Capitol Recap: Georgia governor, ex-senator could face off in a primary

Then-U.S. Sen. David Perdue embraces fellow Republican Brian Kemp during the 2018 campaign for governor that Kemp won. Now, Perdue is considering a run against Kemp in the 2022 GOP primary, according to eight people who spoke to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential matters. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
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Then-U.S. Sen. David Perdue embraces fellow Republican Brian Kemp during the 2018 campaign for governor that Kemp won. Now, Perdue is considering a run against Kemp in the 2022 GOP primary, according to eight people who spoke to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential matters. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Perdue mulls a challenge against Kemp

Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue isn’t running for governor — at least not yet — but he’s dusting off the campaign machinery, making sure it’s lubricated.

Eight people, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential matters, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Perdue has been calling donors and other allies, floating the idea of making a run at the Governor’s Mansion — even though that would mean competing against a fellow Republican, Gov. Brian Kemp.

Some of the eight described the former senator as “conflicted,” but others said he appears ready to launch a bid.

One Perdue ally said Democrat Stacey Abrams — who lost to Kemp in a tight race in 2018 and is apparently planning a rematch in 2022 — could play a key role in the former senator’s final decision. That person said Perdue would only run if he felt Kemp — who has been censured by some Republicans at the county and district level following his refusal to illegally overturn President Donald Trump’s defeat in Georgia in last year’s election — was so politically damaged that he couldn’t defeat Abrams in November.

If Perdue did choose to run, the expectation is that he would quickly win Trump’s endorsement. While speaking at a September rally in Perry, the former president encouraged Perdue to run.

Perdue’s allies have leaked word that he has met with Trump, including during a recent two-day visit to Florida. Trump’s allies also recently leaked polls that show Perdue would be in a strong position if he chose to enter the race.

The former senator, a Fortune 500 CEO before entering politics, has also been taking care of business back home by appearing at recent grassroots events.

But the 71-year-old, who lost a narrow contest in January’s U.S. Senate runoff to Democrat Jon Ossoff, has also been taking care of other business back home: He’s building a new estate in coastal Georgia.

“Right now, David and Bonnie are enjoying their life,” a confidante told the AJC, “but they are praying about the future and not closing any doors.”

Perdue is clearly on the Kemp reelection campaign’s radar. It’s checked in with activists and operatives for clues about what the ex-senator may decide.

Kemp has also told supporters he will stay in the race regardless of Perdue’s decision, and some of the governor’s allies have warned that if the former senator enters the race, he could face a “scorched earth” campaign and a “fight to the finish.”

Tate Mitchell, a Kemp campaign spokesman, pointed out in a statement that the governor and his wife, Marty, “proudly campaigned hard” for Perdue throughout 2020, and he suggested that Kemp would view a primary challenge as a betrayal after the former senator said earlier this year that he would support the governor.

Kemp is already facing Republican challenges from several pro-Trump contenders, including former Democrat Vernon Jones. But Perdue would represent an increase in the threat level.

Brian Pritchard, a conservative activist and commentator in North Georgia, said “many people are telling me they want someone else” to run.

“Perdue could be that candidate,” he said.

Gov. Brian Kemp and Georgia Attorney General are preparing to go to court to fight President Joe Biden’s order requiring federal contractors to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to two people with direct knowledge of the litigation who requested anonymity to discuss confidential proceedings.
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Gov. Brian Kemp and Georgia Attorney General are preparing to go to court to fight President Joe Biden’s order requiring federal contractors to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to two people with direct knowledge of the litigation who requested anonymity to discuss confidential proceedings.

Georgia set to go to court over Biden vaccine mandate

Gov. Brian Kemp promised to “pursue every legal option” to challenge President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates, and now Georgia appears ready to go to court over one of them.

Kemp and the state’s attorney general, Chris Carr, intend to fight Biden’s order requiring federal contractors to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to two people with direct knowledge of the litigation who requested anonymity to discuss confidential proceedings.

Biden’s order could affect thousands of Georgians who are vendors of the federal government or work for certain public agencies, such as the higher education system.

The University of Georgia, Georgia Tech and other schools in the state’s higher education system sent notices that contractors working for the universities faced a Dec. 8 deadline to be vaccinated. UGA is also requiring vaccinations by that date for its employees who “work on or in connection with a federal contract, or who work in a covered contractor workplace,” according to the school’s newspaper, The Red & Black.

The move comes after two dozen Republican-run states threatened in September to seek legal action against Biden’s vaccine mandates that also impose requirements in the private sector.

For example, the president’s orders require staffers be vaccinated or tested regularly for COVID-19 at businesses with more than 100 workers. Also, 17 million workers at health care facilities that receive federal medical funding must be vaccinated.

Except in a few cases, judges have so far upheld requirements that government workers, public university students and contractors get shots.

Georgia Democrats criticized the planned litigation, calling it a “dangerous political stunt.”

“Rather than put partisanship aside to get Georgians vaccinated, Georgia Republicans have decided to wage a war on the side of COVID-19,” said Rhyan Lake, the state party’s spokeswoman.

Kemp, like many other Republican leaders, has opposed vaccine requirements and mask mandates. Instead, he has regularly encouraged Georgians to consult with their medical providers and get the vaccine.

The governor recently took steps to support the ranks of state-financed health care staffers and offer incentives to state employees who have been vaccinated. But he has also rejected the calls of public health experts to impose new restrictions, saying that’s “not the government’s role.”

Kemp has also resisted pressure from conservatives to block local school systems from implementing mask and vaccine mandates, saying he believes in local control and is not “going to tell private companies what to do.”

Walker gains backing among Republicans in Washington

Some GOP leaders had worried that Herschel Walker might prove to be a weak nominee for the U.S. Senate, but they’re warming up to him.

The former University of Georgia football player this past week notched the support of U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the sixth GOP senator to throw support behind Walker’s candidacy in a race that could decide control of the chamber.

“Herschel is the only one who can unite the party, defeat Sen. (Raphael) Warnock and help us take back the Senate,” McConnell said. “I look forward to working with Herschel in Washington to get the job done.”

It was McConnell’s first endorsement of a non-incumbent in the 2022 cycle, and it followed weeks of discussions with Walker’s campaign.

The move could reflect a desire by McConnell to tamp down the type of division that gripped the Georgia GOP through much of 2020 when then-U.S. Rep. Doug Collins waged a challenge against then-U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler in a special election that neither won.

McConnell’s endorsement followed a pledge of support from U.S. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the chamber’s No. 2 Republican.

Walker already possessed what could be the biggest endorsement in the GOP primary, former President Donald Trump, a longtime friend who had encouraged him to get in the race.

The other Republicans seeking to unseat Warnock — Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, businessman Kelvin King and former Navy SEAL Latham Saddler — are not backing down.

Black, probably Walker’s best-known rival in the primary, has continued to slam him for running a “Biden in the basement strategy” to avoid questions about his policy stances, his previous inactivity in GOP politics, his decades-long residency in Texas or his history of violent behavior toward women.

Dan McLagan, a spokesman for Black, was unimpressed by Walker’s establishment support.

“This is the same gang that lost the Senate majority and both Georgia seats last year,” McLagan said. “I doubt Georgia Republicans are going to go down that path again.”

Black has his own big-name support, including former Gov. Nathan Deal and Collins. Each has praised Black’s record in public office and emphasized his ties to the conservative grassroots base in North Georgia.

The congressional districts represented by Democratic U.S. Reps. Carolyn Bourdeaux, left, and Lucy McBath could draw a lot of attention during the upcoming special legislative session for redistricting. Depending on how the Republican majority sets the boundaries, the two could end up running against each other in a primary.
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The congressional districts represented by Democratic U.S. Reps. Carolyn Bourdeaux, left, and Lucy McBath could draw a lot of attention during the upcoming special legislative session for redistricting. Depending on how the Republican majority sets the boundaries, the two could end up running against each other in a primary.

Redistricting could map a course for a Bourdeaux, McBath showdown

Two Democratic seats in Congress will likely dominate the thinking of Georgia Republicans when they start redrawing the state’s political maps next week.

But they may only be able to do something about one of them.

That could be enough, though, if it pits U.S. Reps. Carolyn Bourdeaux and Lucy McBath against each other.

At least one of their jurisdictions — McBath’s 6th Congressional District or Bourdeaux’s 7th Congressional District — is expected to be a major remodeling project for the Republicans who control the General Assembly.

Right now, the consensus among political observers is that McBath’s district is the more likely target for the GOP, especially after Senate Republicans released a map that would add deeply conservative Forsyth County to her turf and shift a reliably Democratic section of DeKalb County out of the 6th District.

Bourdeaux’s district could become a safer place for Democrats, possibly all of it falling within the boundaries of left-leaning Gwinnett, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be more to her liking.

Members of the U.S. House aren’t required to live in their districts, so McBath could shift her focus to the 7th District. Other Democrats could also challenge Bourdeaux.

“The 7th District looks like it’s going to become a more progressive district, and Carolyn is setting herself up for a primary challenge if it becomes bluer,” said Nabilah Islam, a Democratic organizer who hasn’t ruled out a new challenge to Bourdeaux after losing to her in the 2020 primary.

Bourdeaux, serving her first term in Congress, has been a reliable supporter of Democratic policies. But she also lined up with centrists who tried to force a vote on a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package separate from a larger social spending bill that Democrats are still drafting and hope to pass without any Republican support through a process called reconciliation.

The centrists eventually gave up their demands, but Bourdeaux drew angry rebukes from some union leaders and left-leaning organizations who supported her campaign last year.

“A lot of progressive grassroots organizations are very disappointed with her stance on the budget reconciliation,” Islam said. “They feel very betrayed, and they don’t know if they can continue to trust her.”

Michèle Taylor of Atlanta is President Joe Biden's choice for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Taylor's appointment will need to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
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Michèle Taylor of Atlanta is President Joe Biden's choice for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Taylor's appointment will need to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Credit: Special

Credit: Special

Biden picks Atlantan for U.N. human rights post

President Joe Biden has nominated Atlanta Michèle Taylor to become the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Taylor is a board member of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights and has helped lead a range of other humanitarian groups. The daughter of a Holocaust survivor, she also was a member of the Holocaust Memorial Museum Council.

She has deep ties to local Democratic politics, including Kasim Reed’s successful reelection campaign for the Atlanta mayorship in 2013 and Michelle Nunn’s unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate in 2014.

The U.S. Senate must approve Taylor’s nomination, and a vote is likely months away.

Earlier this month, the U.S. rejoined the Human Rights Council, reversing then-President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw over what critics said was a disproportionate focus on alleged abuses by Israel.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, a former governor of Georgia, was ordered in October 2020 to reimburse the federal government for a trip announcing an extension of the Food Box Program in a speech that included comments backing then-President Donald Trump’s reelection. The program, itself, has now drawn criticism from a U.S. House subcommittee that says it was mismanaged and awarded $96 million in contracts to underqualified companies. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
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U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, a former governor of Georgia, was ordered in October 2020 to reimburse the federal government for a trip announcing an extension of the Food Box Program in a speech that included comments backing then-President Donald Trump’s reelection. The program, itself, has now drawn criticism from a U.S. House subcommittee that says it was mismanaged and awarded $96 million in contracts to underqualified companies. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Sonny Perdue’s Food Box Program accused of mismanagement

A U.S. House subcommittee found that a program that was meant to provide food to needy families during the coronavirus pandemic was marred by mismanagement and used to try to score political points.

The Food Box Program was created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under Secretary Sonny Perdue.

In a damning report, the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic found that the program provided nearly $96 million in contracts to underqualified companies.

The subcommittee also wrote that the program lacked appropriate structure and oversight.

The boxes were also criticized for containing letters signed by then-President Donald Trump at a time when he was running for reelection.

U.S. Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the third-ranking Democrat in the House, said the program “was marred by a structure that prioritized industry over families, by contracting practices that prioritized cutting corners over competence, and by decisions that prioritized politics over the public good.”

Perdue, the former governor of Georgia, was ordered in October 2020 to reimburse the government for a trip announcing an extension of the food program after his speech included comments backing Trump’s reelection.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel determined that was a violation of the Hatch Act, a federal law that prevents government officials from using their office to endorse candidates or engage in political activity.

U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff has asked U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to fund $9.3 million in improvements to facilities at Southwest Georgia Regional Medical Center as part of a plan to reopen the Randolph County hospital. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
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U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff has asked U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to fund $9.3 million in improvements to facilities at Southwest Georgia Regional Medical Center as part of a plan to reopen the Randolph County hospital. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Ossoff seeks funds to help reopen Randolph County hospital

U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff has asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to fund a $9.3 million upgrade to the facilities at the Southwest Georgia Regional Medical Center in hopes that it can be reopened.

After years of financial struggle, the Randolph County hospital closed last year under the weight of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

County leaders are working to form a partnership with a nonprofit health care company to reopen the hospital, but the building needs work.

Ossoff told Vilsack in a letter that by reopening the hospital, the federal investment “will have ripple effects far beyond the immediate counties of service.”

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