ATLANTA -- Vice President Mike Pence on Friday praised Gov. Brian Kemp and Georgia restaurant owners who have reopened their establishments in recent weeks, lending a high-level of support to state leaders who have been criticized for ending pandemic restrictions too soon.
Pence said Georgia is setting "an example to the nation" by being among the first and most aggressive to restart its economy while staying mindful of public health guidelines.
"In a very real sense, I think history will record that Georgia helped lead the way back to a prosperous American economy," Pence told reporters after a barbecue lunch with the governor and first lady Marty Kemp at Star Cafe near Atlanta's Westside.
Pence's comments made clear the White House was supportive of Kemp's decision-making, even though President Donald Trump strongly criticized the governor a month ago for rolling back coronavirus restrictions. The rebuke stunned Kemp's aides because, hours earlier, Trump and Pence had separately voiced support for the plans to let some shuttered businesses, such as barber shops and tattoo parlors, reopen if they follow guidelines.
Kemp on Friday sidestepped a question about whether he felt vindicated by the turn of events and emphasized his support for the administration.
"I'm just very excited 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 secure personal protective equipment and remdesivir, an anti-viral drug that's shown promise for treating patients with severe symptoms of COVID-19. He indicated the recent sharp drop in hospitalization rates was a sign his approach is working and said that he'd "let history be the judge of what ends up being right and wrong" regarding his coronavirus decision making.
After dining on meatloaf, pulled pork and sweet tea with the Kemps, Pence spoke with local restaurant owners at a socially distanced roundtable at Waffle House's corporate headquarters in Norcross.
The vice president praised those who have begun rehiring employees and opening up their kitchens, as well as H Restaurant Group CEO and co-owner Joseph Hsiao, who said he took out a line of credit on his home to help make payroll at his half-dozen metro Atlanta restaurants.
Kemp's executive order allowed restaurants to reopen dining rooms starting in late April, as long as they follow dozens of safety regulations.