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Georgia congressmen hold party lines on border fight

None of Georgia’s 16 members of Congress are showing signs of breaking from their party leaders on the federal shutdown, which would become the longest on record after three weeks of furious fighting over money for President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall if it stretches to Saturday.

Their tenor is reflective of the broader partisan acrimony that has characterized the impasse, which Trump has warned could last for “months or even years” and has created a torrent of uncertainty for the estimated 16,000 federal workers in Georgia who have been furloughed or forced to work without pay.

All five of the state’s House Democrats voted to pass a trio of spending bills on Wednesday and Thursday that would reopen portions of the government, including the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Agriculture Department, even though Senate Republicans have vowed to reject the measures. Local Democrats said the onus was on the upper chamber to respond.

“We have passed spending bills unrelated to the Homeland Security bill that’s in question. Why not go ahead and pass all the other bills instead of holding everybody hostage?” said U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia. “It’s on the president now, and really it’s on the Senate to step up to the plate and do its job.”

Democrats had hoped their piecemeal approach could win over GOP lawmakers, particularly moderates who had grown uneasy with the shutdown and its economic impact. Multiple Senate Republicans up for re-election in 2020 had called on party leaders to reopen the government before resuming wall negotiations.

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But an intense lobbying campaign from the White House kept GOP defections to a minimum in the House. All nine Georgia Republicans in the chamber voted to reject the legislation.

“We’ve offered and negotiated in good faith, but the Democrats with their ‘not one cent’ (for the wall) mentality, they’re the ones who are causing this,” said U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler.

Lawmakers prepared to leave Washington for the weekend with no obvious path out of the standstill.

However, some Georgia Republicans indicated they could be receptive to a last-ditch approach floated by Trump in which he would declare a national emergency to circumvent Congress and build a wall.

“From a legal perspective, he is absolutely on solid ground,” said U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee and a former lawyer. “It’s sad that the Democrats are forcing him into a choice on doing a national emergency when they will not sit down and discuss it.”

Presidents have rarely used emergency authorities for domestic purposes, and in the past members of Congress have been hostile to the executive branch stepping on their decision-making turf.

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, Georgia’s senior-most Republican, has endorsed the need for a physical barrier on the southern border as well as his party’s rejection of Democrats’ moves to reopen the government piece by piece. But he was more wary than some of his GOP colleagues about the national emergency approach, likening it back to a similar debate on executive power that occurred in the Georgia Legislature after Atlanta’s child murders between 1979 and 1981.

“I have a lot of trouble with any one person having that much power without a check and a balance, even in a crisis,” he said. “I’m not (universally) opposed (to) it, but I’m also not without reservation until I know how much power it’s going to grant. And if it’s solely one individual, I want to know how they’re going to execute it.”

Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at ajc.com/news/georgia-government/.

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