Crews from the Georgia Forestry Commission help with cleanup in southwest Georgia after Hurricane Michael struck the region in October.

Capitol Recap: White House spat muddies Georgia’s hurricane recovery

The storm that passed through the White House this week has cast a cloud over funding for Hurricane Michael recovery efforts.

The White House clash Tuesday between President Donald Trump and Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer heightened the possibility of a federal government shutdown later this month.

The issue of contention is funding for Trump’s long-promised border wall, and he has said he would be “proud” to shut down the government if the money doesn’t come through for the project.

But collateral damage in such a fight could include cash to help southwest Georgia rebuild what was lost to Michael. A delay in that funding beyond the end of the year could set back the timetable for Georgia farmers and their lenders, who hope to settle on financing in time for the planting of crops in 2019.

Farmers in southwest Georgia took a beating from Michael, suffering more than $2.5 billion in damage from the storm, according to University of Georgia estimates.

Georgia lawmakers have been working to attach money for the Michael recovery to a must-pass government spending bill. But that would be the same bill Trump hopes to use to secure funding for the wall.

There’s been some talk of placing the Michael funding in its own bill, but that won’t be easy. The U.S. House schedule is a tight one that won’t allow for much maneuvering.

Staying in view: Stacey Abrams is keeping her name out there. It’s just not clear for what purpose.

The Democrat who only weeks ago lost a close race for governor was back on the airwaves in an advertisement to remind people about Saturday’s deadline to sign up for insurance under the the Affordable Care Act at healthcare.gov.

The donor-funded ad was put on by Abrams’ new group, Fair Fight Action, which is also at the center of a lawsuit seeking an overhaul of Georgia’s electoral system.

The ad appeared to be one of several recent steps to maintain Abrams’ presence before voters. It even featured captions in Spanish to target Georgia Latinos.

Abrams has hinted at another run for office.

But which race is she lining up for?

Abrams could challenge U.S. Sen. David Perdue in 2020.

But something stressed often during the past campaign was that Abrams had the opportunity to become the nation’s first female African-American governor.

Those conditions still might exist in 2022 if she wanted to go to battle once again against Brian Kemp.

An early victory: Geoff Duncan passed a tough first test of his authority even before settling into the lieutenant governor’s office at the Capitol.

The Senate GOP caucus, during a meeting Monday, discussed making changes to the Committee on Assignments, the group Duncan will head in his role as president of the upper chamber. It’s a source of great power because it decides who serves on what committee.

Five people currently serve on the Committee of Assignments: the Senate president pro tem, the Senate majority leader, the lieutenant governor and two members whom he appoints. That means Duncan would control three of the panel’s five votes.

There have been times when there were more members, but only on a temporary basis. Some Senate leaders were pushing for two permanent additions: the majority whip and the caucus chairman.

That would have flipped the math, eliminating Duncan’s ability to command the majority. Some said it also would have brought a return to a chaotic rule-by-committee that Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle weathered for a while.

But Duncan, a former member of the state House of Representatives who never served in the Senate, and his allies beat back the challenge, meaning he’ll have the big chair at the table.

A stock suggestion: Some of Tom Price’s former colleagues in Congress find him inspiring, just not necessarily in a fond way.

When Price was going through the confirmation process that would transform him from a metro Atlanta congressman to Trump’s first secretary of health and human services, he faced some heavy questioning regarding his investments. Democrats raised concerns that he might have received insider information from one of his colleagues, Republican U.S. Rep. Chris Collins of New York, and that he also might have traded in health stocks while writing major pieces of health care legislation.

Collins, by the way, was later indicted on charges of insider trading, while Price ran into other problems involving the use of charter aircraft at taxpayers’ expense. It would eventually force his departure from Trump’s Cabinet.

Now a pair of Democrats, U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, are pushing for a measure that would bar lawmakers and senior congressional staffers from buying or selling stocks of any kind while in office.

Members of Congress are allowed to trade stocks, but it’s illegal, thanks to a 2012 law, to make trades using nonpublic information generated by pending legislation. It’s relatively common for lawmakers to own stocks, although many have put their assets into blind trusts. Naturally, there are exceptions, including Perdue, a former Fortune 500 CEO who continues to actively trade individual stocks, according to his financial disclosure forms.

With Republicans controlling the Senate, the Merkley-Brown bill stands little chance of passing.

Keeping a hand in the process: To enhance Georgia's voting security, an expert’s recommendations are less about digital operations and more about, well, digits.

The most secure system would require voters to mark their ballots by hand, Georgia Tech professor Wenke Lee said, before turning them in to be scanned and tallied electronically. Even then, the ballots should be dropped into a physical safe box.

Lee is the cybersecurity expert working with a panel Kemp created as secretary of state to recommend a new voting system for Georgia. In a report to the panel, Lee makes a detailed case for more secure software and a balloting system that is “easily and clearly readable and manually countable.” Lee also notes that the CIA is moving away from digital storage of some top-secret data.

Georgia lawmakers generally agree that the state needs to replace its 16-year-old voting machines, and that a new system — unlike the one currently in use — should produce a verifiable paper trail to double-check results and prevent potential fraud.

But there’s a split over method.

Republicans, including Secretary of State-elect Brad Raffensperger, have pushed for a system that would use touchscreens to print out paper ballots. Democrats tend to support a system like Lee’s that would require voters to mark their ballots before they’re fed into an optical scanner.

Lee also suggests that the state, when choosing those safe boxes, rent instead of own. That way, Lee said, the state can “ensure its voting system is built on top of the latest generation of security technologies provided via the latest hardware and operating systems.”

Signing on for bipartisanship: Georgia Democrats Max Cleland, Wyche Fowler and Sam Nunn joined 41 other former U.S. senators in signing a Washington Post op-ed calling on the current members of the upper chamber to be “steadfast and zealous guardians of our democracy by ensuring that partisanship or self-interest not replace national interest.”

“At other critical moments in our history, when constitutional crises have threatened our foundations, it has been the Senate that has stood in defense of our democracy,” the group wrote. “Today is once again such a time.”

It was a bipartisan effort. Other former senators attached to the article included Republicans Chuck Hagel and Dick Luger and Democrats Tom Daschle and John Kerry.

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