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Delta CEO and Georgia governor get heated in voter law square-off

New York(CNN Business) Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp launched a counterattack on Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian Wednesday afternoon, just hours after Bastian said the voting bill Kemp signed last week was "unacceptable," "wrong" and "based on a lie."

The clash was an unusual one for two of the state's most powerful executives. But it showed the pressure that both were under because of the controversial voting measure.

Republicans, including Kemp, who passed the law say the measure is needed to stop illegal voting, playing on discredited claims of widespread fraud in last year's presidential election.

Opponents say the legislation, and similar measures being considered in other states, amount to voter suppression efforts that will reduce minority voting. President Joe Biden has called the bill "Jim Crow in the 21st Century" and "an atrocity."

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Delta CEO Ed Bastian, right, in happier times when Kemp was touring the Delta Air Lines vaccine facility on February 24. Kemp and Bastian clashed Wednesday over the recently passed Georgia voting legislation.

Delta's initial statement on the measure said that there was still "work ahead" to improve access to voting. But it included positive comments about some elements, saying that in part due to its own lobbying effort, the law had been "improved considerably during the legislative process."

Critics of the law quickly attacked Delta's statement and called for a boycott of the airline and some other Georgia-based companies such as Coca-Cola (CCEP) and Home Depot (HD). Bastian responded with a new statement to employees early Wednesday that attacked the law, admitting that Delta (DAL) had changed its initial view.

"I need to make it crystal clear that the final bill is unacceptable and does not match Delta's values," said the Bastian's statement to Delta employees. "After having time to now fully understand all that is in the bill, coupled with discussions with leaders and employees in the Black community, it's evident that the bill includes provisions that will make it harder for many underrepresented voters, particularly Black voters, to exercise their constitutional right to elect their representatives. That is wrong."

The statement continued, "The entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia in the 2020 elections. This is simply not true. Unfortunately, that excuse is being used in states across the nation that are attempting to pass similar legislation to restrict voting rights."

Kemp quickly issuing his own statement accusing Bastian of spreading misinformation and not recognizing the positives for voting included in the bill.

"Today's statement by Delta CEO Ed Bastian stands in stark contrast to our conversations with the company, ignores the content of the new law, and unfortunately continues to spread the same false attacks being repeated by partisan activists," said Kemp's statement. He defended measures to require official IDs such as drivers' licenses before people can vote, pointing out that before a passenger can fly on Delta - or any other airline - they must produce a photo ID.

"Mr. Bastian should compare voting laws in Georgia — which include no-excuse absentee balloting, online voter registration, 17 days of early voting with an additional two optional Sundays, and automatic voter registration when obtaining a driver's license — with other states Delta Airlines operates in," said Kemp.

Delta declined to comment on Kemp's comment.

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