When a recovery package that would help victims of Hurricane Michael and other natural disasters stalled in Washington, it sparked plenty of complaints this past week. At the center of the delay is a dispute between congressional Democrats and the Trump administration over the amount of funding that should help Puerto Rico in its recovery from Hurricane Maria in 2017. Some blamed the Trump administration, including a South Georgia Republican congressman. But Ken Hickey, a Republican on the Thomas County Board of Commissioners in southwest Georgia who saw Michael destroy 90% of his cotton crop, pointed at congressional Democrats. “How ignorant are they and how political is it for them to ignore what we’re dealing with on the ground down here trying to put food into storage and clothes on people’s backs?” he said. “They’re up there making ($174,000) a year and don’t give a damn.” HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Capitol Recap: Hurricane Michael remains a divisive force in Georgia

The winds of blame blew strongly in Georgia and Washington as another week passed without approval for a $14 billion package to boost southwest Georgia’s recovery from Hurricane Michael.

Immediate assessments of the hurricane’s toll focused on the hit the state’s agriculture sector felt, estimated at more than $2.5 billion.

Now it appears that Michael’s strong winds and heavy rains were also powerful enough to create some space between a South Georgia Republican congressman and President Donald Trump.

Frustrated by delays in approving the recovery funding, which would also help victims of the California wildfires and other natural disasters, U.S. Rep. Austin Scott of Tifton went to the House floor Tuesday to level his complaints at the Trump administration.

“To this day, (the Office of Management and Budget) hasn’t even submitted a request for disaster assistance,” Scott said. “Calls to the White House staff have gone unheeded. And but for one tweet on April 1, it seems the president has moved on.”

The recovery bill, which is being pushed hard by Georgia U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue, as well as Gov. Brian Kemp, has been mired in a dispute between Trump and congressional Democrats over funding to aid Puerto Rico’s recovery from 2017’s Hurricane Maria. The White House wants to limit relief for the island territory to a $600 million funding patch for its food stamp program, which feeds about 43 percent of Puerto Rico’s population. Democrats say it needs more than that.

Scott has been one of the few congressional Republicans willing to boost financial aid to Puerto Rico. This past Monday, he tried to attach to a spending bill an additional $1.2 billion in Housing and Urban Development block grants that Puerto Rico would be able to tap. It failed to win passage, though.

In his speech Tuesday, Scott told his House colleagues that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence both pledged that help would come to southwest Georgia.

“We’ve been promised that this was a priority for the White House and congressional leadership, from both sides of the aisle,” Scott said. “… And as we stand here today, six months later, these can only be called empty promises. Never before have we seen American communities that were wrecked with catastrophes neglected like this.”

The delay is a pressing concern for farmers, who say the funding is needed to prepare for the upcoming planting season. Without it, they say some farmers may have to sit out this year, sell off their land or even leave agriculture for good.

Scott said the money might be on hold because it would go to farmers.

“The truth is,” he said, “if Hurricane Michael had hit Americans who weren’t farmers, or farmers who aren’t American, the story of Washington’s apathy … would be (on) the front page of every paper.”

In a front-page story in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, one of those southwest Georgia farmers, who is also a Republican member of the Thomas County Board of Commissioners, put the blame on congressional Democrats.

“How ignorant are they and how political is it for them to ignore what we’re dealing with on the ground down here trying to put food into storage and clothes on people’s backs?” Ken Hickey said. “They’re up there making ($174,000) a year and don’t give a damn.”

Look for more of this in 2020 or 2022: Naturally, a campaign element has now surfaced in the conflict over funding the recovery from Michael.

Kemp took aim at both Democrats and Republicans in Congress during a press conference Wednesday, saying their inability to work together shows “we have reached a low point as a nation.”

“This gridlock exposes the rotten core of some in Congress,” Kemp said. “They would rather crush an entire industry — destroying the livelihood of countless Americans — than do something that the opposition party wants. This dire situation highlights the brokenness in Washington.”

The governor, unlike Scott, did not spread his criticism to include Trump, who last year gave a big lift to Kemp’s efforts to win the GOP nomination and eventually the governor’s race.

Democrat Stacey Abrams, who’s contemplating another run against Kemp in 2022 — while also weighing a possible campaign against Georgia U.S. Sen. David Perdue next year, as well as a potential bid for the White House — saw it a little differently. And while countering what Kemp said, she managed to hit both Perdue and Trump.

“Senator Perdue has sided with President Trump’s absurd vendetta against fellow Americans,” she said, “and as a result, he has jeopardized hurricane relief for Georgia farmers and families.

“The Democratic-controlled House passed a bipartisan relief package three months ago, but the Senate has failed to act, and Senator Perdue unconscionably voted against the House bill last week.”

She also faulted what she sees as an effort to make Americans compete against each other for the funding.

“Pitting Americans in Georgia against Americans in Puerto Rico is fundamentally wrong and wholly unnecessary,” she said. “Georgia families and farmers deserve better leadership, and they deserve real relief now.”

Former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, who could run against Perdue if Abrams doesn’t, said much the same thing.

She then added, “Stop the ‘crazy and mean’ and get down to the business of assisting those in need.”

How to choose what and when to do it: The given is Abrams is running for something. The questions are how to choose and when to announce the choice.

Bill Nigut apparently tried to help with an answer during a taping this past week of GPB’s “Political Rewind” in Athens.

When Nigut asked how many thought she should run for president, the audience at the University of Georgia was silent.

It grew noisy again when Nigut asked about whether the Democrat should challenge Perdue in 2020 or make another run against Kemp in 2022.

A new poll of South Carolina registered voters who plan to vote in the state’s Democratic presidential primary found at least some support for Abrams moving into the Oval Office. The Change Research survey put her at 7%, tied with South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, The Charleston Post & Courier reported.

That’s a good distance behind former Vice President Joe Biden at 32% and even Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders at 14%.

But Abrams and Buttigieg are in the neighborhood with other Democratic hopefuls: California U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris at 10%; and New Jersey U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and former Texas U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, both at 9%.

They’re also doing better than U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. Each of them received minimal support in the poll.

Abrams has said she could wait until the fall to decide whether to pursue the presidency next year. But the political analysis blog FiveThirtyEight questions that strategy. It found that recent presidential nominees have typically ramped up their presidential campaigns by at least the spring of the odd-numbered year before the election.

Another option: In case Abrams chooses not to run against Perdue next year, some people are starting to think about Jen Jordan making the transition from state senator to U.S. senator.

They aren’t all necessarily Democrats.

Jordan appears to already have a tracker recording her movements with the aim of helping an opponent in the future.

The state senator testified this past week before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in opposition to a federal bill that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

She drew parallels to Georgia’s own 2012 law restricting abortions at 20 weeks, and she discussed the state’s soaring maternal mortality rate and its dwindling health care options in rural areas.

Jordan also talked about House Bill 481, the “heartbeat bill” that would replace the current state law with a ban at about six weeks into a pregnancy, before most women even know they are pregnant. The same issue brought national attention to Jordan when she opposed the bill in a speech last month that went viral.

As Jordan left the Judiciary Committee hearing room in Washington, somebody assumed tracker duties, silently filming her before a Capitol Hill staffer and police officer stepped in.

Jordan was asked whether she changed any minds during her D.C. appearance.

“I’m pretty sure I absolutely didn’t,” she said. “But you have to start these conversations, and the whole point is maybe we’ll have less political grandstanding and more conversations.”

Jordan didn’t answer questions about her political future but did say “what I have realized in life is to never say never.”

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