Donald Trump’s 100 days leave imprint on Georgia


One hundred days into the tenure of the most mold-shattering administration in modern history and President Donald Trump has moved at breakneck pace to strip away federal regulations, reset the country’s economic relationships abroad and dismantle the biggest pieces of his predecessor’s legacy.

Georgians now log on to Twitter to gauge the state of mind of the most powerful man in the world. Decades of custom on everything from foreign policy to trade — even the standard photo-op — have been upended.

The early days of Trump’s presidency have galvanized some in Georgia. Many conservatives, populists and rural Republicans who felt ignored in the old political world order see a no-nonsense ally in the White House who will cut through special interests and usher their ideas into law.

Democrats, who were licking their wounds after last year’s losses at the ballot box, are now re-energized in their resistance. Many have organized, protesting regularly on streets and sidewalks, flooding town hall events and propelling a 30-year-old political novice to the edge of an upset victory in the Republican-leaning 6th Congressional District.

Georgia’s clout in Washington has increased significantly under Trump’s short tenure. He promoted Roswell Congressman Tom Price and former Gov. Sonny Perdue to Cabinet-level posts and hired several of their aides, as well as other Georgians who backed his campaign, for plum White House posts.

A trio of Georgia Democrats — U.S. Rep. John Lewis, former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates and 6th District candidate Jon Ossoff — have emerged as national symbols of the left’s opposition to the administration and its agenda.

Meanwhile, the state’s more business-oriented Republicans have been forced to reckon with whether to embrace some of Trump’s more divisive policies or risk running afoul of the president’s committed supporters in Georgia. He won the state by 5 points, racking up huge margins in much of rural Georgia.

Some of the uncertainty that swirled as Trump prepared to take the oath of office hasn’t gone away. Gridlock persists in Washington, and Republican leaders have struggled to make much progress on Trump’s top priorities such as health care, the border wall and tax cuts.

The standstill has trickled down more than 600 miles south to Georgia, where most GOP leaders are waiting for more signals from Washington before deciding how to act on health care, tax policy or other daunting divides.

Limited policy impact

Had Hillary Clinton swept the election, a raft of legislation aimed at curtailing her executive actions and legislative priorities would surely be pending on Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk.

For one, it would have ensured the survival of the Affordable Care Act and reignited debate about whether the state should expand the Medicaid program. Instead, Trump’s victory has for now extinguished serious talk of enlarging the program.

Deal urged Georgians to “caution against taking giant leaps on health care policy” until Trump and Congress hash out what they’ll do. And he warned against making vast changes to the tax code that he said could “jeopardize” the state’s fiscal health.

With one health overhaul already on the trash heap and only an outline for sweeping tax changes, there’s no telling when that would be.

White House officials say that Trump has been one of the most productive presidents of the modern era, and they point to the roughly 30 executive orders he’s signed to date. Those actions have touched on everything from Chinese steel dumping to national monument designations.

The pace has been dizzying, and supporters say it’s prompted a new sense of optimism in Georgia and beyond. U.S. Sen. David Perdue, one of Trump’s top allies in the state, said residents “are beginning to see a president who is moving at a business pace and not a bureaucratic pace, not a Washington pace.”

Those executive orders, though, have largely had a limited impact in Georgia, since most are targeted at the business conducted by federal agencies. The legislation Congress has sent to Trump’s desk has also been relatively narrow in scope since Senate Democrats have stonewalled the GOP’s most sweeping proposals.

That’s led to a muted Trump impact on Georgia policy.

A bill Trump signed earlier this month would allow states to block funding for Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers; Georgia has long withheld state funding for the groups.

Trump’s administration has threatened to restrict federal funding for cities that declare themselves “sanctuaries” and don’t report immigrants living here illegally; the mayors of Atlanta and other Democratic-led cities have refused such a designation. A federal judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked the order from going into effect.

That’s also been the legal fate of one of Trump’s signature policy proposals — a pause in admitting Middle Eastern refugees. Thousands congregated outside Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to protest the president’s move to institute the ban in January, and it’s since been blocked in court.

Where Congress’ Republican majority has been able to make its voice heard the most is through special legislation nullifying leftover Obama-era regulations. Trump has signed a record 13 of them since January.

Junior Republican lawmakers, including several from Georgia, said they feel more included and part of the White House’s decision-making process than ever before; one of the first bills Trump signed into law was authored by U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter of Pooler.

And Republicans cheered Trump’s quick response to a pair of disasters that struck Georgia after his inauguration. Trump called Deal and secured a federal disaster declaration after a deadly wave of tornadoes struck the state in January. And he approved $10 million in emergency funding to help repair a portion of the I-85 bridge that collapsed in March.

But many of the regulatory overhauls Trump has pushed, such as scaling back an Environmental Protection Agency rule that expands federal oversight of the nation’s wetlands and waterways, could take years of court battles and public hearings to implement.

‘Stand up to Trump’

On the ground, though, Trump’s first 100 days have sparked a different sort of reaction.

Democratic meetings that were once nearly empty now regularly attract hundreds. A raft of first-time candidates are lining up to challenge GOP incumbents. And Republican lawmakers are now the target of frequent protests from demonstrators demanding they hold public town hall meetings.

Betty Merriman of Tucker is one of the regulars who lines up outside David Perdue’s downtown Atlanta office on most Tuesdays, waving signs that encourage him to defy Trump.

“The environment, climate change — I just want him to stand up to Trump’s terrible policies,” she said. “I want him to speak up and fight Trump.”

In the 6th Congressional District, Ossoff has been able to capitalize on that tide of anti-Trump frustration to almost swipe the Republican-leaning district in Atlanta’s northern suburbs. His June 20 runoff against Republican Karen Handel is cast as an early referendum on Trump’s popularity.

Democrats are banking on the enthusiasm to echo through next year’s statewide elections, when the governor, lieutenant governor and secretary of state offices will all be wide open.

“If Trump has done one thing, he’s energized Democrats,” said Jeff DiSantis, a longtime Democratic strategist. “He’s been his own worst enemy. There’s a much more plausible path to a Democratic governor and a bigger Democratic caucus in the statehouse thanks to Trump.”

Antsy conservatives hope Trump and a Republican-led Congress don’t squander the opportunity to accomplish their goals. Midterm elections typically spell trouble for the party in control, and the party’s special election struggles in Georgia and Kansas have unnerved many Republicans.

“Make no mistake about it, Georgia’s 6th is a huge bellwether,” said Chip Lake, a Republican operative.

The Trump effect has many traditional Republican candidates wondering how aggressively they should embrace the president. Not doing so could risk alienating Trump’s most ardent GOP supporters — or even incurring the wrath of the White House. No Republican candidate in Georgia wants to be on the wrong side of a Trump Twitter barrage.

“I think mainstream Republican candidates are having to focus on supporting the Trump administration’s policies and actions while distancing themselves from the antics or the distracting tweets,” said Heath Garrett, a confidante of U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson.

Isakson is a prime example of a Republican who has tried to walk that narrow line. An establishment-friendly Republican who is known for cutting deals with Democrats, Isakson endorsed Trump last summer but then kept him at arm’s length.

In an interview, Isakson said he has grown comfortable with the president and found ways to work with him when he disagrees. One example: He dialed the White House when he broke with Trump to voice concerns about Andy Puzder, his first nominee to lead the U.S. Labor Department.

“There are lots of ways to be effective without being on the front page of the newspaper,” Isakson said.

Many plead for more patience for an anti-establishment candidate who staked out an ambitious agenda.

“I’m so used to hearing politicians say one thing during the campaign and then do the other. But Trump has come through,” said B.J. Van Gundy, a Gwinnett management consultant.

“He’s stuck to his wish list. Trump promised to repeal and replace Obamacare and he tried to do it. He promised to cut taxes, and he’s coming up with his plan now,” he added. “He’s a dealmaker, and I’ve got confidence that he’ll work with Congress to get it done.”

Here’s how Trump has affected Georgia policy so far:

Health 

In line with one of his core campaign promises, Trump joined GOP leaders in calling for the immediate repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act. That hasn’t happened.

Instead, the effort to dismantle Obamacare has proved to be harder than Trump ever expected. In March, House GOP leaders attempted — and failed — to push through legislation that drew the ire of not just Democrats but also hard-line and moderate conservatives. Ultimately, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan couldn’t garner enough support for the bill, called the American Health Care Act, which never made it to the floor for a vote.

GOP leaders, however, have in the past week revived the bill — with Trump’s support — making changes to appeal to the conservative Freedom Caucus.

The revised legislation would allow states to opt out of key Obamacare requirements, such as banning insurers from charging people with pre-existing conditions more and covering certain benefits, such as maternity care and mental health treatment.

The ongoing health care debate in Washington has widespread implications for hundreds of thousands of Georgians.

Roughly half a million of the state’s residents have Obamacare coverage. Many of them would face significantly higher premiums under the GOP health plan — forcing some to drop coverage altogether because they can’t afford it.

Ultimately, the fate of health care for these Georgians is in the hands of Trump, who would have to sign new health care legislation if Congress is able to reach a deal.

State leaders, meanwhile, have put off making any big decisions on health care until they get more clarity from Washington.

— Misty Williams

Immigration

Federal judges have stymied Trump’s efforts to temporarily ban visitors from some Muslim-majority countries and to crack down on illegal immigration. Both of his proposed travel bans as well as his plan to cut off federal funding to cities that don’t fully cooperate with immigration authorities have stalled in federal courts.

Other parts of the president’s executive orders have not been halted. For example, the Trump administration is gearing up to hire thousands more immigration enforcement and Border Patrol officers and has solicited prototypes for expanding the wall on the southwest border.

— Jeremy Redmon

Defense/military

Trump proposed increasing military spending by $54 billion and to cut nonmilitary programs by the same amount, proposing to add thousands of additional troops, hundreds of new warplanes and dozens of top-of-the line ships.

He’s also asked the Defense Department to draft a plan to take decisive action against the Islamic State. And although he seems to have sidelined talks about reducing the role of NATO, he has insisted that other nations in the alliance increase their defense spending.

And the U.S. Army decided to move a new brigade to Fort Benning, bringing about 500 additional troops to the base in Columbus by October.

Georgia is one of the larger recipients of defense spending. About $6.4 billion in Defense Department contract work was performed in Georgia in the past fiscal year, employing about 50,000 people. The state is the fifth-largest host of active-duty troops, with about 137,000 troops, and officials are bracing for another round of negotiations over base closures.

— Greg Bluestein

Education

Trump campaigned on a pledge to put $20 billion into a school voucher program, but his budget released in March had only a quarter-billion dollars for a “private school choice” program and an additional $168 million for charter schools.

It’s unclear how much of that money would flow to Georgia, but the state would be affected by his proposed school budget cut of 13 percent.

Georgia would likely lose its share in a $193 million reduction to a group of programs for disadvantaged students. Georgia would also lose the $33 million it gets from the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, a $1.2 billion before- and after-school program that Trump’s budget would eliminate. The president also wants to do away with the $2.4 billion Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants program, a teacher training program that delivers $62 million to Georgia.

Another hit to schools would come from reductions in the agriculture budget, which would shrink 21 percent. Department of Agriculture dollars cover the free- and reduced-price school meal programs said to be the main source of nutrition for many students with little food at home. Georgia gets more than $758 million from that.

“The cuts would be tough for any district, there’s no question,” said Claire Suggs, a policy analyst for the left-leaning Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

Georgia gets about a half-billion dollars a year in Title I funding, which augments the budgets of high-poverty schools. Trump wants to add $1 billion nationally to that program, with the money dedicated to establishing systems of “student-based” budgeting and open enrollment so students can switch from one public school to another, taking their government funding with them.

— Ty Tagami

Transportation

Trump rode into office on a pledge to spend $1 trillion to fix America’s roads, bridges and other ailing infrastructure.

So far, metro Atlanta has $10 million to show for it.

That’s the amount Trump’s transportation secretary, Elaine Chao, agreed to send to Georgia as a down payment on the federal share of the new I-85 bridge in Buckhead. Eventually, the federal government is expected to cover 90 percent of the cost of the bridge, which could be up to $16.6 million.

Still, it’s a far cry from the sums Georgia might expect from the 10-year, $1 trillion infrastructure spending plan Trump pledged to make a top priority. That plan may be unveiled later this year.

In the meantime, the president’s proposed 2018 budget could cost metro Atlanta some $3 billion in future funding for mass transit projects. Trump’s budget would limit funding for the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program to projects that have already been approved.

No pending Atlanta projects have been approved for funding. But the region’s long-term transportation plan counts on about $3 billion in New Starts money for several MARTA expansions, a Cobb County bus rapid transit line, and expansions of the Atlanta Beltline and streetcar.

It remains to be seen whether Congress will approve those plans.

— David Wickert

Agriculture

The New York businessman’s election was fueled by huge support in rural America. Trump has said rolling back regulations and renegotiating trade deals would help boost domestic agriculture, which is the state’s largest industry and employs one in seven Georgians.

Trump appointed former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue to lead the Department of Agriculture — the Republican was sworn in Tuesday — and quickly tapped him to lead a task force examining regulations that are having adverse effects on farmers.

Some in the agriculture and farming world have worried that Trump’s tough talking on trade and immigration could lead to trade wars with Mexico, which imports a considerable amount of U.S. commodities, or a shortage of seasonal farmworkers. Trump’s proposal to cut more than 20 percent from the Agriculture Department’s budget also created some anxiety about the impact on rural Americans. Others exude optimism that Trump will be able to negotiate more advantageous trade deals that will spur economic growth in regions such as the Southeast.

— Tamar Hallerman

Labor

There hasn’t been much action on most of the high-profile labor issues during the first 100 days of the Trump administration. For instance, if there has been any discussion about changes to minimum-wage laws — something that was, at least, a minor part of the campaign — that discussion hasn’t been audible. (During the campaign, Trump at various times seemed to both favor and oppose raising the floor on wages.)

Also, on maternity leave — something not required of Georgia employers — nothing has yet come of calls by the Trump campaign for more generous requirements.

But other action affecting labor has been taken through executive actions that could loosen restrictions on Georgia companies. Under the Congressional Review Act, the president has power to fast-track repeal of regulations. In late March, the president undid a rule that required federal contractors to report violations of labor law when applying for contracts. In April, the president repealed rules that tightened up requirements for reporting work-related injuries.

In a state with a large federal presence — much of it defense-related — Georgia employers and workers stand to be affected by those changes.

And the president has expressed disdain for the H-1B visa program, which targets tech jobs. Georgia companies and universities have thousands of H-1B visa holders. End or restrict that program and those skills will become ever scarcer — pushing wages up but leaving some companies with empty tech slots. But so far, there has been only talk about changing or ending it.

— Michael E. Kanell

Energy and the environment

Trump has promised to upend his predecessor’s energy and environmental policies, but it’s taking a while and getting complicated.

He has plans to open federal lands to oil and natural gas development and roll out policies to encourage more use of coal, including reversing a moratorium on coal leases to bring back jobs in coal-mining regions.

But market forces have vetoed some of Trump’s goals for coal. Coal production has plunged in recent years as electric utilities boosted their use of cheaper, cleaner-burning natural gas. Likewise, falling prices for wind and solar energy equipment have encouraged utilities and homeowners alike to invest in more alternative energy projects.

Those trends aren’t likely to turn around soon.

But Trump also has promised to reverse President Barack Obama’s climate regulations and to shrink the Environmental Protection Agency. That seems to be going ahead.

Earlier this month, Trump’s new head of the EPA moved to delay Obama-era wastewater rules for coal-fired power plants, possibly scuttling environmental groups’ efforts to get tougher water quality standards for a Georgia Power plant near Rome.

EPA chief Scott Pruitt said it was “in the public interest to reconsider” a 2015 rule requiring power plants to use the most up-to-date technology to remove lead, arsenic and other toxic metals from their wastewater.

The rule begins taking effect in 2018, but power plants have until 2023 to comply in some cases. Environmental groups fear the Trump administration may scuttle the tougher rules before Georgia’s power plants have to comply with them.

— Russell Grantham

Trade

A state such as Georgia has to care about trade. The state has heavy agricultural exports, sizable imports and an enormous logistics sector that moves and stores goods by the tens of billions of dollars.

And trade has been a recurring theme in the first 100 days. It’s just that the Trump Effect has not yet been felt — even if the shivers of expectation are running through the economy.

Trump ripped up the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He has taken steps to start a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The administration has raised and praised the idea of a “border adjustment tax” as a way to tax imports. And, of course, there’s that wall along the Mexican border that the administration is pushing ever harder to fund and build.

This week, the administration announced plans to slap a 20 percent tariff on Canadian lumber. (It’s an escalation in a long argument about whether it is unfairly subsidized.) If Trump follows through, the move would raise the price of materials for homes — and probably the price of the houses, too. On Wall Street, the news sent housing stocks — such as Atlanta-based Pulte — down.

— Michael E. Kanell

Georgia’s ports

Much of Georgia’s exports and imports travel through the ports of Savannah and Brunswick.

Trump’s plan to invest as much as $1 trillion on infrastructure projects nationwide has created major buzz among the Savannah port’s backers that their work to deepen the harbor from 42 to 47 feet could be placed at the front of the line for more federal dollars. That comes despite the recent 38 percent increase in the project’s cost estimate to $973 million.

It still remains to be seen if — and how — the Trump administration would finance such a massive public-works undertaking. The Republican Party has talked tough on the deficit in recent years, and Democrats remain wary about handing Trump any major legislative victories.

Recent executive actions on trade don’t appear to have affected either port yet. There is optimism, though, that the president’s pledge to increase exports and economic activity while cutting regulatory red tape could have an indirect benefit on the ports.

— Tamar Hallerman

Manufacturing

When it comes to the Trump Effect, it’s still a waiting game in manufacturing. The sector has been struggling to keep employment level after more than a decade of huge job losses — damage done by both outsourcing and automation. Now, barely 9 percent of Georgia jobs are in manufacturing.

If companies choose — or are forced by import taxes — to bring manufacturing home to the United States, it would likely mean chaos in Georgia supply chains and rising prices for consumers, but also more Georgia jobs.

On the other hand, were Trump’s policies to dramatically raise the value the dollar, it could badly damage the products of Georgia manufacturing — especially planes, buses and cars — that are sold in foreign markets. And that would cost jobs.

As with many other issues, so far there is a lot of expectation, anguish and excitement — depending on your perspective — while actual changes are few. But then, it’s only been 100 days.

— Michael E. Kanell


Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Georgia Politics

Trump promises Americans ‘huge tax cut’ for Christmas
Trump promises Americans ‘huge tax cut’ for Christmas

President Donald Trump on Monday promised a tax overhaul by Christmas, a day after the White House signaled its willingness to strike a health care provision from Senate tax legislation if it’s an impediment to passing the tax bill. Speaking before a Cabinet meeting, Trump said: “We’re going to give the American people a huge tax...
President Trump discounts accusations against Roy Moore
President Trump discounts accusations against Roy Moore

President Donald Trump discounted allegations of sexual assault against Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore and said Tuesday that voters should not support Moore’s “liberal” rival. Trump addressed the swirling controversy surrounding Moore for the first time since top Republican leaders called on Moore to step aside more than...
Warden for troubled Georgia prison hospital reassigned
Warden for troubled Georgia prison hospital reassigned

The warden who has been in charge at Augusta State Medical Prison for the last 18 months has been reassigned, a signal that state corrections officials want new leadership at the facility as it deals with the sanitation and safety concerns recently brought to light by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Georgia Department of Corrections...
Lawsuit seeks to end Georgia’s restrictions on third-party candidates
Lawsuit seeks to end Georgia’s restrictions on third-party candidates

Georgia’s restrictions on third-party candidates trying to run for the U.S. House of Representatives should be declared unconstitutional, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court Tuesday by the Libertarian Party of Georgia. No third-party candidate in Georgia has ever collected enough signatures to appear on the ballot for the U.S....
The Left questions the reasons behind deporting Haitians who were here legally
The Left questions the reasons behind deporting Haitians who were here legally

Thousands of Haitians have now lost their Temporary Protected Status, the deportation protection that allowed them to live and work in the United States following the devastating earthquake of 2010. A roundup of editorials Tuesday takes a look at the issue. From The New York Daily News: Trump’s decision is not about undocumented immigrants. The...
More Stories