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Georgia Runoffs: Democrats Aim to Take Senate as Republicans Back Trump Attack on Election Integrity

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Image Credit: Atlanta Press Club / Georgia Public Broadcasting

Two Georgia Senate runoff elections on January 5 will decide who controls the upper chamber and whether the Biden administration will be able to pass its ambitious policy agenda. If Democrats succeed in unseating Georgia’s two senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, the Senate will be split 50-50, with incoming Vice President Kamala Harris able to cast tie-breaking votes. In two debates Sunday night, Perdue skipped his debate with challenger Jon Ossoff, who took the stage opposite an empty podium, and Loeffler faced off against Reverend Raphael Warnock. We play excerpts and host a discussion with author and Emory University professor Carol Anderson, as well as Democratic state Representative Bee Nguyen, whose district includes Atlanta.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We begin today’s show in Georgia, where, well, one-and-a-half debates were held Sunday night, ahead of Georgia’s January 5th runoff election, which will decide who controls the U.S. Senate. Today is the last day for new voters to register in Georgia.

In the most closely watched debate of the night, Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler sparred with Democratic challenger Reverend Raphael Warnock. Loeffler is the richest senator in the country and was appointed to her seat in January by Governor Kemp. She refused to say that President Trump lost the election.

SEN. KELLY LOEFFLER: You know, it’s unfortunate that the focus is on a debate about who won the election when this process is still playing out. And President Trump has every right to every legal recourse. But we also have to make sure that Georgians know that we have a process that works, that their vote is counted and that no illegal votes are counted.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Loeffler repeatedly attacked her challenger, Reverend Raphael Warnock. In fact, she almost never said his name without prefacing it by saying “radical liberal Raphael Warnock.” But Warnock, who’s the pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church pastored by the Kings, pushed back.

REV. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: Look, it’s clear to me that my opponent is going to work very hard, spending millions of dollars of her own money, trying to push a narrative about me, because she’s clearly decided that she does not have a case to be made for why she should stay in that seat. … I do not want to defund the police, and Kelly Loeffler knows it. But she keeps saying this because she wants to distract from her own record. The truth of the matter is, were it left up to her, Georgians would not have received the $600 of expanded unemployment insurance, and they haven’t seen any relief in months. And she hasn’t done anything — she’s done nothing — to provide relief for ordinary people, the folks I’m seeing all across this state who are in pain in the middle of this pandemic.

AMY GOODMAN: Reveren Warnock contrasted how he grew up in the projects of Savannah, Georgia, with his opponent, Senator Loeffler, the richest member of the U.S. Senate, and accused her of using her position for personal gain, saying she publicly played down the pandemic but sold stocks earlier this year after receiving a coronavirus briefing.

REV. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: When you received the private briefing regarding the coronavirus pandemic, you dumped millions of dollars of stock in order to protect your own investments. And then, weeks later, when there came an opportunity to give ordinary Georgians an extra $600 of relief, you said you saw no need and called it “counterproductive.” Why do you think it’s counterproductive to help ordinary Georgians in the middle of a pandemic.

SEN. KELLY LOEFFLER: Well, thank you for that question, because I’ve been completely exonerated. Those are lies perpetrated by the left-wing media.

AMY GOODMAN: At the other Georgia Senate debate that took place last night, well, only one candidate showed up. This is how the debate began.

RUSS SPENCER: The candidates are, in alphabetical order, Democrat Jon Ossoff. He is CEO of Insight TWI, a media production company that investigates corruption, organized crime and war crimes for international news organizations. Republican David Perdue has served in the U.S. Senate since 2015. Before his election, he sat on the board of five major corporations and co-founded Perdue Partners, a global trading company. Senator Perdue declined to participate in this debate and is represented by an empty podium.

AMY GOODMAN: This marks the second time the Republican Senator David Perdue has refused to debate Jon Ossoff. He also pulled out of the final debate prior to the November election, after Ossoff described him as a “crook.” Perdue is facing increasing scrutiny over trading stocks of companies overseen by committees he sits on in the U.S. Senate. The New York Times revealed last week Perdue has traded stocks, bonds and mutual funds nearly 2,600 times over the past six years — by far the most of any U.S. senator. He sometimes reported 20 or more transactions in a single day.

The Sunday night debates came one day after President Trump traveled to Valdosta, Georgia, for a campaign rally with Perdue and Loeffler. It was Trump’s first public rally since losing the election, but Trump spent most of the rally falsely claiming that he won. He also attacked Georgia’s Republican Governor Brian Kemp, who he had earlier supported. Earlier on Saturday, Trump called Kemp to urge him to call the Republican-led state Legislature back into session so it could appoint Trump-supporting electors to the Electoral College, essentially to overturn the election. Kemp refused to do so.

To talk more about Georgia, we’re joined by three guests. Carol Anderson is with us. She is a professor at Emory University, the author of White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide. Her most recent book is One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy. She’s joining us from Atlanta.

We’re also joined by Democratic state Representative Bee Nguyen of Georgia. Her district includes Atlanta.

And Cliff Albright is with us. He is co-founder and executive director of Black Voters Matter and a 2020 Soros Equality Fellow. Cliff Albright had a watch party last night for the debate.

There is much to talk about. Professor Carol Anderson, let’s begin with you. Quite an active weekend for the whole country to watch in Georgia, since Georgia will determine the balance of the U.S. Senate. If both Democrats were to win these races in the runoffs on January 5th, the U.S. Senate would be 50-50 Republican-Democrat, with the vice president, that would be Kamala Harris, being the tiebreaker. But what happens still remains to be seen. So, there were one-and-a-half debates this weekend, last night. David Perdue did not attend his, so it was Jon Ossoff’s alone, and then the highly contentious debate between Warnock and Loeffler. Talk about what you watched this weekend.

CAROL ANDERSON: I watched a series of lies. I watched Loeffler mastering soundbites without any kind of depth, but a way to try to define Reverend Warnock in ways that would resonate with a base that is bereft of evidence. I saw an attempt to a coup, an attempt to overthrow an election, and I saw the weakness of both Perdue and Loeffler in challenging that. So, even when Loeffler is asked point blank about the election, she says, “Well, it doesn’t matter. It’s not about who won.” Yes, it is. But what we’re are seeing is that as she was casting aspersions out there, that this is the lie of voter fraud that the Republicans have sown for decades. And it is now really taking root in a most horrific, horrific way. And it is a lie. It is designed to cast aspersions on the American citizenship, the right to vote for African Americans, for Asian Americans, for Hispanics. That’s what I saw this weekend.

AMY GOODMAN: State Representative Bee Nguyen, if you can talk about the significance of what’s taking place in your state, and what is at stake, both statewide and also nationally?

REP. BEE NGUYEN: Well, as all eyes are on Georgia, we know that the country is watching us and watching the response to our election. As Dr. Carol Anderson said, the Trump administration, backed by other Republicans across the state of Georgia, with the exception of our governor, the lieutenant governor and the secretary of state, are pushing forward conspiracy theories. They are pushing forward lies about the election with no substantiated evidence.

We just had Rudy Giuliani here in the state of Georgia last week, in which he brought forward witnesses who did not understand the complexity of Georgia election laws, who did not have any evidence to back up their claims. And they separated the secretary of state from that hearing so there was no opportunity to respond and to refute these arguments that have already been refuted nationally, have already been refuted in our state. And that resulted in increased death threats for election workers. It resulted in death threats to two of our sitting senators who pushed forward the truth, who pushed back on Giuliani’s team.

And what we’re seeing is a referendum on the Trump administration. The last four years, they have wreaked havoc, and Georgia voters are tired of that. The country is tired of that. What we’re also seeing is, the last four years, the Trump administration has sanctioned violence and encouraged violence, and we’re seeing those threats play out in real time.

We’re also seeing the combination of the pandemic play out in these election hearings and these rallies. Giuliani was just diagnosed with COVID yesterday, and he’s put every single one of those senators in that room at risk. He was there without a mask. There were many other people there without a mask. We have two sitting senators who deny that there is a pandemic and who continue to allow the president to push these lies that undermine our democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: If you could go more into — what do you mean, the two senators, Perdue and Loeffler? Again, Loeffler was not ever elected; she was appointed by Kemp — who she refused to fully back up versus Trump in the debate. But what do you mean? What are they saying about coronavirus, where there is, like in other — all over the country, a major surge in Georgia?

REP. BEE NGUYEN: Well, they’re not really saying anything. And the fact that Perdue didn’t show up at the debate yesterday is indicative of his leadership in Georgia. He just not has shown up for the state of Georgia and working families in Georgia. They have not followed science on the virus. They continue to hold rallies without encouraging social distancing, without telling their supporters to wear masks. And we are seeing the results of what happens when people come in close proximity with each other when large gatherings are happening.

They have not pushed forward a stimulus package. You know, you mentioned earlier that Americans are waiting for another round of stimulus. I have constituents who reach out to me every single week telling me they have not even seen unemployment that they’ve filed for many, many months ago. People are losing their homes. They’re getting sick. They are unemployed, losing their cars. Working families need our senators to respond to the pandemic, to follow science, to show them that they understand what it means when we have a public pandemic that is just ravaging us economically. These two senators understood that this was going to be an issue, and instead of informing the public, they took advantage of that information and used it to trade their stocks. And that is not the type of representation that we need here in Georgia or in our Senate.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back in history to the last time Senator David Perdue debated Jon Ossoff. After this, he refused to debate him again. This is Jon Ossoff speaking to Perdue in the debate in late October.

JON OSSOFF: You’ve continued to demean yourself throughout this campaign with your conduct. First, you were lengthening my nose in attack ads to remind everybody that I’m Jewish. Then, when that didn’t work, you started calling me some kind of Islamic terrorist. And then, when that didn’t work, you started calling me a Chinese communist. It’s ridiculous.

AMY GOODMAN: So, state Representative Bee Nguyen, this pretty much blew him off the stage for the rest of debates. He also called him a criminal and said, whether it’s him or his handlers in Washington, is it really worth selling your soul, he said, for doing what was happening. Carol Anderson — rather, state Representative Nguyen, if you can talk about the significance of what he was saying?

REP. BEE NGUYEN: Yeah. I mean, Jon Ossoff has called Perdue out. He is not being shy about calling him out for who he is. He is speaking the truth about the sitting senator, who is xenophobic, who is racist, who does have a history of standing by Trump side by side, who is not pushing forward any policy solutions. He is ready to take healthcare away from Americans during a pandemic. He has no policy issues to stand behind.

In fact, when Jon Ossoff was visiting a small business, Slutty Vegan, one that is Black-owned, who has done just a tremendous job of expanding their entrepreneurship throughout the city of Atlanta, Perdue’s response was to make fun of Jon Ossoff for visiting this business. You know, these are small businesses in the state of Georgia who need support economically, who need us to uplift the small businesses. And quite frankly, you know, I don’t know of any American on either side of the aisle who support demeaning and belittling a small business. And it just shows how out of touch Senator Perdue is with working Georgians.

AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned death threats against state legislators. You, yourself, state Representative Bee Nguyen, have a fascinating background. You’re the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants. You’re the first Vietnamese American state representative. Your family then went on to help settle a Syrian refugee family in 2015. Can you talk about how your own life story informs what you do today and your response to the politics of Georgia and the divisions right now?

REP. BEE NGUYEN: Absolutely. I mean, my life story and my lived experience informs me on policies and informs me on humanity, quite frankly. When my parents left Vietnam, they fled in the middle of the night on a boat. And at the time, it was President Jimmy Carter who expanded the number of Vietnamese refugees being accepted into America. And it was a Republican governor, Governor Robert Ray from Iowa, who opened his state and said, “We will accept as many refugees as we can into the state of Iowa.” That bipartisan spirit is completely absent in today’s politics.

And growing up in a state like Georgia, I am part of what we call the New South, a coalition of Black, Brown, Asian, young folks, progressive folks who want to see a state and a country that embraces diversity and that understands that cultural differences and what we contribute makes our country unique and special. And that’s what makes America great, quite frankly. We’ve been battling the last four years the rise of white supremacy and nationalism, which we know has always existed in this country, but when it’s endorsed by somebody who is at the highest-sitting office, who has pushed forward this idea of violence against people and threatening people, where this has become a norm, you know, it’s a time and a place where being in Georgia is critically important, as the world is watching us and how we respond.

And I’m very disappointed in my colleagues who have not spoken up against the violence being directed to — our two sitting senators — to the secretary of state and his wife, to Gabe Sterling, to the governor. It’s unacceptable. It is not how we want to live in this country. And it is being pushed by the Trump, and he — by Trump, and he has enabled this to rise to the surface. And we really need to grapple with what that means for our country and for our state and how we can move forward, because we can’t take this anymore. It is literally endangering the lives of people who are just doing their jobs, who are just trying to make this country a better place for everybody.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to Gabe Sterling, the election manager you talked about. Again, the state leadership of Georgia is Republican — the state election manager, Gabe Sterling; the secretary of state; and, of course, Brian Kemp, the governor. I want to go to Gabe Sterling, who made this emotional plea last week around the Republican leadership of our country, around President Trump and Giuliani, who was just there, now tested positive for COVID-19, after not clear how many people he posed with, none of them was he wearing a mask. This is Gabe Sterling.

GABRIEL STERLING: Mr. President, it looks like you likely lost the state of Georgia. We’re investigating. There’s always a possibility. I get it. And you have the rights to go through the courts. What you don’t have the ability to do — and you need to step up and say this — is, stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence. Someone’s going to get hurt. Someone’s going to get shot. Someone’s going to get killed.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Gabe Sterling. I want to go back to the debate that took place last night. In August, players with the WNBA’s — the women’s basketball league — Atlanta Dream urged fans to elect Senate Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock. Senator Kelly Loeffler is the co-owner of the franchise. Several players arrived at the league’s coronavirus bubble in Florida wearing black T-shirts that read “Vote Warnock” in white letters. The action came after Loeffler slammed the WNBA’s racial justice initiative for the 2020 season, saying any alignment with the Black Lives Matter movement sends a message of exclusion, as they seek to defund the police. This is debate panelist Lisa Rayam questioning Loeffler.

LISA RAYAM: You’ve called the Black Lives Matter movement fascist. You’ve alienated members of your own basketball team by talking about that stance, or taking that stance, rather. Is that still your view tonight, after seeing and hearing how it hits home with so many people personally?

SEN. KELLY LOEFFLER: The life of every African American is important, and there is no place for racism in this country. But there are organizations whose number one goal is to defund the police. And we know that that hurts minority communities more than anyone, and we have to stand with our men and women of law enforcement.

AMY GOODMAN: Carol Anderson, can you talk about this constant refrain of Senator Loeffler as she would continually attack Reverend Warnock?

CAROL ANDERSON: Yes. I mean, this “defund the police,” “radical leftist,” “leftist radical,” “defund,” those are like putting, like, chum in the water for a base that is feeling, as Trump said, victimized. They’re victims. But the real problem here is that it is a racist dog whistle. And that’s what we have to understand. It is deliberately misunderstanding what Black Lives Matter is really all about. It is designed to wipe that away, the same way they called Martin Luther King a communist, is what she was doing to Reverend Warnock yesterday.

And what this is about is — what she didn’t deal with was eight minutes and 46 seconds. George Floyd had a knee on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. Loeffler will not deal with that. She will not deal with seven bullets in the back of Jacob Blake. She will not deal with a basic no-knock warrant that ended up killing Breonna Taylor. So, this is what Black Lives Matter is talking about, is the use of state violence against Black people. Instead, she engages in these dog whistles that are designed to create this fervor for holding back this supposedly Black mass that will overturn everything, overturn the American dream. It is marketing — racist marketing 101.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion, and we’ll be joined by Cliff Albright, who is suing the Georgia secretary of state — his organization — for pulling something like 200,000 voters off the voter rolls. Carol Anderson is a professor at Emory University. Georgia Representative Bee Nguyen is in the Georgia Legislature. And we’ll be joined by Cliff Albright, who is one of the co-founders of Black Voters Matter. Stay with us.

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Black Voters Matter: Group Sues Georgia for Purging 200,000 Voters Ahead of 2020 Election

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