HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, appropriations, healthcare, tariffs, and the Russia investigation. Those were the topics Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) addressed at Friday’s Washington Update at the Von Braun Center.
Throughout his update, Sen. Jones made it a point to focus on the uncanny bipartisanship among members of the Senate, commending both Republicans and Democrats where he believes credit is due. He discussed a number of bills that affect the economic stature of Alabama.
During his seven months in the Senate, the junior senator has co-sponsored 106 bills, 90 of which he said are bipartisan.
Sen. Jones refused to commit to a decision on Kavanaugh, but says he is keeping an open mind about the nominee.
“The United States Senate under the constitution has a shared responsibility. This is not a question of a president getting a part of their team. That’s their cabinet. The judiciary branch is separate. We have a separate and independent role in advice and consent, and that’s what I’m looking at. It’s a process,” said Sen. Jones.
Sen. Jones said that process consists of hearings, meetings with Judge Kavanaugh, and reviews of the jurist’s past bodies of work.
He believes the confirmation process should be exercised in a judicial manor without pre-decisions, leanings, biases, or allegiances.
“To do otherwise, makes the hearing a waste of time and a perfunctory process,” said Sen. Jones.
He said he will base his decision on whether or not to support Kavanaugh solely on his own assessment.
1. “I do not think it’s appropriate where the independent judiciary and the lifetime appointment to the United States Supreme Court has been relegated to a political campaign.”
2. “The Senate Judiciary Committee has only seen three percent of Kavanaugh’s records, and we aren’t going to get very much more before the September 4 hearing. The distribution of these documents comes from a partisan lawyer who has represented people in the White House like Steve Bannon and others. He’s the one who has been tasked with giving these documents out, not the National Archives.”
“At the appropriate time, after the hearing and I meet with Judge Kavanaugh I will make a decision,” said Sen. Jones.
Sen. Jones said when he arrived at the Senate in January, the congressional body was still in a continuing resolution; but the bipartisan leadership of Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has advanced the appropriations process.
He said the Appropriations Committee passed all twelve of the bills before the July 4th recess, which is the fastest that has happened since 1988.
He blamed the previous lack of progress on partisan politics and “poison pills” injected into legislation by some politicians.
“I kept saying to my colleagues what is going on? You should have done this before I got here,” said Sen. Jones.
The lawmaker sang the praises of Sen. Shelby and Sen. Leahy, calling them “the two lions of the Senate”. He credited the Senate’s progress to their bipartisanship and focus on the real issues.
He offered an anecdote to expound upon that bipartisanship and focus.
“Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R- TX) campaigned to attach an unrelated amendment to one of the appropriation bills. Instead of defaulting in favor a fellow Republican, Sen. Shelby told his Republican colleague that he sympathized with his cause, but it had no place in the bill,” said Sen. Jones.
The practice of attaching unrelated amendments to pass a bill is less prevalent than in years past.
“By the end of next week, the Senate will have passed nine out of twelve appropriation bills, and we will on track to pass all twelve before the end of the fiscal year. The Appropriations Committee passed all twelve of the bills before the July 4th recess, which is the fastest that has happened since 1988. In contrast, the House has only passed six out of twelve. Five of those were partisan,” said Sen. Jones.
The lawmaker shed light on the economic impact the appropriation bills pose for North Alabama.
“There is so much about our federal budget that goes right back here into our community,” said Sen. Jones.
- $110 million to build a new federal court house in Huntsville
- The Spending Bill lifted defense caps by $80 billion for the 2018 fiscal year and $85 billion for the 2019 fiscal year
- $20.7 billion for NASA (1.7 billion over the presidents request)
- 2.6 percent military pay raise
- $9.7 billion for the missile defense agency
- $1.25 billion to Redstone Arsenal for procurement and repairs
- $2.8 billion in spare parts for government planes
- $192 million for Blackhawk upgrades
- $671 million for standard missile procurement
“In Birmingham, Huntsville, and Mobile we take our healthcare facilities for granted, but rural Alabama is struggling. Many healthcare facilities are at risk of closing,” said Sen. Jones.
He believes lawmakers can address the issue by fixing the Medicaid wage index.
“That’s a real problem when we get reimbursed so much less than other states,” said Sen. Jones.
He also thinks expanding Medicaid would help.
“I think we have left billions of dollars on the table by not expanding Medicaid over the years,” said Sen. Jones.
Jones said he has co-sponsored a bill that if passed would give states like Alabama that didn’t expand Medicaid when they had the chance to get a “do-over” and to have that three years of where there is no reimbursement and “step it up”.
“I think we didn’t do that in large measure just because of the politics that overtook us during the healthcare debates,” said Sen. Jones.
The CHIP program is funded for ten more years which affects 150,000 children in this state.
The legislator co-sponsored the Rural Health Liaison act. The act would create a liaison between rural healthcare providers and the Department of Agriculture. He said the bill would help bring broadband access to rural healthcare providers.
Sen. Jones is one of the co-sponsors of the Opioid Crisis Response Act. He said the Healthcare Committee passed the act unanimously. This act in conjunction with a proposed bill in both the Senate and the House of Representatives would provide more funding, and new changes in the FDA that would allow drugs to come to market more quickly.
Sen. Jones has been one of the most outspoken critics of tariff increases. He strongly opposes President Trump’s tariffs and believes they could jeopardize Alabama jobs.
“When Mercedes came in the 90′s, things changed for Alabama dramatically. We saw an influx of automobile jobs, supplier jobs. Then, it was Toyota Motors Plant, Hyundai, Honda, and now we’ve got the new Toyota-Mazda plant that’s going to open up. But the President wants to impose tariffs on foreign automobiles and parts. These tariffs could jeopardize over 57,000 jobs in Alabama,” said Sen. Jones.
Sen. Jones has co-sponsored a bill with Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) that would “pump the brakes” on these tariffs.
He believes President Trump’s tariffs are politically motivated. While he acknowledged that President Trump is trying to live up to his “America first” platform, he believes the President is going about it the wrong way.
“I want to make sure rogue nations like China stop stealing our industry, but the President is going about it the wrong way. We need to do it the right way. We don’t do that by going over to Europe and kicking our allies in the shin and insulting the Canadian prime minister. We do that by enlisting our allies and banding together,” said Sen. Jones.
“China can withstand a lot more than the American people think they can. They don’t blink. Farmers will lose the Chinese market if this keeps up. This isn’t a game of chicken."
“It’s amazing what happened in 2016, and what is happening as we speak. It has not let up, and I do not think we are doing enough,” said Sen. Jones.
He acknowledged the sanctions in place, but he feels President Trump is doing America a “disservice” when he conflates the term collusion with interference and discredits the Mueller investigation.
He advised people two read the two documents regarding the two Russia investigation indictments. He called the social media tactics used by the Russians “dividing”.
His solution? America needs to speak up.
“Please speak up. We have to protect the pillars of government,” said Sen. Jones.
Supreme Court Nominee- Wait until you have all the information.
Appropriations- Teamwork makes the dream work.
Healthcare- Don’t leave money on the table.
Tariffs and Trade Wars- Don’t kick your friends in the shin. Quit playing chicken with “China”.
Russia Investigation-Speak up.