Updated at 12:40 p.m.:
President Donald Trump ultimately persuaded several Georgia GOP congressmen who were on the fence or leaning ‘yes’ to vote against a more than $17 billion disaster recovery bill on Friday.
Three of the state’s Republicans - Buddy Carter of Pooler, Austin Scott of Tifton and Rick Allen of Evans - joined 31 of their GOP colleagues who voted along with every Democrat to send the measure to the Senate.
It wasn’t going to end the impasse outright, but several Georgia Republicans were planning to back a House Democrat-authored disaster relief package Friday to send a message about the need to speed up slow-moving aid talks.
Then came a tweet from President Donald Trump urging the GOP to reject the more than $17 billion package, which includes money for Hurricane Michael victims.
“House Republicans should not vote for the BAD DEMOCRAT Disaster Supplemental Bill which hurts our States, Farmers & Border Security. Up for vote tomorrow,” Trump tweeted late Thursday. “We want to do much better than this. All sides keep working and send a good BILL for immediate signing!”
The president’s comments won’t be enough to kill the pending legislation outright - Democrats have the votes to pass it on their own. But it makes it that much harder for Georgia’s nine GOP congressman to support it and raises even more questions about whether Senate negotiators can strike a bipartisan deal of their own by Memorial Day, the target set by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Less than an hour before Trump’s tweet, multiple House Republicans from Georgia indicated they were planning to back Democrats’ bill. Exasperated by months of fighting between the White House and congressional Democrats over Puerto Rico aid, they hoped their votes would telegraph the urgent need for emergency money for the victims of Hurricane Michael and tornadoes in west Georgia.
“We can keep nickel-and-diming folks, but it’s not going to get any better for the people of Georgia,” said U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Lawrenceville. “The delay that we’ve already had borders on being immoral.”
Pooler Republican Buddy Carter said he had “mixed emotions” about the Democratic bill, which builds off a package the House passed on a party-line vote during the shutdown in January. Millions of dollars included for local blueberry farmers who were decimated by a late-season freeze in 2017 ultimately helped get him on board.
“There are some things in it, as there are with all bills, that I’m not necessarily excited about. But the benefit outweighs the risk in this,” Carter said.
It’s unclear whether Trump’s tweet will change the Georgia Republicans’ plans. House GOP leaders hadn’t been whipping against the bill, but some lawmakers may be loath vote go against the president given his overwhelming popularity with the party base.
Monroe Republican Jody Hice was planning to vote against the measure even before Trump tweeted his disapproval.
“Democrats are so concerned about Puerto Rico that we keep giving money there that we’ve already given,“ he said, adding that he had “pro-life concerns.” “We can do better than this.”
With the exception of Tifton Republican Austin Scott, most Georgia Republicans have refrained from criticizing the White House’s firm stance during the negotiations, including David Perdue, a Trump ally who’s been quarterbacking the state’s disaster aid push in the Senate.
Gov. Brian Kemp and a bipartisan group of nine other governors wrote to Trump and congressional leaders requesting their “urgent attention” in passing an aid bill earlier this week. And Perdue and Georgia U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson asked for the Department of Housing and Urban Development yesterday to free up some $34 million in assistance that would help cover some of Hurricane Michael’s infrastructure damage in Georgia.
Scott, meanwhile, has ramped up his criticism of the administration in recent days. He suggested the White House budget office, and specifically acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, were undermining the farm aid push.
“Things need to keep moving,” Scott said late Thursday. The House disaster bill “obviously won’t be the final piece of legislation, but I don’t see how sending another piece over (to the Senate) hurts.”