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Pence provokes Georgia’s economic reopening



Vice President Mike Pence on Friday praised Prime Minister Brian Kemp and restaurant owners in Georgia who have opened their facilities in recent weeks, and issued a high-level dose of support to state leaders who have been criticized for ending pandemic restrictions too soon.

Pence said Georgia sets “an example for the nation” by being among the first and most aggressive to restart its economy while thinking about public health guidelines.

“In a real sense, I think history will record that Georgia helped lead the way back to a prosperous US economy,” Pence told reporters after a barbecue lunch with Governor and First Lady Marty Kemp at Star Cafe near Atlanta̵

7;s Westside.

Pence’s comments made it clear that the White House supported Kemp’s decision, even though President Donald Trump criticized the governor a month ago for re-establishing coronavirus restrictions. The punishment stunned Kemp’s aides because both hours earlier, both Trump and Pence had separately expressed support for plans to allow some closed companies, such as barber shops and tattoo parlors, to reopen if they followed the guidelines.

Kemp on Friday surpassed a question about whether he felt confirmed by the incident and emphasized his support for the administration.

“I’m just really excited that the Vice President was here. I appreciate the support of the president and him, “Kemp said.

The governor touted the Trump administration’s efforts to help Georgia protect personal protective equipment and strap divider, an antiviral drug that has shown promise to treat patients with severe symptoms of COVID-19. He indicated that the recent drop in hospital admissions was a sign that his attitude was working, and said he would “let history be the judge of what ends up right and wrong” when it comes to his coronavirus decision.

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After eating meatloaf, drinking pork and sweet tea with Kemps, Pence talked to local restaurant owners on a socially distanced roundtable at Waffle House’s headquarters in Norcross.

The Vice President praised those who have begun rehearsing staff and opening their kitchens, as well as H Restaurant Group’s CEO and co-owner Joseph Hsiao, who said he took out a credit line at his home to help pay by his half-dozen Atlanta-based restaurants.

Kemp’s executive order allowed restaurants to reopen the dining room at the end of April, as long as they follow dozens of security regulations.

“This is not really a choice between the health of our citizens and a growing economy,” Pence said. “It’s a choice between health and health, as a growing economy, as you begin to see coming back here in Georgia, contributes to the physical and emotional well-being of the American people.”

The state’s Democratic leaders were critical of that mentality at a virtual press conference ahead of Pence’s late-morning arrival at Dobbins Air Reserve Base.

Trump, Pence and Kemp have “in turn contradicted public health experts and put big companies in front of our working families,” said state vacant Nikema Williams, president of the Democratic Party of Georgia. “These men are full of lies and broken promises – and this crisis has worsened so much because they have the power.”

Prospective Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s campaign said the pandemic has exposed systemic “racial inequalities” that plague Georgia that he plans to deal with if elected.

“Right now, Georgians need decisive action from transparent and empathetic leaders, but instead they will receive a photo-op today,” said Symone Sanders, a Biden senior strategist.

Pence’s visit drove dozens of supporters, who stood outside the Star Cafe and Waffle House headquarters, waved signs and sang “four more years.”

His motorcade – which slowed down traffic on I-75, though much less was on the roads compared to a normal Memorial Day weekend – made a previously immediate stop at Ravi Zacharia’s ministry near Alpharetta. The Evangelist, however, Tuesday. An assistant said the two men were close.

Friday’s event also provided a dash of political theater. Pence was accompanied on Air Force Two by U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., Who faces stiff competition for his seat this fall. They were met on the tarmac by Congressman Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, Loeffler’s bitter political rival. The two spoke and shook hands as Pence slowly greeted other elected officials there.

Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this report.