of hacking into it.

***

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly, 90 to 10, to kick off debate on a multi-billion natural disaster recovery bill. But that doesn’t mean it’ll be smooth sailing for U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., who have been pushing for the Hurricane Michael relief money contained within.

Democrats are still opposed to the level of Puerto Rico funding in the bill, which they say is inadequate. They’ll have opportunities to try and amend the legislation in the days ahead on the Senate floor, but they face opposition from the White House.

President Donald Trump doesn’t think Puerto Rico is a good steward of federal resources, which he told Senate Republicans yesterday. That will create major roadblocks as lawmakers look to advance the disaster relief bill in the days ahead.

***

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is in negotiations with a U.S. House committee for documents -- part of a congressional look into alleged voting irregularities in Georgia last year.

***

As we predicted yesterday, House Democrats in Washington weren’t able to move any Georgia Republicans as they pushed to override Trump’s veto on their resolution nullifying his border emergency. 

The state’s U.S. House delegation once again broke down along party lines. And even though the measure passed, it still fell well short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto.

***

Another D.C. vote that fell short was on Democrats’ Green New Deal, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell brought to a vote Tuesday to troll Democrats up for re-election in 2020. All but four Senate Democrats voted “present.” 

David Perdue and Johnny Isakson voted against it, in case you were wondering.

***

The same desire to use U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s divisive climate proposal as a wedge issue for Democrats is also beginning to take root on the House side of the U.S. Capitol. 

Monroe Republican Jody Hice today is scheduled to announce his plan to use a special procedure to force a vote in the lower chamber in late April. He’ll need the signatures of the majority of the House to bring it forward, which means he’ll need to convince roughly 20 Democrats to sign onto the GOP leadership-backed effort. 

The ultra-conservative Hice is joining the newly-created House Energy Action Team, a group of lawmakers who “support the development, deployment, and efficient use of ‘all of the above’ energy resources and will counteract extreme and economically devastating proposals like the so-called ‘Green New Deal,’” according to the group’s press release. 

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