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Trump visits Atlanta, touts looser environmental rules to jolt economy
Trump Atlanta
President Donald Trump, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, Sen. David Perdue and Sen. Kelly Loeffler greet one another as the president visits Georgia to talk about an infrastructure overhaul at the UPS Hapeville hub at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Wednesday, July 15, 2020, in Atlanta. The visit focused on a rule change designed to make it easier to process environmental reviews. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

ATLANTA _ President Donald Trump visited Atlanta on Wednesday to tout streamlined environmental rules meant to speed construction of roads, bridges and highways at a time when the economy badly needs a jolt.

Trump spent only about 90 minutes in Atlanta _ just long enough to visit a UPS hub facility in Hapeville, adjacent to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. He discussed infrastructure initiatives, announcing streamlined environmental rules to speed approval of road, bridge and highway projects.

"Today's action is part of my administration's fierce commitment to slashing the web of needless bureaucracy that was holding back our citizens," Trump told the crowd of dignitaries and UPS employees. "I've been wanting to do this from Day One, and we started it on Day One."

"Today's action completely modernizes the approval review process under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969," cutting the timeline for a major project "from up to 20 years or more, hard to believe, down to two years or less ... and our goal is one year. ... You're not going to devote a lifetime to doing a project that doesn't get approved."

Trump said the new process will reduce the time for highway construction to get approved or disapproved by 70% or more, he said.

"It's going to be very quick _ yes or no, after study."

Democrats criticized the regulatory changes.

"The challenge is that Donald Trump does not believe in the reality of racial disparity, particularly on environmental issues," former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams said on a call with reporters Wednesday morning. "Georgia has a very poor track record when it comes to the issue of protecting communities of color ... so we're very concerned that these proposals (do nothing) except weakening the protections of everyday Americans, especially in the black and brown community."

At the event, Trump attacked presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

"Our past vice president opposes all of our permitting reforms," he said, adding that New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders "are in charge of energy. I don't think Texas is too happy about that," Trump said. He then called Texas Gov. Greg Abbott a great governor.

Trump also is wading into a dicey political situation in his own party: a rivalry between Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Rep. Doug Collins.

They're facing off in a November special election for the Senate seat. Trump hasn't picked a favorite so far.

Loeffler, backed by the party's Senate campaign arm, recently survived an FBI investigation into allegations that she and her husband _ with combined net worth topping $500 million _ used inside information to dump stock in an online travel company just before Trump announced a ban on European travel.

She caught ride to Georgia aboard Air Force One.

Collins, who served on Trump's defense team during his impeachment trial, met with the president once he landed.

Abrams said that Kemp and Trump's "incompetence" has hit non-white Georgians especially hard. And she hit Trump for deflecting complaints about racism in policing by asserting Monday that brutality also affects white suspects, "essentially denying the disproportionate rates that African Americans face at the hands of law enforcement.

She accused him of a "bumbling response" to the protests against police violence, and "moral cowardice.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, a former law enforcement officer who called Trump's visit to Georgia a "political stunt," said of the claim that whites are equally victimized by police.

"I'm just flabbergasted," he said. "I'm glad the president has Georgia on his mind but he has it on his mind for the wrong reason. We need help, we need better help. We need help from our federal government."

Among the dignitaries who didn't greet Trump on the tarmac: Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, a Democrat who is reportedly on former vice president Joe Biden's list of potential running mates.

The first term mayor was one of Biden's early supporters and emissaries to the Black community. She has blasted Trump for his handling of the pandemic and accused him of inflaming racial tensions after a Minneapolis police officer killed suspect George Floyd by pinning his neck to the ground for nearly nine minutes.

Trump last visited Georgia on March 6, touring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just as the COVID-19 pandemic was starting to explode.

"They saw there was something going on in China long before anybody even heard of it. ... That's why we're in good shape," Trump said during a briefing with CDC experts. "China is working very closely with us."

Only about 240 cases had been confirmed in the United States at the time, and 11 deaths.

As of Tuesday, the nationwide death toll topped 136,000. Georgia alone recorded 3,054 deaths and 123,963 cases.

The outbreak has flared recently, with 3,394 new cases reported on Tuesday, close to the daily peak.

That puts a spotlight on the on-and-off friction between Trump and Gov. Brian Kemp. In late April, Kemp, a fellow Republican, angered the president by letting some businesses resume operations sooner than the White House felt was a good idea.

Lately, Trump has encouraged governors to loosen restrictions and has pressured school districts and colleges to resume normal in-person instruction, despite CDC guidance that would preclude that in most places.

How that plays in Georgia remains to be seen.

"Our people are continuing to suffer but today, Donald Trump is back in our state, not to check in on our sick or vulnerable. But for yet another infrastructure week," said Nikema Williams, a Georgia state senator and chair of the Georgia Democratic Party, noting the high COVID rates and record 9.7% unemployment. "Thanks to Donald Trump our economy is in a free-fall."

As Trump arrived in Atlanta, Bottoms said in an interview on MSNBC noted that Trump again did not wear a face covering.

"Well, Donald Trump is actually violating the law as he stands on our tarmac without a mask ... it's not surprising to me that Donald Trump is once again breaking it," she said.

Polls show him getting low marks nearly everywhere for his handling on the pandemic, putting a drag on his reelection chances.

Trump won by just 5 points four years ago and polls currently show a tie with Biden, or close to it.

But Republicans haven't lost a presidential race in Georgia since Bill Clinton carried the state in 1992, and he fell short four years later. So has every Democratic nominee since.

Democrats haven't won any statewide race in a decade, in fact, though Abrams, the 2018 nominee for governor, blamed her defeat on voter suppression by Kemp, the state's chief elections officer at the time.

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