The Jolt: The dueling realities of the Senate’s disaster relief breakthrough

U.S. Sen. David Perdue speaks to conservative activists during the Georgia GOP state convention in Savannah on May 18, 2019. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
U.S. Sen. David Perdue speaks to conservative activists during the Georgia GOP state convention in Savannah on May 18, 2019. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

It's the Friday before a holiday weekend, and with my two Insider colleagues out on well-deserved vacations I figured we could play a game of Pick Your News.

The Senate came to a sudden – and frankly, stunning – agreement yesterday on a long-delayed disaster relief package, to the relief of many in south Georgia.

Depending on who you talked to, the great news was either: a) because of the brave, unblinking leadership of President Donald Trump, or b) in spite of the erratic, obstructive tendencies of President Donald Trump.

We told you how the disaster relief bill would have 2020 implications in Georgia. Behold those forces already on full blast.

Take U.S. Sen. David Perdue. In some ways, the day belonged to him. The first-term Republican undoubtedly secured a major victory when he convinced his White House ally to drop his demand for border security money - the issue that had caused talks to collapse on Wednesday evening - to finalize a deal. He prevailed over the top two members of the House Freedom Caucus, who were reportedly in the room when Trump took the phone call and urging him to hold strong.

Within minutes of senators clearing the $19.1 billion package, Perdue made clear how he would frame the victory. The subject line of the press release his team blasted out yesterday: “President Trump Breaks Through Logjam On Disaster Relief.”

(Compare that to U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s otherwise identical press release, with a headline focused on the work he and Perdue did on the bill.)

The strategy took a page from Perdue's recent Georgia GOP convention speech, in which he spoke more about Trump than his own election campaign and made clear the two were in the 2020 fight together.

In subsequent remarks to reporters, Perdue took a rosy view of the president’s approach to Puerto Rico funding, the issue that stalled negotiations with Democrats since January.

"The president was very concerned, even back in December and January, to take care of the needs in Puerto Rico. I know there was a lot of bad press about that, but he stood up on nutrition (funding), on the Community Development Block Grants,” he said.

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Democrats, of course, see Perdue's version as revisionist history. And they sold Thursday's outcome as a runaway victory. Not only did they get Trump to relent on extra Puerto Rico money – the president agreed to $300 million more in additional block grant money – but on dropping his demand for more border security money.

"This bill is almost exactly the same bill that (senior Democrat Patrick) Leahy and I proposed six weeks ago and could have been passed then,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer crowed to reporters after the vote.

“If he stays out of it and lets us work together, we might get some things done, but the Republicans have to have the courage to buck him,” the New York Democrat later added.

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Former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson picked things up from there. The Perdue challenger framed the bill's passage - more than seven months after Hurricane Michael made landfall - as a sign of Perdue's ineffectiveness as a lawmaker and presidential confidante.

"Finally, after more than seven months, Georgia farmers are getting the disaster relief they deserve,” the Democrat tweeted. “But these farmers - and everyone whose livelihood was devastated by Hurricane Michael - deserve more than David Perdue’s seven months of ineffectiveness.”

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The Georgia Conservancy tapped a familiar face to be its new leader: Bart Gobeil, a former deputy to Gov. Nathan Deal. Gobeil was an economic development official with the ports department and chief operating officer for Deal's administration. He will succeed Robert Ramsay, who stepped down in January.

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Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced a new, $16 billion round of aid payments yesterday designed to cushion farmers from the impact of Chinese tariffs. Unlike trade aid doled out by the Agriculture Department last year, the payments will be determined by where farmers live rather than what kind of crops they grow, Reuters reports.

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We told you earlier this month about Sonny Perdue's contested plan to relocate two Agriculture Department agencies outside of Washington. The former Georgia governor is continuing to move forward with his proposal, and hundreds of employees recently received notices that their jobs are moving outside of the D.C. region.

Politico reports that "nearly all" of the department's employees who research the economic effects of climate change, trade and tax policy and food stamps – all the subjects of contentious Trump administration actions – are being relocated, "part of what employees claim is a political crackdown on economists whose assessments have raised questions about the president's policies."

Perdue says the proposed moves have nothing to do with the work being done by agency employees. Worthy of your time.