PG A.M.: Georgia Democrats stress over report on Biden’s mental acuity

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President Joe Biden is critical of a new report that criticizes his mental acuity. (Evan Vucci / AP)

Credit: Evan Vucci/AP

Credit: Evan Vucci/AP

President Joe Biden is critical of a new report that criticizes his mental acuity. (Evan Vucci / AP)

A special counsel’s troubling assessment of President Joe Biden’s memory and mental acuity cast a pall over the Democratic Party of Georgia’s annual gala, which took place Thursday in downtown Atlanta as the president angrily rebuked the 383-page report.

Robert Hur’s findings were part of an investigation into Biden’s handling of classified documents. The report put into focus concerns about Biden’s age by suggesting he struggled to remember when his eldest son Beau died and had trouble recalling the years he served as vice president. It described the 81-year-old as a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”

The findings were buzzed about as hundreds of Democratic activists and officials filed into the Hyatt Regency Atlanta for the newly renamed Carter-Lewis dinner, one of the party’s main fundraisers. Some Democrats privately fretted about it, while party leaders openly dismissed it.

U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta, says Democrats have a lot of work to do before the November election. (Nathan Posner for the AJC)

Credit: Nathan Posner for the AJC

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Credit: Nathan Posner for the AJC

“We have work to do. There’s a lot of time between now and the November election,” said U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, the party’s chairwoman and an Atlantan. “And we have a story to tell that Democrats deliver every day for the people.”

The worrisome description came as Biden has struggled to counter concerns about his age and mental fitness for the nation’s top office. The president responded with a fiery appearance at the White House where he bristled at accusations he was too old for the job.

“I know what the hell I’m doing,” he told reporters.

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U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, was praised for a speech given at a Democratic fundraiser. (Nathan Posner for the AJC)

Credit: Nathan Posner for the AJC

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Credit: Nathan Posner for the AJC

GEORGIA 2024. The special counsel report dampened an otherwise celebratory Carter-Lewis fundraising dinner chock-full of Democratic elected officials vowing to keep Georgia in President Joe Biden’s column in November.

U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, who could run for governor in 2026, gave one of the best-received speeches. The Marietta resident sounded an awful lot like someone with an eye on statewide office, saying that “serious times call for serious leaders.

“We have statewide office holders who believe in the politics of delusion and chaos — who are so lost in their own conspiracy theories they have lost touch with what life is like for millions of working Georgians,” she said.

“We have farmers who spend day in and day out working so we can keep food on our table, as they struggle to make ends meet to keep their businesses alive in the midst of the aftermath of a pandemic.”

The headliner was North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, who urged Georgia Democrats not to give up on expanding Medicaid and encouraged them to use his state as a “road map.” His advice: Build coalitions with conservative local leaders, such as sheriffs and small business owners.

“Your tax dollars in Georgia are helping to pay working people’s health insurance in 40 other states — but not yours,” he said.

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(Left to right) U.S. Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, both Georgia Democrats, voted in favor of legislature that would provide additional funding to Ukraine and other allies. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

FOREIGN AID. With the help of 17 Republicans, the U.S. Senate agreed Thursday to proceed with legislation that would provide $95 billion in funding for foreign allies such as Israel and Ukraine.

The 67-32 vote in support of advancing the package was more than enough to break the 60-vote filibuster threshold. Georgia U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, both Democrats, voted with the majority in favor of opening debate on the package.

A second procedural vote on the foreign aid package is slated for this evening. It is possible senators will work through the weekend in hopes of passing the bill before leaving on a scheduled two-week recess.

If that happens, the question turns to whether House Speaker Mike Johnson will allow the bill to be brought to the floor for a vote in that chamber. Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, has not said how he would handle such legislation.

Last week, after refusing to support a separate foreign aid package that also included border security policy revisions, Johnson led Republicans in backing a bill that would have provided $17.6 billion to Israel but nothing for Ukraine. That measure needed two-thirds support to pass but was blocked by a coalition of Democrats and Republicans.

Unlike the Senate, the House is scheduled to be in session next week.

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MTG’S WILLIS COMPLAINT. U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has filed a complaint with Georgia’s ethics board against Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.

In the filing, Greene cites court documents where special prosecutor Nathan Wade says he paid for flights and other travel taken by Willis and Wade. The two have admitted a personal relationship and said they have each incurred expenses for the other at various times.

But Greene, R-Rome, said the money Wade spent on Willis should have been listed on financial disclosures filed with the state.

“Willis’ refusal to disclose her relationships and financial transactions demonstrates a blatant disregard for the law and ethical standards,” Greene wrote in a statement about her complaint.

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State Sen. Greg Dolezal, R-Cumming, has pushed for an investigation into Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

FACT FINDING ON WILLIS. The state Senate Special Committee on Investigations will hold its first meeting later today to begin its look into Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.

The Senate-only effort was created earlier this session by state Sen. Greg Dolezal, R-Cumming, and approved on a party line vote on Senate Resolution 465. The stated purpose is to investigate allegations of misconduct against Willis and “potential conflicts of interest and misuse of public funds.”

The panel, which includes Democrats, won’t have the authority to discipline Willis but could recommend changes to appropriations or state law.

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Democrat Susie Greenberg reportedly raised roughly $290,000 since announcing her challenge to Republican state Rep. Deborah Silcox. (File photo)

Credit: File photo

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Credit: File photo

MONEY RUSH. Democrat Susie Greenberg reportedly raised roughly $290,000 since announcing her challenge to Republican state Rep. Deborah Silcox in August 2023, ending with about $265,000 in the bank.

Why are we mentioning this haul? Her campaign says it’s the biggest fundraising total for a Georgia House challenger in state history at this stage in a campaign. And she’s smack in the middle of one of the most competitive legislative contests in Georgia.

Silcox lost the closest General Assembly race in Georgia in 2020, falling to a Democratic opponent by just 377 votes. Two years later, Silcox won a newly created north Atlanta district by a slightly more comfortable 1,496-vote margin.

Now the GOP incumbent is one of the most vulnerable legislators under the Gold Dome. Democrats want to make her pay for her support of Gov. Brian Kemp’s initiatives in an election year when former President Donald Trump is likely to be back atop the Republican ballot.

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The Georgia State Capitol. (Casey Sykes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Casey Sykes

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Credit: Casey Sykes

UNDER THE GOLD DOME, Legislative Day 18:

  • 7:30 a.m.: Committee meetings begin.
  • 9 a.m.: The House convenes.
  • 9 a.m.: The Senate gavels in.

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House Majority leader Chuck Efstration, R-Auburn, talks about Senate Bill 333 at the Georgia State Capitol on Feb 8, 2024. (Natrice Miller / Natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

OUT OF THE HOPPER. The House and Senate kept up the pace Thursday, with a few particular highlights.

  • Legislation greenlighting a referendum for a new “City of Mulberry” in Gwinnett County won final approval from the state House and now heads to the governor’s desk for his signature. House Majority Leader Chuck Efstration and state Sen. Clinton Dixon, both Gwinnett County Republicans, sponsored the cityhood effort but state Rep. Dewey McClain, D-Lawrenceville, warned the process was moving too quickly. If Kemp signs the measure, the final decision would then be in the hands of local residents in Gwinnett, when the question of creating Mulberry would be on the ballot.
  • A House committee approved a bill that would require photographs of all Georgia ballots be posted online for two years, a move designed to let the public count or inspect ballots themselves “to their heart’s content.” The AJC’s Mark Niesse has the details.
  • The Senate passed Senate Bill 362 to make it more difficult to create new unions in Georgia. The measure would require secret-ballot elections for new local unions and limit state economic incentives for groups that use card-check sign-ups.

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State Rep. Derrick Jackson, D-Tyrone, joined the “Politically Georgia” radio show Thursday to discuss the Oath Act. (Bob Andres / AJC)

Credit: Bob Andres/AJC

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Credit: Bob Andres/AJC

LISTEN UP. State Rep. Derrick Jackson, D-Tyrone, joined the “Politically Georgia” radio show Thursday to discuss the Oath Act, his bill to keep former President Donald Trump off the ballot in Georgia in 2024. Later, Emory Law Professor Fred Smith discussed the oral arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court in the Colorado ballot access case.

Listen at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. And listen to Friday’s show live at 10 a.m. on WABE 90.1 FM, at AJC.com and at WABE.org.

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TODAY IN WASHINGTON:

  • President Joe Biden meets at the White House with the chancellor of Germany, Olaf Scholz.
  • The House has no more votes this week.
  • The Senate takes another procedural vote on the foreign aid package for Israel and Ukraine.

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Booking shot of former Georgia GOP Chairman David Shafer at the Fulton County Jail on Aug. 23, 2023. (Fulton County Sheriff's Office)

Credit: Fulton County Sheriff's Office

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Credit: Fulton County Sheriff's Office

ELECTOR EXPENSES. The state GOP continues to drain its coffers to pay the legal bills of three Donald Trump 2020 presidential electors under indictment in the former president’s racketeering case.

Our campaign finance reporter James Salzer reviewed the January filing by the Republican Party and found it paid out more than $110,000 in legal fees last month. That is on top of the $1.3 million it spent in 2023 to aid three defendants, including former GOP Chairman David Shafer, who met secretly following the 2020 election to cast Electoral College votes for Trump.

Biden won the state by about 12,000 votes, a tally confirmed by multiple recounts.

The $110,000 was about half of the party’s expenses in January. It’s also more than the Republican Party raised in January: $77,000.

At the end of January, the GOP had about $410,000 on hand. Salzer notes that’s down from $2.5 million in the bank at the same time two years ago, when Shafer was still party chairman and legal bills hadn’t begun to mount.

Also by contrast, Salzer reported Thursday that Gov. Brian Kemp’s leadership committee, which has gone its own way from a state party heavily weighted with Trump activists, finished January with more than $5 million on hand, despite the fact that the governor can’t run for reelection.

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DOG OF THE DAY. Have you ever thought of nominating your pooch, kitten or emotional support chicken to be our Dog of the Day? We’re reupping our call for your precious, and possibly politically adjacent, pets.

And if you’ve sent them in before, send us a line. The early morning editing sessions have regrettably had a few photo casualties. Horizontal photos are preferred.

Send us your dogs of any political persuasion and location, and cats on a cat-by-cat basis, to patricia.murphy@ajc.com, or DM us at @MurphyAJC.

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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.