The Jolt: Sen. Raphael Warnock keeps distance from Joe Biden as president’s ratings sink

News and analysis from the politics team The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Senator Raphael Warnock greats the crowd during a rally in Atlanta, GA, on Saturday, July 23, 2022.  on Saturday, July 23, 2022.   (Bob Andres for the Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

Senator Raphael Warnock greats the crowd during a rally in Atlanta, GA, on Saturday, July 23, 2022. on Saturday, July 23, 2022. (Bob Andres for the Atlanta Journal Constitution)

With President Joe Biden’s approval rating in Georgia hovering in the low 30′s, Democrats and Republicans know tying U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock to Biden and the White House is GOP Senate hopeful Herschel Walker’s best bet to win in November.

That may be why Warnock is taking new steps to put daylight between himself and Biden’s administration. The senator’s weekend rally in southwest Atlanta offered only the latest example.

At the event, he stressed his bipartisan work with the likes of Republican U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Tommy Tuberville. As he’s said at other rallies, “I’ll work with anyone to get things done for Georgia.”

But he drew a finer line when our AJC colleague Shannon McCaffrey pressed him after the event on whether he thinks Biden is doing a good job as president. Warnock, who campaigned on a promise to promote Biden’s agenda, essentially deflected when asked about his performance.

“I’m focused on the job that I’m doing standing up for the people of Georgia,” Warnock said.

He repeated himself when asked a second time.

“I am standing up for the people of Georgia. I’m going to fight for them every single day. When that means standing with this person, it’s based on what it does for Georgia.”

It’s not the first time Warnock has distanced himself from the administration. He helped buck a White House plan earlier this year to close a Savannah military installation and has pressed Biden to forgive student debt. He also badgered Biden to support a proposed federal gas tax holiday after months of lobbying.

“I am pushing the President of the United States right now to do student debt cancellation. That’s something that I’ve been urging him to do. It’s the reason why I stood up against the administration in their effort to close the combat readiness center down in Savannah, Georgia, my hometown.”

Walker and his allies link Warnock to Biden at every chance and typically pivot away from questions about Walker’s scandals or Georgia’s new abortion restrictions to deflect to Warnock and the president instead.

Asked about Warnock’s weekend comments, Walker campaign manager Scott Paradise said, “Warnock has voted with Biden 96% of the time, but he refused to say whether or not the president is doing a good job. Remarkable.”


ECONOMIC TSUNAMI? Democrats are bracing for the political implications of more potentially troubling news for this week on the fiscal front: New consumer confidence data arrive on Tuesday, followed by a likely decision by the Federal Reserve on whether or not to hike interest rates on Wednesday.

The end of the week will bring the latest figures on economic growth and consumer price inflation. By Friday we’ll have a far clearer picture of the nation’s financial direction headed into the final stretch of the campaigns.


GOV TO GRAND JURY: Gov. Brian Kemp is set to deliver testimony Monday to the Fulton County special grand jury investigating Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election. He’s expected to deliver a sworn videotaped statement.

While millions of people have heard the tape of Trump attempting to bully Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger into overturning the election, Trump’s behind-the-scenes interactions with Kemp are largely unknown.

The AJC has reported that Kemp rebuffed Trump’s demand to summon state legislators to the Capitol for a special session to reverse the election, a demand we now know he made in other states, too.

But Kemp’s testimony could reveal new details about ways Trump pressured him to flip Georgia’s results – and how Kemp rejected those pleas.

His office isn’t offering any details. Kemp spokeswoman Katie Byrd said “out of respect for the grand jury process, we will not provide any comment until the proceedings are complete.”


DEBATE DELAYS. Back in June, Herschel Walker said he was absolutely ready to debate U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock. “I told him to name the place and the time, and we can get it on.”

The place and time have been named, but Walker is still not accepting the Oct. 16 debate invitation from the Atlanta Press Club, which hosted every GOP statewide candidate except Walker ahead of the primary elections in May. Warnock has agreed to that debate and two others.

More time has brought more excuses from Walker and his camp, who insist he’s ready to debate, but only with certain, non-specified conditions.

Last week, Walker spokeswoman Mallory Blount said, “Any debate we agree to must have a fair and equitable format and unbiased moderator.”

Asked about debating last week, Walker said of Warnock, “I’m trying to figure out who made him the ruler of just giving dates. He hasn’t even talked with us about a debate.”

In response, the Press Club released a statement over the weekend to say no candidates pick the dates for its debates-- the Press Club does that.

“We selected October 16th for our U.S. Senate debate to align with the start of early voting and to ensure Congress would not be in session.”

Clearly, the prospect of Walker dodging another debate — he refused to participate in showdowns ahead of the GOP primary — is one that Warnock‘s campaign expects to come back to haunt the Republican.


COPS FOR KEMP. After weeks of back and forth between Gov. Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams over boosting law enforcement salaries, the Police Benevolent Association of Georgia has endorsed Kemp.

The group’s president, Joe Naia, said the governor “has not made decisions based on political correctness, but on what was right for businesses and citizens to safely move forward in Georgia.”


CATCH UP. If you’re just getting back to your desk from the weekend, here’s a quick catch-up:

  • The AJC’s Maya T. Prabhu looked at the many state agencies still trying to understand what granting personhood status to embryos means and how it will be implemented now that the state’s restrictive abortion law has gone into effect.
  • We gave you an Insider look at why Georgia Republicans are tiptoeing around the politics of the abortion law they passed.
  • And a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the RNC’s new effort to train thousands of Georgia poll workers ahead of the November elections.
  • U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, who is a conferee with U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and U.S. Rep. David Scott on the bill to increase U.S. semiconductor production, warned the Savannah Morning News, “We’re running out of time.”



  • The Senate is expected to take a procedural vote on the “Chips” bill, which would allocate $52 billion toward semiconductor production, along with more funding for economic development and research.
  • The House is out of session.
  • President Joe Biden is still recovering at home from the coronavirus but working virtually.


VA VICTORY. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs was in Columbus Friday to cut the ribbon on the new VA clinic serving veterans in Southwest Georgia and Alabama, the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer reports.

The clinic was the result of a decade of lobbying from local leaders, including by U.S. Reps. Drew Ferguson, R-West Point, and Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, who were both on hand for the grand opening.

Bishop also hosted a roundtable for veterans with Sec. Dennis McDonough -- and pointed out that the new 55,000 square foot facility is named after Robert Poydasheff, “a former Army Colonel, Columbus mayor, and beloved veterans advocate.”


JUDGE TROUBLE. The Judicial Qualifications Commission has again recommended a suspension for Douglas County Probate Judge Christina Peterson, the AJC’s Alexis Stevens writes.

Peterson is facing 50 separate ethics charges, including allegations she misused social media and that she allowed staff to back-date documents. The first time the JQC requested Peterson’s suspension the state Supreme Court denied the request.

The commission wrote that Peterson’s “continued service on the bench poses an immediate and substantial threat of serious harm to the public and to the administration of justice.”

An attorney representing Peterson said she wants to have her day in court over the charges. She faces a Wednesday deadline to file a response to the JQC allegations.


KUDOS. Congratulations to Donna Lowry and the team at Georgia Public Broadcasting for the Sunday debut of their new show, Lawmakers: Beyond the Dome.

The show gets way into the weeds, the Jolt’s favorite place, on what happens after the General Assembly passes a bill and it becomes a law of the land. First up for the series: A deep dive into Constitutional Carry.


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