The Jolt: Federal election bill still alive, with Warnock at center of talks

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Senate Democrats are putting the final touches on a revised voting rights measure this week. And U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock is right in the thick of the effort.

The Georgia Democrat met privately Wednesday with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Democrats to work out the details of the measure, weeks after Republicans blocked a more expansive version of the bill.

The goal is to win over Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and other wavering lawmakers by building on a framework that the West Virginia moderate hashed out. Warnock told reporters he wants the public to know “this is very much on our radar and we understand the urgency.”

So how did this late push to revive the voting measure come together?

On July 14, Warnock attended a special Senate Democratic caucus meeting where he pressed President Joe Biden not to allow the voting rights debate to get lost in the shuffle of other Washington priorities.

On July 20, a day after the senator testified at a Rules Committee field hearing to criticize Georgia’s new election law, he urged his caucus during the closed-door meeting to keep the hope alive for a voting bill. Schumer asked Warnock for a private meeting to discuss ways to move forward.

The two spoke the next day, where Warnock said lawmakers should work on infrastructure legislation in tandem with a voting overhaul. He also stressed he would support the Senate staying in session through the August recess to get the two efforts across the finish line.

At Wednesday’s meeting, which included Manchin, the Democrats agreed on a path forward before lawmakers go home for August recess. The new version, Senate officials say, could be released in days.

Expect another closed-door Democratic meeting with Warnock and key colleagues to try to hammer out a consensus. Keep an eye, also, on Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

McConnell and Warnock were spotted on the Senate floor Wednesday huddling for about 10 minutes during votes.


Is Donald Trump losing his mojo? We know a few Georgia Republicans running for statewide office next year who are hoping so.

It’s a question that’s resurfaced after a string of Trump setbacks this week. Jack Ellzey, a Republican state lawmaker, stunned Trump-backed Republican candidate Susan Wright to win a U.S. House special election in Texas Tuesday. The race was to fill the seat of Wright’s late husband, U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, who died earlier this year of COVID-19.

Also this week, 17 Senate Republicans voted to advance a $1 trillion infrastructure plan, despite Trump’s warning of “lots of primaries” for GOP senators that supported it.

The former president still has outsized influence in the Georgia GOP, of course. Look no further than the glut of candidates bypassing a run for U.S. Senate because they think Herschel Walker might enter the race from Texas with Trump’s blessing. And Trump’s poll numbers are still solid with Republican voters here.

But the GOP candidates running against Trump-favored candidates next year are placing a bet that his grip on the state party will wane by then. They point to Ellzey’s Texas victory as the latest example of the overblown influence of a Trump endorsement.

It’s no small question for Georgia Republicans, who continues to captivate the former president. He’s turned Gov. Brian Kemp into a favorite punching bag; denigrated state Sen. Butch Miller, a top GOP candidate for lieutenant governor; and endorsed U.S. Rep. Jody Hice’s bid to unseat Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.


Local mask mandates and lots of hand washing may be back, but Gov. Brian Kemp said Wednesday Georgia won’t be going back into lockdown as a result of the Delta variant of COVID-19.

One of your Insiders has the latest on the lay of the land in the state:

Georgia's seven-day rolling average of probable and confirmed coronavirus cases is at its highest point since March 5 and more than eight times higher than it was before the July 4th holiday, according to state data. Meanwhile, the pace of vaccinations has slowed, hovering at 40% fully vaccinated statewide.

Kemp no longer has the authority to impose a statewide mask mandate. He ended the public health state of emergency last month that gave him broad powers to enact statewide restrictions. But he still has one of Georgia's loudest megaphones and can impose rules for state employees and offices.

- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms in Atlanta and Van Johnson in Savannah issued new mask mandates earlier this week.

Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson said he’s not planning a new mask mandate now, but county schools there will require masks.


This week’s hearing of the House Select Committee on Jan. 6 brought a new round of scrutiny to Georgia’s U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde’s statements describing some video of rioters in the Capitol that day as appearing like “a normal tourist visit.”

Clyde had gone to a Rules Committee hearing Tuesday night in the hopes of introducing an amendment to a government funding bill that would have prevented new federal regulations on firearms. But Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, took the opportunity to ask Clyde to react to the testimony four police officers had shared earlier that day.

The officers testified to the Select Committee that the men and women they confronted were violent, armed and willing to injure and possibly kill police, Raskin said. He then asked Clyde if he still stood by his earlier comments.

Clyde initially said his statements had been taken out of context, so Raskin read the full quote back to him.

“I stand by that exact statement as I said it,” the Athens Republican responded.

But Clyde refused to say whether he agreed or disagreed with the officers’ testimony. Clyde’s office also didn’t respond to our questions asking him to clarify whether he believes that “tourist” characterization fits for most of the people who entered the Capitol that day.

Jamie Dupree digs more into the backlash Clyde has faced for his comments in his weekly column.


Georgia’s U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams told a U.S. House hearing about the fears among Democrats that Republican state leaders may attempt to replace elections officials in Fulton County.

“Fulton County is full of voters who look like me,” the Atlanta lawmaker said. “We might not be counting jelly beans in a jar, but election subversion seeks the same results, suppressing the votes of people of color and those most marginalized in our communities. Beyond undermining our democracy, targeting dedicated election officials is putting lives at risk.”

Williams testified to members of the House Administration Committee Wednesday that these concerns are why Congress should pass federal voting laws that blunt the impact of laws in states like Georgia.


POSTED: Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr has submitted a motion asking a federal judge to toss out the U.S. Department of Justice’s lawsuit against the state over its new election law, the AJC’s Mark Niesse reports.

The motion to dismiss by Republican Attorney General Chris Carr said Georgia's voting laws are nondiscriminatory and ensure greater voter access than several Democratic-run states.

“DOJ fills its complaint with innuendo and hyperbole. But such rhetoric does not make up for the lack of any factual allegations demonstrating that the General Assembly acted with a discriminatory purpose when it passed SB 202″ during this year's legislative session, according to the motion.

- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


The strange case of state Rep. Mickey Stephens’ House seat continues in Savannah, where the ailing lawmaker has yet to announce whether he’ll run for reelection, even after more than two years without casting a vote at the state Capitol.

Locals had widely assumed Stephens would be leaving the legislature after he and his wife went to the Capitol in March to thank his fellow lawmakers for their support during his extended illness.

But Stephens and his wife have been mum since then, leaving some local pols in limbo as they weigh a challenge to a sitting lawmaker or wait to see if he formally retires and triggers a special election or creates an open seat.

No everyone is staying on the sidelines, though.

The Savannah Morning News reports Democrat Clinton Young has become the latest to enter the race, saying he’s running no matter what Stephens does.

Despite Stephens' status, Young said he sees himself as the best fit for the position, noting he has the ability to work across the aisle with Republicans. Young lost to Stephens in the 2020 Democratic primary.

Young likened Stephens' absence in the Georgia Capitol over the last couple of years to “voter suppression."

“The 165th is being held hostage," Young said. “We have no voice, no advocate, no representation. Isn't this voter suppression also? Why is this not voter suppression?"

- Savannah Morning News


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