The Jolt: U.S. Senate forges ahead on COVID relief with key votes from Ossoff, Warnock

One month ago today, Georgia Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock swept the Senate runoffs with a promise of passing a muscular coronavirus relief package.

After an overnight bout of voting, Vice President Kamala Harris cast the 50-50 tie-breaker at 5:30 this morning to pass the $1.9 trillion relief bill without Republican support.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer noted Georgia’s role in the package: “Just a month from that day, we have taken a giant step to begin to fulfill our promise.”

So did Ossoff: “Georgia voters made this possible.”

The two newly elected senators are making other early moves in the chamber.

Ossoff announced that he had joined a group of progressive Democrats advocating for cancelling up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt. Warnock has started talking up a plan to get financial assistance to Black farmers and other farmers of color impacted by the pandemic.

They also took part in a vote that could become fodder for Republican attacks: Eight Democrats supported an amendment to block stimulus payments going to undocumented immigrants. Ossoff and Warnock voted against it.

“Any Democrat who votes to send taxpayer-funded checks to illegal immigrants is too extreme for the U.S. Senate,” said Katharine Cooksey of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Democrats who voted against the amendment argued that it wasn’t needed because undocumented immigrants do not received stimulus checks, which require social security numbers.

***

House Democrats made good on their vow to punish Marjorie Taylor Greene for her controversial statements in recent years, and 11 Republicans voted with them to remove her from two committees.

None of those GOP members were from Georgia. Our delegation split along party lines: eight Republicans opposed, six Democrats in favor.

But there were some obvious reasons why some Republicans sided with Democrats.

Honorary Insider Jamie Dupree noted that three of these GOP members represent South Florida where the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting occurred. Greene had spread conspiracy theories that the teenage victims who later became gun control activists were “crisis actors.” Video of her confronting one of them in 2019 was especially damaging.

Three New York Republicans and one each from New Jersey and Pennsylvania also voted in favor of the bill, Dupree said. Greene in the past had spread conspiracy theories that 9/11 didn’t happen.

During her floor speech before Thursday’s vote, Greene walked back some of her most damaging statements. She said 9/11 and school shootings are real, but she did not apologize for anything.

Those 11 Republicans appeared to agree with Democrats that her remorse wasn’t enough.

Greene has scheduled a press conference for later this morning. Will she continue the conciliatory tone from Thursday’s speech or exhibit the defiance that has defined her social media and public persona?

Meanwhile, Democrats in her northwest Georgia district are lining up to challenge her. Adrienne White, the state party’s vice-chair for recruitment, said 15 people have contacted her about competing for the heavily-Republican seat.

***

Some Republican lawmakers are pushing to end no-excuse absentee voting after record turnout helped Democrats flip the state. But it could wind up hurting GOP candidates more than Democrats, particularly in rural areas.

We got hold of an ACLU of Georgia internal memo that crunched the vote-by-mail numbers relying on an analysis from the left-leaning TargetSmart firm. Among the findings:

  • In the 154 counties outside the core metro Atlanta area, far more Republican primary voters chose to vote absentee by mail during the 2020 Georgia primary than Democrats. In those counties, some 401,979 absentee by mail votes were cast in the Democratic primary compared to 549,454 in the GOP primary.
  • At least 50% of Republican primary ballots in each state Senate district were cast by mail, with some districts even topping 70%.

Our gut tells us the proposals to limit absentee voting won’t go anywhere, namely because the idea is opposed by House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan.

A separate push to require some sort of ID verification for mail-in votes is far more likely to be adopted. But Democrats and other critics are on the defensive, readying to fight the proposal if it gains more traction.

Read the memo for yourself.

***

We’ve picked up word that Atlanta City Councilwoman Natalyn Archibong is considering a run for Council president now that Felicia Moore is challenging Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

***

Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler received serious criticism in her early days in the Senate for her posting to the Senate Agriculture Committee.

That was because the Ag committee oversees the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the agency in charge of regulating large swaths of Intercontinental Exchange, Loeffler’s husband’s multi-billion dollar business. A conflict of interest, Loeffler’s detractors warned.

With Loeffler’s slot on the committee open, the newest member of the Ag committee is: U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, who defeated Loeffler in January’s runoff election, but not before Loeffler called him a radical, liberal, socialist, extreme, abusing, dangerous, Marxist…..you get the picture.

We look forward to reports of the senator’s first meeting with his new constituents at Intercontinental Exchange.

***

Georgia Democrats have managed to hold onto their leadership positions in the U.S. House.

Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, will continue serving as Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies. Congressman Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, retained his position as chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet.

And we learned in December that U.S. Rep. David Scott had been promoted to chairman of the Agriculture Committee.

***

To stop the spread of COVID-19, President Joe Biden issued two new face mask mandates that went into effect this week, including one that requires masks on all federal property. The mandate doesn’t just include federal buildings like the Richard Russell courthouse in Atlanta. It also applies to military installations, post offices, VA clinics and other federal facilities all across the state.

The Macon Telegraph writes up what to expect in its reading area, where mask mandates were already in place for the transit system and at Robins Air Force Base. We wonder how large swaths of rural Georgia that have not been subject to mask orders will adjust to the rules.

***

Republican Rich McCormick, who lost to Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux in the 7th Congressional District contest last year, seems confident that the district will tilt more in his favor after redistricting.

He sent a fundraising email to supporters indicating he will attempt a 2022 rematch.

Georgia District 7 has been one of the most quickly growing districts in America. We are at 1.1 million and by law will be redistricted to around 760,000. More specifically, we must be within 0.5% of every other district in Georgia once the Census and redistricting is complete. This process will likely take place this fall. Given this is controlled by the Republicans it will likely result in a Republican-favored district. We are following the process closely and should be in a good position to take back the seat and help take back the Congressional House Majority in 2022.

***

Under the Gold Dome:

  • The House and Senate are not in session today.
  • Sessions resume Monday, February 8.

In Other News