Georgia Rep. Doug Collins is haranguing the state’s governor, Brian Kemp, for pushing to reopen the economy too early.
But the feud between Collins and Kemp is only a glimpse of the larger behind-the-scenes battle within the GOP over how far to go when it comes to getting back to some semblance of normalcy.
The fight is playing out as President Donald Trump and most congressional Republicans are pushing for a swift reopening of the economy despite warnings from disease experts against resuming normal behavior too soon.
Even Trump drew the line at Kemp’s aggressive plan, saying that it’s too “soon” and making his frustrations known to the governor. GOP members of Congress were quick to follow suit, arguing that officials should reopen the economy in phases.
Collins on Thursday accused Kemp of “not communicating clearly” amid the coronavirus outbreak and failing to solicit input from local leaders.
“The president wants the country open. I want the country open. The governor wants the country open. The problem is, how do you do it? And I think that’s the problem with leadership,” Collins told “Fox & Friends.”
“Leadership is about communicating,” he continued, “and when you are not communicating clearly — look, the governor did not take away the stay-at-home order, but yet selectively decided certain businesses are going to open up.”
Kemp said Monday some establishments in Georgia shuttered by the outbreak — including bowling alleys, gyms, hair salons and tattoo parlors — could reopen as early as Friday if owners adhere to stringent social- distancing and hygiene requirements. Next Monday, movie theaters may also reopen and restaurants will be allowed to return to limited dine-in service.
But the governor’s plan seemingly contradicts his own statewide stay-at-home order, which expires April 30, as well as federal social-distancing guidance. Georgia also has yet to report a two-week downward trend in coronavirus symptoms and documented cases — one of the basic benchmarks for easing restrictions, according to the White House.
At Thursday evening’s coronavirus briefing, Trump went even further in his disapproval of Kemp.
“I want the states to open more than he does. Much more than he does,” the president said. “But I didn’t like to see spas at this early stage. Nor did the doctors.”
“I didn’t like to see a lot of things happening, and I wasn’t happy with it,” he added. “And I wasn’t happy with Brian Kemp.”
While Kemp’s plan won support from his home state GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler, Collins’ rival in the November Senate special election, several congressional Republicans are instead pushing for a more gradual process, depending on the virus’ effect on different regions.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said he agreed with Trump’s concerns about Georgia reopening too quickly and urged Kemp to follow the White House’s guidelines released last week. Meanwhile, Indiana Sen. Mike Braun is advocating for reopening the economy, but suggesting states should adopt a county-by-county approach.
“I’m not necessarily a believer that you should have a one-size-fits-all, even across the state,” Braun said in an interview. “For the governor of Georgia, for instance, it seems to me that it would have made sense to do things in your safer counties first and then roll it into the Atlanta metro area.”
Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey on Thursday released his own three-phase plan to reopen his state’s economy. His proposal comes one day after Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf also announced a framework.
While Toomey commended Wolf, the Republican senator’s plan includes some differences, such as allowing businesses with outdoor activity to open immediately. Wolf wants to begin a targeted reopening May 8.
The first phase of Toomey’s plan would allow some businesses in counties that meet certain criteria to begin reopening, including manufacturers and merchandise retailers.
Under the second phase of the plan, restaurants, bars and fitness centers could reopen with some limits. Schools would also be allowed to reopen and residents would be able to travel to areas of the United States that are not overwhelmed by the coronavirus.
In the third phase, entertainment venues would open back up with precautions and restaurants could increase to their maximum occupancy. The plan warns against easing restrictions on nursing homes until testing is expanded.
“My framework is meant to be data-driven, and to contemplate a gradual reopening of Pennsylvania by some combination of county and region,” Toomey said. “It would certainly allow the areas where the coronavirus is quite rare to reopen further and more quickly than areas that are more adversely affected.”
The debate over how to approach reopening the economy comes as Republicans warn that the federal government can only do so much to mitigate job losses from the virus. Already, more than 26 million Americans have filed for unemployment — a staggering number not seen since the Great Depression.
They also are warning of the unintended effects of keeping the economy shut down for too long, including the impact on mental health and the inability of small businesses to recover.
But there’s also the issue of a shortage of testing, which members of both parties acknowledge needs to be addressed in order to proceed with a full reopening. The Senate this week approved an additional $25 billion to go toward testing, as part of a nearly half-a-trillion dollar rescue package.