U.S. Rep. Karen Handel speaks to the Rotary Club of Sandy Springs on Aug. 20. (John Ruch)

U.S. Rep. Karen Handel discussed tariff battles, human trafficking policy and more at an Aug. 20 appearance at the Rotary Club of Sandy Springs.

Handel’s appearance at the Hilton Atlanta Perimeter Suites Hotel came the day after the Roswell Republican officially kicked off her campaign to defend her 6th Congressional District seat from Democratic challenger Lucy McBath. Handel’s commentary was not explicitly campaign-related and she never mentioned McBath.

Another name notably never mentioned by Handel: President Donald Trump – though she did support his tariff negotiations and contradicted his claims that some or all of the press is an “enemy of the people.”

The 6th Congressional District includes parts of Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs as well as other sections of north Fulton and Cobb counties.

Trade battles

Trump is leading a new policy of rethinking “free trade” agreements and tariffs. When an audience member asked about these “tariffs wars,” Handel replied, “I’m going to call them trade tariffs disagreements and negotiations” and said they need time to bear fruit.

Speaking prior to the Trump administration’s announcement that the U.S. and Mexico have agreed to North American Free Trade Agreement revisions, Handel said the government was “very, very close” to resolving that issue. “Canada is a little bit harder,” she added, referring to NAFTA’s other partner country.

“I am mindful that time is an important asset for companies,” Handel said about the economy uncertainty and price boosts that some parts of the economy have seen during the trade disputes. But, she said, it will be worth it in the end. She cited China as a “bad actor” in trade that must be confronted.

“China, they extort companies and steal intellectual property and create such a barrier for entry into the market,” she said.

Human trafficking

Handel has put a policy focus on combatting “human trafficking” – a term for enslavement into forced prostitution. She said she considers herself lucky to have avoided it herself. “I left a troubled home when I was 17” in 1980, she said. “Candidly, it didn’t occur to me that trouble was waiting for me….”

She touted her co-sponsorship of House Resolution 1865, a controversial bill that became law earlier this year. The law expanded criminal and civil liability of website owners for facilitating sex trafficking, which resulted in the shutdown of many sexual-related advertisements on such sites as Craigslist and Backpage, where authorities had regularly found human traffickers. The bill was also widely criticized as abridging free speech, restricting consensual relationships and increasing the dangers of prostitution by driving it farther underground.

Opioid crisis

Handel recently held “summits” in Dunwoody and Sandy Springs about the opioid drug addiction epidemic, as part of an ongoing series of policy-related meetings. She said that long-term addiction recovery and mental health treatment coverage remain challenges in the epidemic. She said that one positive step was Congress’s full funding of the 21st Century Cares Act. That was a bill that controversially focused on speeding up the government’s approval of new drugs, but also had provisions to deal with opioids and insurance coverage of mental health treatment.


Opioids and human trafficking are reasons to support the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, said Handel, indirectly criticizing recent “Abolish ICE” criticisms without addressing their origin in the splitting up of families detained by the agency on immigration charges.

“For those that think abolishing ICE is a good idea,” Handel said, the agency helps to stop opioid trafficking at the “lawless” Mexican border, and its agents “rescued 900 children from human trafficking.” That latter claim appears to refer to an ICE estimate that its child sex crime and pornography investigations division has “identified or rescued” more than 900 victims since 2003.

Campaigning and media

Julia Bernath, a member of the Fulton County school board, asked Handel about how to make political campaigning “more about the issues and make it less about trying to sling mud.”

Handel did not answer directly, instead commenting on social media and news outlets in a “different climate.”

“Not a week goes by when I don’t get a threat,” Handel said, complaining that her home address has been posted on Facebook twice.

Without naming the avid Twitter user President Trump as the source of “enemy of the people” remarks about the press, Handel said she disagrees with it, though she criticized national media as biased. She said local newspapers are doing some of the best reporting, in contrast to national media that she claimed puts reports in the middle of conflict by putting “opinion on the front page.”

“I think Walter Cronkite is probably rolling in his grave right now,” said Handel, referring to the late CBS News anchor who was famous for a calm and trustworthy approach to the news – though also for delivering an on-air editorial opinion that America should withdraw from the Vietnam war.

Economy and other issues

Handel credited recent federal tax cuts with low unemployment and African-American business start-ups.

“The tax cuts and rolling back onerous regulation was really what we needed to inject in this economy… And we are just getting started,” she said, as Congress moves to make the tax cuts permanent.

Handel said Congress put “billions” into school safety. Citing the DeKalb, Fulton and Cobb districts, she said, “I’m am here to tell you … schools in our district are absolutely the safest they can possibly be.”

Asked about transportation policy, she said local governments want to keep those policies local. She got applause for saying she helped to secure a grant to expand the Ga. 400 highway.

Another audience question was about Rev. Andrew Brunson, an American pastor detained in Turkey on accusations of helping a 2016 coup attempt. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are among those who have called for his release. Handel rubbed her chin and said, “Well, we’ll see what happens with that.”

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.