Karen Handel

U.S. Senate Candidate Karen Handel discusses her platform at the Floyd County Republican Party’s monthly breakfast Saturday, April 26, 2014. (Laura-Jane Hatcher / Rome News-Tribune)

MARIETTA — A friendly crowd greeted U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, R-Roswell, at a meeting of the Marietta-based Georgia Tea Party.

Handel spoke for about an hour to an invitation-only audience of about 70 at the headquarters of the Cobb GOP, giving an update on her work in the Congress for the first half hour before taking questions from the audience during the second half.

Q: What’s the most surprising thing that you have encountered up there?

A: You know, I think the most surprising thing is the desire, I will call it debate, on things, issues and bills that you could hardly argue with. … There was a bill that Congressman (Donald) Young from Alaska was offering, and it had to do with doing a land swap, federal land for state land, no actual dollars or anything. There is a native Alaskan village here. The road went to here. And there was a big gap. And the road went here. And this village was without medical care, I mean if somebody had a medical emergency, they couldn’t get in, they couldn’t get out. … The state of Alaska wanted it. The village wanted it. Everyone wanted it. Except for the Democrats, and that was very eye-opening for me. Their arguments about their debates against it, their points against it were environmental, all these things. Next thing I know, we’re talking about some hovercraft that went to Alaska with Bill Clinton. What does that have to do with anything? Meanwhile, the village is still just trying to get the road completed so that emergency vehicles can get in and out. So that’s been the most surprising thing to me. And I’m sure it happens on both sides, too. I don’t want to put it just on that side.

Q: How does it make you feel that you have to campaign already?

A: (Laughs) I’m hoping that it’s not going to be another $60 million race, oh my gosh.

Q: It exhausted me, so I’m sure it exhausts you.

A: Oh, you just do what you have to do.

Q: The president at some point will be bringing an infrastructure package, as he’s talked about. We don’t know what it is yet. What would you like to see in it, particularly for Georgia?

A: Well, what I want to see is legislation that recognizes the actual process that local governments have to go through to move infrastructure through because the shovel-ready bill that came under President (Barack) Obama didn’t do anything appreciable. It didn’t help with jobs, and it certainly didn’t help really build anything that was going to be impactful to relieving congestion and moving people from one place to the next, so I’m going to really be looking at that. At this point, really, I think there’s been a one-pager and that didn’t say very much, so what I will do as soon as we have something more concrete is pull together a couple of the local elected officials, some from GDOT, really get some good input on it so we can make sure it’s a really solid bill that’s going to be impactful for congestion relief. And secondly, that some of the really onerous regulatory requirements in there are rolled back. And we saw really what can happen when we put our minds to it with the rebuild of the (Interstate) 85 bridge. And I think that can be a model for where we need to go.

Q: Do you favor a bipartisan solution to health care reform or should Republicans keep pressing their advantage to get their own plan in?

A: If it goes to conference, then I think it will by virtue of its being in conference be a little bit more bipartisan. What I will say is that on really significant pieces of policy, it’s really hard to get the buy-in that you need for it if you don’t have some bipartisan involvement. But I will also say the following: To achieve a bipartisan solution requires both sides to come to the table, and one side of this, the Democrats, haven’t really been willing to be at the table.

Q: Is armed conflict with North Korea inevitable? They’re launching missiles …

A: I don’t want to speculate …

Q: What’s going to happen there?

A: I don’t know, but what I am encouraged by is that we have the additional sanctions because I think that is really important. We have the ability to increase the size of the military in order to make sure we are prepared for some of these very real threats.

Q: What do you make of the frequent staff changes in the White House that we’ve seen?

A: I don’t get caught up in all of that.

Q: If you could give Trump a letter grade right now, what would you give him?

A: Look, the president has accomplished a lot. There is still more to be done. But he is moving forward with the things that he said he was going to move forward with. You know, it’s out of his hands if, let’s say, we pass appropriations in the House and it’s stalled in the other body, so some of that is a little bit out of his control. But I will say again he has been working hard to keep the commitments that he’s made. And we have more work to do, and I think he would be the first one to say that.

Q: You saw that he announced he would like to ban transgender troops from the military. Is that a good idea in your opinion?

A: I think you have to see what the actual directive is going to be. As you know, the military is not going to act on a 40 character tweet, so we need to wait and see what that’s going to look like. What I will say is this: I do not think that the military should be required to pay for the transition surgery. That is an elective. I just don’t think they should be required to do that.

Q: Will you be making an endorsement in the governor’s race?

A: (Laughs) I’ll see what the field’s going to look like. Who knows? It’s a long way off. In the world of politics, it’s a lifetime for that one.