The biggest questions for Georgia’s congressional delegation in the era of Trump

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U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, center, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins (back, left) and U.S. Rep. Tom Graves (back, center) at a rally in Marietta in November. Curtis Compton,ccompton@ajc.com

WASHINGTON — Both chambers of Congress reconvene later today for what’s sure to be one of the busiest (and likely hyper-partisan) sessions in recent memory. Donald Trump and his allies have promised to shake up D.C.’s political order, but a lot is still unclear about how the New Yorker’s campaign ideas will translate once pen is actually put to paper.

A Trump presidency has plenty of implications for Georgia, which has a large military footprint, an expanding port and a gaggle of medical research facilities that rely in part on federal dollars. There’s also plenty of interest in Trump’s proposed health care, immigration and trade policy overhauls.

Here are some of the other big questions that could define how the Georgia delegation operates on Capitol Hill:

How do Georgia’s young House Republicans assert themselves after a major loss of institutional knowledge? Much of Capitol Hill runs on seniority, and most of Georgia’s Republican lawmakers are very, ummm, green. With the retirement of Lynn Westmoreland and expected departure of Tom Price to Trump’s Cabinet, the Peach State’s clout is taking a serious hit, particularly in the House. (Ranger Republican Tom Grave, who arrived on Capitol Hill in 2010, will soon become Georgia’s senior-most Republican in the lower chamber.) We’ll be watching to see if the state loses out on anything tangible due to that lack of seniority on key committees. How much do Georgia Republicans end up leaning on Johnny Isakson’s seniority in the Senate to block any major challenges to state interests on issues such as the Savannah Port, the water wars and military base closures? Also in question is who will take Westmoreland’s role as the state’s unofficial leader in the House.

How do Georgia’s four Democrats operate in an era of GOP dominance in Congress? It’s rough being a member of the minority in the House. The majority gets complete control of the agenda and rarely needs to looks across the aisle for support. While their Senate counterparts at least have the filibuster to block things they don’t like, there’s no similar tool for members of the minority in the House. That leaves Democrats with a choice. With both the Congress and the White House under unified GOP control for the first time in a decade, do Democrats continue to act as the loyal opposition or cut deals with the other side on key issues? U.S. Rep. John Lewis has hinted he plans to take the former approach, at least when it comes to fighting the House GOP’s proposed rules changes in retaliation for the gun-related sit-in the Atlanta Democrat led last summer. In the past we’ve seen Georgia’s two more centrist Democrats, David Scott of Atlanta and Sanford Bishop of Albany, buck their party on certain issues such as national security and the display of the Confederate flag. Do they end up looking across the aisle a little more in the interest of notching more policy wins?

Who emerges out of the already-crowded race to replace Tom Price in the 6th Congressional District? By our count, more than a dozen Republicans have expressed interest in the safe GOP seat. Only one, state Sen. Judson Hill, has formally entered the race so far (which will only formally begin if and when Price is confirmed as Trump’s health secretary), but several other big fish, including Price’s wife, state Sen. Betty Price, and former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel have indicated they’re still eyeing the seat. Multiple Democrats have also announced plans to run. Candidates’ fundraising prowess and ability to consolidate their party’s support will be critical for gaining traction in this contests, which some analysts are predicting will be one of the most crowded and expensive special elections in Georgia history.

As for Price, what can we expect from him as Health and Human Services secretary? If all goes according to the GOP’s plan, Price will be confirmed as the 23rd health secretary by the end of January. Price hasn’t granted any interviews since news of his nomination dropped after Thanksgiving, so we know little about how he would run the sprawling federal agency of 80,000 employees. What we do know is that he’s close to Speaker Paul Ryan and is a bookworm unafraid to get into the nitty-gritty on policy. It’s probably safe to assume Price will be a little more active on Capitol Hill than many of his predecessors. We’ll also be watching to see what kinds of actions he takes at the regulatory level to aid in the unwinding of the Affordable Care Act.

How does David Perdue fit into Washington’s new political order? Georgia’s freshman U.S. senator took somewhat of a political gamble last year when he not only full-throatedly embraced Donald Trump, but stood by the billionaire during his most trying moments on the campaign trail. His wager paid off in a big way. Trump has folded several key Perdue allies into his orbit and short-listed his cousin, former Gov. Sonny Perdue, for secretary of Agriculture. David Perdue himself has outlined his plan to stay in the Senate and help Trump from there. The question is how Perdue will use his new-found political capital, particularly in a body that prizes institutionalism and may very well rebuff some of Trump’s more ground-shaking ideas.

When do Republicans work for Trump’s agenda and when do they work against it? Come Jan. 20, Republicans will have their first unified government in a decade. In a normal year, that would mean the GOP Congress would immediately get to work codifying as much of their president’s agenda as possible. And we can expect Capitol Hill Republicans to follow through on plenty of that in the weeks ahead, with an eye toward health care, border security and government regulations. But what made Trump so remarkable as a candidate is that he bucked the party’s policy orthodoxy on issues such as infrastructure, entitlements and gay marriage. How do congressional Republicans, particularly social conservatives and deficit hawks, respond when Trump advances issues that go against their respective doctrines? Do progressives play along when Trump moves on issues near and dear to their hearts? Or do they oppose everything he advances in the interest of denying the New Yorker any legislative victories?

Read more 2017 previews: 

The top questions in Georgia politics for 2017

Georgia’s next governor: Who could be running in 2018


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