Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell answers questions during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on May 14, 2019 . (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images
Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Jolt: Is a Hurricane Michael relief deal finally on the horizon?

Magical things happen in Washington when lawmakers have a vacation around the corner. 

Capitol Hill hands have long joked that the smell of jet fumes helps make legislative hurdles that were once insurmountable magically fade away. And that’s what appears to be happening with the disaster relief package that’s sat on Congress’ doorstep for months as lawmakers prepare to leave for their Memorial Day recess at the end of the week.

Day by day, the obstacles that have inhibited passage of the roughly $17 billion package since December are being stripped away.

We’re told the thorniest issue, Puerto Rico funding, is all but resolved. Democrats appear to be playing ball on an eleventh-hour priority from the White House: emergency money for the border. Alabama Republican Richard Shelby, the powerful chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has reportedly stood down from his parochial demand to fold harbor maintenance provisions into the bill. 

There are of course other details that need to be ironed out. Reauthorization of the lapsed Violence Against Women Act is one of them. And yes, it’s more politically fraught than one might think.

But things are coming together more rapidly than any of us would have guessed a month or even a week ago.

Gov. Brian Kemp summed it up well yesterday: "Congress works good under deadlines.”

Securing federal relief money for farmers slammed by October’s Hurricane Michael has been a top priority for the Republican since he entered office, and Kemp has tried to use every pressure point short of calling out his White House ally to make his case. 

“I can’t urge them enough to get this done, to put politics aside. I think that’s exactly what’s coming up here,” he told us yesterday. 

Kemp also took an opportunity to ding Democratic senators such as Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand whose presidential aspirations have brought them to Georgia in recent weeks. 

“We have all these presidential candidates coming in, weighing in on all kinds of Georgia issues. I hope they will make their way back to the U.S. Senate and vote for our disaster relief bill and vote for our families,” he said. 

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is holding open space on the Senate calendar later this week for a disaster relief bill - bipartisan deal or not. The real question is whether something unforeseen pops up to kill the bipartisan momentum. 

Trump could be that something. In public he hasn’t done much to tweak his rhetoric on Puerto Rico funding - yesterday he repeated his erroneous claim that the feds have signed off on $91 billion for the island. But privately his staff has signaled the White House is ready for a deal. 

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When state Sen. Renee Unterman enters the 7th District race, likely in early June, the anti-abortion “heartbeat” measure she sponsored won’t just be a part of her campaign. It will play a central factor. 

The Gwinnett Republican reinforced this when she responded to a story by our AJC colleague J.D. Capelouto that documented how the district attorneys in metro Atlanta’s four most populous counties said they wouldn’t enforce the new law when it takes effect next year. 

Wrote Unterman:

“Between Socialist Stacey, ACLU, & Planned Parenthood...if that’s not a call to action @GaRepublicans, there never will be one in Georgia.”

She also initially said the law targets women seeking abortion, later clarifying that she meant it sought to crack down on abortion providers. 

Democrats quickly tried to paint her as the face of the GOP in the district, though she hasn’t jumped in the contest yet and a half-dozen Republicans have.

Wrote candidate Nabilah Islam: “We’re going to flip your Senate seat and this Congressional district. Girl, bye.”

And Carolyn Bourdeaux, the Democratic runner-up in last year’s contest, tweeted this: “.@GeorgiaDemocrat's, if THIS isn’t our call to action, nothing else will be. If you value having control over your own body, I’ll see you at the ballot box.” 

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Gov. Brian Kemp faces one of the more significant decisions since taking office when he selects a new official to stand in for embattled Insurance Commissioner Jim Beck. 

Kemp’s aides have vetted potential candidates to succeed Beck, who voluntarily suspended himself amid calls from Kemp and others to resign after he was charged with pilfering money from an insurance organization he runs to float his campaign. 

Expect the governor to seek out a female candidate to complement the virtually all-male contingent of statewide Republican officers. (The lone female is PSC Commissioner Tricia Pridemore.)

In an interview, Kemp said he was under no pressure to make a hasty decision. 

“We’re moving quickly, but we’re going to make a thoughtful decision. We’re working on that right now, and we’re quickly moving on it,” he said. “I thought it would have been appropriate for him to step down, but I can’t make that decision for him. He voluntarily suspended himself, so that triggers some things for us.”

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Stop us if this sounds a little familiar. A mother who became a national gun control advocate after her black teenage son was fatally shot gets inspired to run for office.

Sixth months after gun control advocate Lucy McBath won Georgia’s 6th Congressional District seat, another “Mother of the Movement” has announced her own plans to jump into politics. Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, is running for a seat on the Miami-Dade County Commission in Florida, according to The Miami Herald. 

Like McBath, Fulton campaigned for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and is advocating for tightening background checks and other gun control measures. 

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Judge Dax Lopez is picking up support for his bid for a new seat on the bench. Dozens of community leaders and Latino leaders signed a letter to Gov. Brian Kemp urging him to elevate the DeKalb state court judge to the superior court bench. 

Lopez, a Latino Jewish Republican, was blocked by U.S. Sen. David Perdue from a federal judgeship after anti-illegal immigration activists in Georgia objected to his leadership in a group that opposed local government participation in 287(g) programs. Some of those same forces oppose his bid for the new county post. 

The letter, sent to Kemp this morning, asserts that Lopez has “a commitment to following the law and ensuring justice for all.” Here’s more:

Additionally, Lopez has served as an advisor and mentor to countless organizations, students, lawyers, and Latino leaders throughout the state. However, his community involvement has never strayed into “judicial activism” or affected his professionalism in any matter. His judicial record reflects fairness, efficiency, and a fierce fidelity for the law as it is. This is why his detractors are not able to point to that record as a fault of Judge Lopez and instead resort to political attacks.

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The U.S. House unanimously passed an adoption bill yesterday authored by U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville. The legislation would require the State Department to include information about countries with policies blocking or limiting American adoptions in its annual adoption report to Congress.

The legislation is considered non-controversial – lawmakers also cleared it last year. Collins said the measure was inspired by a Gainesville couple that had been in the process of adopting two brothers from Russia right before the country ended U.S. adoptions in 2012. 

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