Capitol Recap: Georgians among hard-liners who could force government shutdown

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Rome, has said she is a “no” on funding the federal government to avoid a shutdown unless all her demands are met. They include passing an impeachment inquiry on President Joe Biden and ceasing federal funding for COVID-19 vaccines and the war in Ukraine. (Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Nathan Posner for The AJC

Credit: Nathan Posner for The AJC

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Rome, has said she is a “no” on funding the federal government to avoid a shutdown unless all her demands are met. They include passing an impeachment inquiry on President Joe Biden and ceasing federal funding for COVID-19 vaccines and the war in Ukraine. (Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Clyde, Greene make demands for inclusion in any spending agreement

The U.S. Senate returned to work this past week with a big task at hand: avoiding a shutdown of the federal government at the end of the month.

That could happen one of two ways.

Congress could pass all 12 appropriation bills, or it could approve a continuing resolution, or CR, that would buy lawmakers some time to work on a final deal while government operations continue.

Prospects don’t appear good for either option at the moment.

So far, the Senate has not approved any of the dozen appropriations bills. The House, which doesn’t get back from its summer recess until this week, has passed one, but it’s also where the biggest fights are expected.

Some Republican hard-liners — including U.S. Reps. Andrew Clyde of Athens and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Rome — have shown a willingness to bring the government to a halt if they don’t get what they want attached to any spending deal. Many of them are seeking a rollback in spending beyond the limits set in the debt deal President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy reached earlier this year.

Greene has additional demands.

“I’ve already decided I will not vote to fund the government unless we have passed an impeachment inquiry on Joe Biden,” Greene told constituents late last month during a town hall in Floyd County.

She also wants to cease federal funding for COVID-19 vaccines and the war in Ukraine.

Clyde told Maria Bartiromo on the Fox Business network that “we cannot have a clean CR, that’s for certain.”

He wants any deal to include language addressing border security, “weaponization of the Department of Justice” and “taking the wokeness out of the military.”

The congressman, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, is also proposing a block on the flow of money to Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and federal special counsel Jack Smith. All three prosecutors have brought criminal charges against former President Donald Trump.

Clyde added that, as a member of the Appropriations panel, “I’m in a position to act upon this.”

Nearly every Republican member of the House is actually in a position of power because McCarthy cannot lose more than five votes if he wants to pass a spending measure without help from Democrats.

Clyde did not say what he will do if his amendments fail, but Greene, a McCarthy ally, has said she is a “no” on funding the government unless all her demands are met.

Trial opens that could scramble state’s political maps

A trial began this past week that could lead to a redrawing of Georgia’s political maps if a judge determines that Republicans illegally weakened the electoral power of Black voters during redistricting following the 2020 U.S. census.

The case could potentially award Democrats a congressional seat and add to their holdings in the GOP-dominated General Assembly because Blacks in Georgia overwhelmingly support the party. Most white voters generally back Republicans.

The trial began after the U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld the landmark Voting Rights Act, which was designed to protect representation of Black voters.

The state’s Black population, including those who identify as Black and at least one other race, increased by 484,000 in the decade before 2020. The state’s white-only population declined by 52,000 to just over 50% of the state’s total headcount, according to the U.S. census.

During redistricting, though, Republicans drew lines in a way that resulted in their party adding a congressional seat that was previously held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, who is Black.

Republicans now hold nine of Georgia’s 14 congressional districts, up from eight seats before redistricting.

“Black voters were shut out of new political opportunities even though new majority-Black districts could have easily been drawn,” Sophia Lin Lakin, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in her opening statement. “Black Georgians continue to be underrepresented in the halls of power.”

An attorney defending the state’s maps told U.S. District Judge Steve Jones that Black voters have gained representation in recent statewide races with victories by Democratic candidates, including U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and President Joe Biden.

“There is success for Black political candidates in Georgia, but plaintiffs are asking for more success,” said Bryan Tyson, who represents the state. “... Every Georgia voter, regardless of race or color, has an equal opportunity to participate in the political process.”

During a special session on redistricting in 2021, Republican lawmakers carved out districts in a way that also allowed them to retain a majority in the General Assembly with 57% of state legislative seats.

The first witness to take the stand in the trial was William Cooper, an expert mapmaker for the plaintiffs who testified that population growth among Black Georgians was enough for three new seats in the state Senate and eight in the state House.

“There’s been a tremendous change in the Black population of Georgia,” Cooper said. “It’s just baffling that no additional state House or state Senate seats were created.”

The trial opened the same day a panel of three federal judges rejected Alabama’s latest congressional map because it failed to follow a court order requiring an additional district where Black voters would at least came close to forming a majority.

Similar legal battles over redistricting are playing out in other states — including Louisiana, New York, North Carolina and Texas — that could reshape the nation’s political landscape ahead of next year’s elections.

John Bisognano, president of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, said those court cases could affect up to 27 congressional districts across the country. Republicans currently hold a 222-212 majority in the U.S. House.

The trial is scheduled to last two weeks.

State Sen. Colton Moore says he has used money he's raised as part of a campaign to impeach Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis to flood his GOP colleagues with “tens of thousands” of robocalls to get them to back his call for a special legislative session. (Arvin Temkar /

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

State Republicans continue squabbling over punishment for Fulton DA

The harsh words continued between state Sen. Colton Moore and his fellow Republicans over his call to impeach Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis after she brought charges against former President Donald Trump.

The stream of fiery language now seems to be flowing more in both directions after Moore originally tried putting heat on other senators to call a special session for the purposes of Willis’ impeachment.

Gov. Brian Kemp accused Moore of engineering a “grifter scam.” Moore responded by calling the governor “shallow-minded” and raised doubts about how much he learned in his high school government class.

Meanwhile, 25 Republican senators stated in a letter that any push for a special session would be “spinning wheels and wasting taxpayer money” because it would require the unlikely support of Democrats, as would the impeachment of Willis.

“Anyone who says otherwise,” they said, “is being disingenuous.”

Moore, for his part, has repeatedly insulted his GOP colleagues and posted the personal phone numbers of several of them on social media. Some lawmakers have reported being targeted with threatening or harassing behavior as a result of the pro-Trump fury.

During an appearance this past week on WDUN, Moore told Martha Zoller that he is “going to continue to tighten the vise.” He said he’s using the money he’s raising off his anti-Willis campaign to flood his GOP colleagues with “tens of thousands” of robocalls.

“We’re in a political war,” he said

When Zoller asked Moore whether he knew several of his fellow senators had received death threats as a result of his latest push, Moore responded: “Do you know how many death threats I’ve gotten?”

Some think Moore could be subjected to sanctions under the Senate’s rules on “disorderly behavior or misconduct.”

Eric Johnson of Savannah, once a member of the Senate’s GOP leadership before leaving office, suggested a different approach.

“I’m old school,” he wrote on social media. “Sen. Colton Moore should get a crappy office, a worthless secretary, harmless committees and no bills or budget items. Some people have a right to representation — but that doesn’t mean they should be rewarded for stupid choices.”

Some back oversight panel to punish Willis, but obstacles exist

While most of the Republicans in the state Senate have rejected a call to impeach Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, they do not intend to spare her grief and potential expulsion.

It’s a question of method.

The chamber’s GOP caucus is urging her critics to file complaints against her when the new Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission begins its work in October. The panel, created this year when the GOP-led General Assembly passed Senate Bill 92, will have the power to sanction or remove prosecutors.

That, however, could run into a couple of problems.

First, there’s a public relations issue coming from an unlikely source, Gov. Brian Kemp — a firm promoter of SB 92 as a way to target “rogue” prosecutors he said were not enforcing the state’s laws.

While Kemp has voiced concerns that politics may have motivated Willis to pursue the 41-count indictment against former President Donald Trump and his allies accusing them of illegally attempting to overturn the 2020 election, he has said he has seen no evidence she warrants any punishment.

SB 92 is also facing a court challenge by a bipartisan group of prosecutors. That effort recently gained some support of note.

The Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay College filed a brief in support of the challenge to SB 92, saying that the panel could penalize prosecutors for keeping campaign promises about their approach to enforcing Georgia laws — and that it could have a chilling effect that threatens the judiciary’s independence.

Also backing the court challenge is a bipartisan group of more than 80 current and former prosecutors, including a pair of former U.S. solicitor generals, that submitted a legal filing arguing that SB 92 illegally infringes on prosecutorial discretion and undermines local control.

“If allowed to stand it has the potential to do tremendous damage to Georgia’s criminal justice system,” their brief states, “while also promoting mischief in other parts of the nation.”

Judge removes block on state law limiting treatment for transgender kids

A federal judge reversed her earlier ruling to now allow Georgia’s law limiting treatments for transgender children to remain in effect while a lawsuit works its way through the judicial process.

U.S. District Judge Sarah E. Geraghty last month put a temporary hold on the law — which the General Assembly passed during this year’s legislative session — while it was being challenged by the families of transgender children as discriminatory against transgender individuals.

But after the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling that blocked a similar law in Alabama, state Attorney General Chris Carr asked Geraghty to reconsider her decision.

The new order again bans health care professionals from giving hormones such as estrogen or testosterone to minors.

State Sen. Carden Summers, a Cordele Republican who sponsored the law known as Senate Bill 140, said he was glad the state was giving young people time before making an irreversible decision to alter their bodies.

“I hope that people understand that this was not written to single out any sexual orientation,” he said. “This is simply to give young people a chance to pause to make sure they know what they’re doing and they want to do what they’re doing.”

Attorneys for the plaintiffs who sought to block the ban on treatments expressed in a press release that they were disappointed “primarily for the families who are unable to get the care they need in Georgia or make medical decisions based on the best interest of their children.”

They added that “we will keep fighting.”

Federal district judges have stopped similar laws from taking effect in other states. But the laws have been reinstated by U.S. appeals courts in the 11th and 6th circuits.

Alabama’s law differs slightly from Georgia’s. In Georgia, transgender minors are allowed to receive puberty blockers, and anyone who had begun hormone therapy before the law took effect in July would be allowed to continue. Alabama’s law bans the use of all treatments for transgender minors.

Political expedience

  • Smyre to serve at U.N.: Former state Rep. Calvin Smyre has been named one of five U.S. delegates to the United Nations General Assembly. In that temporary position, which does not require U.S. Senate confirmation, Smyre will meet with leaders of nearly 200 nations and discuss global issues such as climate change, immigration and the impact of war and other international conflicts. Smyre, a Democrat from Columbus who served 48 years in the Georgia House, is also waiting to take another job in President Joe Biden’s administration. In September 2021, Biden named Smyre to serve as ambassador to the Dominican Republic. But the Senate never acted to confirm him, and the nomination died. Biden then picked Smyre in January 2023 to serve as ambassador to the Bahamas. He is again awaiting confirmation.
  • Governor picks panel to consider suspension of state senator: Gov. Brian Kemp has appointed Attorney General Chris Carr, state House Majority Leader Chuck Efstration and state Senate Majority Leader Steve Gooch to assess whether a state legislator who was indicted along with former President Donald Trump should be suspended. Sen. Shawn Still, a Republican from Norcross, was charged in a fake elector scheme that played a part in what Fulton County prosecutors call a vast “criminal enterprise” to overturn that election. Under Georgia law, Still could be suspended from the Senate while the case is pending. The members of the commission, all Republicans, are required to produce a written report within 14 days. If the commission determines the indictment relates to or adversely affects the administration of Still’s office, and the public is adversely affected, Kemp is mandated by state law to “suspend the public official immediately.”