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Greg Bluestein

Nathan Deal to Marco Rubio: ‘Maybe senators ought to have gag orders as well’

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Gov. Nathan Deal at a state Capitol press conference in January. Hyosub Shin, hshin@ajc.com

Gov. Nathan Deal at a state Capitol press conference in January. Hyosub Shin, hshin@ajc.com

It was a throwaway question at the end of Gov. Nathan Deal’s criminal justice bill signing. But sometimes those types of queries elicit the best responses.

When the Republican was asked Wednesday for an update on Georgia’s costly, and bitter, ongoing legal feud with Florida over water rights, he said he was under a gag order and was limited in what he could say.

And then he said more:

“People forget about something. We see all these people pontificating about what the governors ought to be doing. Especially Sen. Rubio. He’s pontificating about the fact that the governors should be doing about this. He seems to forget that his governor, and his state, sued the state of Georgia in the U.S. Supreme Court. And that is an ongoing case and we’re under a gag order not to comment.”

Deal added: “Maybe senators ought to have gag orders as well.”

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R- Fla., waves to the audience at the conclusion of his remarks at the Sunshine Summit in Orlando, Fla., on Nov. 13, 2015.  (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Sen. Marco Rubio. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

He was referring to the former Republican presidential candidate’s decision to wade into the newest round of water wars drama that recently resurfaced on Capitol Hill. Rubio took the Senate floor last week to blast the way the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is managing water, echoing his state’s lament that Georgia is draining too much water for metro Atlanta at the expense of its neighbors.

“The bottom line is that the status quo is only working for one state,” said Rubio, who is pushing an amendment aimed at hastening a tri-state accord.  “Absent such an agreement between governors, water continues to be withheld and the situation has now become dire in my home state of Florida,” Rubio added.

This isn’t the first time the governor has doused Rubio. The Florida senator infuriated Deal earlier this year by dipping his toe in the water wars days before Georgia’s March 1 primary, prompting the governor to speak out against Rubio’s stance on the issue.

We should note, too, that Deal said Wednesday he voted for another Floridian in the presidential contest – he cast an early ballot for former Gov. Jeb Bush, who had already dropped out of the race by the time Georgia held its vote.