PG A.M.: Biden quietly sends emissary to Morehouse ahead of risky speech

Your daily jolt of news and analysis from the AJC politics team

Morehouse College might not be the staging ground for the sorts of campus protests recently seen at Columbia University or even the University of Georgia. But the White House doesn’t want to take any risks ahead of President Joe Biden’s commencement speech at the school on Sunday.

One of Biden’s top aides quietly met with a small group of student and faculty leaders last week at Morehouse amid threats of protests, walkouts and boycotts of Biden’s address, NBC News reported.

Steve Benjamin, who heads the White House’s Office of Public Engagement, reportedly told the group that Biden’s remarks wouldn’t turn into a campaign stump speech. The students, in turn, raised concerns he would overshadow their graduation celebration.

Vice President Kamala Harris (right) is pictured at an event with students at Morehouse College in Atlanta.

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Benjamin is not the only Biden ally gauging the temperature on campus. U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock has issued reminders of Morehouse’s legacy of peaceful protest. Vice President Kamala Harris asked the student body president during an April visit what students would like to hear in Biden’s speech.

Ever since Biden’s plans to speak at the famed Atlanta college surfaced last month, his supporters have fretted about the possibility of a demonstration by young Black men upset over the president’s policy agenda and handling of the Israel-Hamas war.

Morehouse College students are pictured at the commencement ceremony in Atlanta on May 21, 2023.

Credit: Christina Matacotta for the AJC

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Credit: Christina Matacotta for the AJC

The White House needs little reminder of the recent polls that show Biden’s support among younger, more diverse voters is softening. That includes a New York Times/Sienna College poll this week that showed former President Donald Trump with solid leads in Georgia and other battleground states.

Consider Jason Johnson, a Morgan State University political scientist, among critics of Biden’s decision to appear at Morehouse.

In an appearance on the “Politically Georgia” radio show Tuesday, he said images of young, Black protesters inveighing against Biden during the graduation ceremony would cause political damage that outweighs the benefits of the speech.

“I really think that choosing Morehouse, when maybe he could have quietly wiggled out of it in January or February, is not a good strategy,” he said.

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Lt. Gov. Burt Jones donated $500 to the reelection campaign of controversial state Sen. Colton Moore, R-Trenton.

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

GEORGIA 2024. Lt. Gov. Burt Jones was among the Republicans who chastised far-right state Sen. Colton Moore, R- Trenton, earlier this year for hurling a barrage of insults at the late House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge.

But that doesn’t mean Jones and Moore are enemies.

Campaign finance reports show the lieutenant governor donated $500 to Moore’s reelection campaign as he faces a GOP primary challenge from Angela Pence.

State Sen. Elena Parent (left), D-Atlanta, is running against Nadine Thomas. Parent is pictured with Sen. Harold Jones, D-Augusta at a Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year.

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Some other tidbits from the disclosures:

  • Democratic state Sen. Elena Parent of Atlanta is getting key contributions in the final days of the campaign from Home Depot’s PAC, the Georgia Bankers Association, the Georgia Association of Educators, the law firm run by state Rep. Stacey Evans, D-Atlanta, and state Sen. Kim Jackson, D-Stone Mountain. Her opponent, Nadine Thomas, still hasn’t filed any campaign finance disclosures.
  • State Rep. Saira Draper landed campaign contributions from about a dozen of her House Democratic colleagues in her faceoff against fellow Democratic state Rep. Becky Evans. Both candidates are based in Atlanta.

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Mike Dugan spoke at the Congressional District 3 Republican Debate held by the Atlanta Press Club last month.

Credit: Jason Allen/AP

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Credit: Jason Allen/AP

GEORGIA THIRD. Gov. Brian Kemp made clear he isn’t wading into the crowded GOP race to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson in a west Georgia-based House district.

Kemp aide Cody Hall said the governor is not endorsing anyone for the seat and “that it’s disappointing that anyone would try to mislead voters to the contrary.”

He was referring to a campaign mailer by former Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan that featured pictures of the two Republicans along with the caption: “Delivering conservative results that make a difference for Georgia families.”

Meanwhile, former Donald Trump aide Brian Jack’s campaign recently featured a town hall that included appearances by U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tyler Harper — both key allies of the former president.

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CHALLENGING DAVID SCOTT. As an incumbent with name recognition and a healthy campaign account, U.S. Rep. David Scott is the man to beat in the Democratic primary in Georgia’s 13th Congressional District.

But that hasn’t stopped a half-dozen others from signing up to challenge the Atlanta lawmaker this year. Scott, who turns 79 next month, has been slowed by age and health challenges. Redistricting also drastically shifted the boundaries of the 13th District, meaning that Scott has never before represented most of its voters.

Democratic candidates for Georgia 13th District (from top left) Marcus Flowers, incumbent David Scott, Karen Rene, Uloma Kama, Brian Johnson and Rashid Malik.

Credit: AP, AJC

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Credit: AP, AJC

Scott’s opponents include former East Point City Councilwoman Karen Rene, former South Fulton City Councilman Mark Baker and Marcus Flowers, who ran unsuccessfully against U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Rome, in the 14th District in 2022.

Scott has more money in the bank than all his opponents combined, and it isn’t even close. Still, his challengers say they are connecting with residents in the new District 13 while Scott mostly avoids in-person campaigning.

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Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley thanked supporters of her failed presidential bid at a recent event in South Carolina.

Credit: Abbie Parr/AP

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Credit: Abbie Parr/AP

WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN. GOP bigwigs Eric Tanenblatt as well as Linda and Steve Selig were among the donors in Charleston, South Carolina this week with former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley as she thanked those who supported her 2024 run for president.

The event was more of a class reunion than a planning session to somehow oust former President Donald Trump from the top of the GOP ticket, despite some Republican voters’ concerns that he could be convicted in a New York court ahead of the GOP convention this summer.

Haley has not yet endorsed Trump for president this time around and we’re told she wasn’t pressured to do so soon. Instead a tipster said, “Everyone wants to see her visible and engaged.”

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Georgia GOP Party Chairman Josh McKoon is encouraging in-person voting due to delays in mail in the state.

Credit: AP

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Credit: AP

LOST IN THE MAIL? While U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff continues to press the U.S. Postal Service to improve snail-mail delivery times in the Atlanta area following a clunky move to a new service center in Palmetto earlier this year, Republican Party officials are starting to worry about the delivery time for absentee mail-in ballots ahead of next Tuesday’s Georgia primary.

Georgia GOP Chairman Josh McKoon has consistently championed early voting despite former President Donald Trump’s call to move to one-day, in-person voting. But McKoon told the “Politically Georgia” radio show Tuesday he’s encouraging early, in-person voting right now because of the USPS mail delays in the area.

The chronic delays have been so bad that 11Alive news in Atlanta conducted a newsroom experiment to see how long it took absentee ballots to arrive to nine newsroom staff members. They found it took an average of 27 days to receive an absentee ballot after requesting one, with a mail time between one and eight days. And that was before they sent their ballots back.

The secretary of state’s office told 11Alive that “voters can securely track the status of their absentee ballot through the Secretary’s My Voter Page or sign up for BallotTrax.com.”

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Kevin Tanner (center) spoke about the 988 crisis line at an event Georgia State University in Atlanta last May.

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

MENTAL HEALTH. Two years ago, Georgia joined other states in launching a 988 hotline that promised to help Americans dealing with mental health issues.

Kevin Tanner, commissioner of Georgia’s behavioral health agency, said the three-digit hotline’s call volume has remained steady since its July 2022 inception, with about 20,000 people per month dialing in.

Most of the calls come from rural Georgia, he said, and about 12% were made by people under 18. One of the biggest challenges is that few people have heard of the hotline, our AJC colleague Michelle Baruchman reported.

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The Carter Center CEO Paige Alexander is a guest today on the "Politically Georgia" show.

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

LISTEN UP. Today on the “Politically Georgia” radio show, Carter Center CEO Paige Alexander talks about President Jimmy Carter’s legacy of service. And former Fulton County Commissioner John Eaves gives his perspective as a Morehouse College alum ahead of President Biden’s commencement speech.

Listen live at 10 a.m. at AJC.com and at WABE.org. Or follow “Politically Georgia” on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

If you missed it, Tuesday’s episode featured Republican Party of Georgia Chairman Josh McKoon, who talked about the recent ouster of Vice Chairman Brian Pritchard and how party unity will be a big theme of the upcoming GOP convention.

Also, Morgan State University professor and MSNBC commentator Jason Johnson shared insights about President Joe Biden’s graduation speech at Morehouse.

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The AJC "Politically Georgia" show team. From left to right: Patricia Murphy, Greg Bluestein, Tia Mitchell and Bill Nigut.

Credit: AJC

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Credit: AJC

YOU’RE INVITED. Speaking of the “Politically Georgia” radio show, we’re taking it on the road for a live taping in Macon on Thursday night and you’re invited.

Join us as we talk to guests University System of Georgia Chancellor Sonny Perdue, Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller and Mayor Pro-Tem Seth Clark.

Doors at the Capitol Theatre open at 5:30 p.m. and the show starts at 6 p.m. RSVP here.

Macon is the second stop on a 2024 road tour. “Politically Georgia” taped in Athens last month, with Gov. Brian Kemp as guest, and visits Savannah in June.

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U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, R-Lithonia, is expected to hold a news conference today to announce the launch of the Court Reform Now Task Force.

Credit: Nathan Posner for the AJC

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Credit: Nathan Posner for the AJC

SCOTUS OVERHAUL? U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, has lobbied for expanding the U.S. Supreme Court and creating ethics guidelines and term limits for justices. None of those proposals have gained much traction with Republicans in control of the House, however.

Today, Johnson and other House Democrats will announce the creation of the Court Reform Now Task Force, which will be used to advocate for these changes and encourage other members of Congress to sign on as cosponsors.

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Explosive charges were detonated to bring down sections of the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge resting on the container ship Dali in Baltimore on Monday.

Credit: Mark Schiefelbein/AP

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Credit: Mark Schiefelbein/AP

TODAY IN WASHINGTON:

  • President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service at the Capitol. In the evening he meets with the Joint Chiefs and Combatant Commanders then hosts a dinner with them and their spouses.
  • The Senate has confirmation votes lined up.
  • The House votes on bills related to crime and law enforcement.
  • The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee receives an update on the investigation surrounding the collapse of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge after a cargo ship crashed into its base.
  • U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, R-Lithonia, holds a news conference to announce the launch of the Court Reform Now Task Force.

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Jason Carter, a recent guest on "The Monica Pearson Show," provided an update on former President Jimmy Carter.

Credit: AJC

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Credit: AJC

TUNE IN. Jason Carter described what it’s like growing up with a U.S. president as your grandfather in the latest episode of the Monica Pearson Show on AJC.com.

He also discussed his children’s opinions of joining the family business of politics and whether he would consider running for president. Carter also shared an update on his grandfather, who has been in hospice care for more than a year and has already sent in his absentee ballot for the upcoming presidential election.

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AS ALWAYS, Politically Georgia readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to greg.bluestein@ajc.com, tia.mitchell@ajc.com, patricia.murphy@ajc.com and adam.vanbrimmer@ajc.com.