3 weeks ago

2019 POWER & INFLUENCE 40: Numbers 1-10

Yellowhammer Multimedia on Friday released the fourth and final segment of the 2019 Power & Influence 40.

Our team has spent weeks talking with key operatives and analyzing recent developments in public policy and politics, and this list is meant to recognize the top individuals in government and politics who leverage their power and influence to better the Yellowhammer State.

The ranked list has been released in four segments, with 31-40 coming first followed by 21-30 and 11-20.

Members of the Yellowhammer 15 and the Power & Influence 40 lists will be celebrated through the 5th annual Power of Service event, which will take place Thursday, October 17, in Montgomery.

Read more about the event here.

10. Arthur Orr

Is there a single penny spent in the state of Alabama on education that Arthur Orr does not know about? Short answer: no.

Orr is the chairman of the senate education budget committee. This means he is the point man for his chamber on the $7 billion pot of money which funds Alabama’s education system. The size of the budget brings with it a hefty responsibility – and tremendous power and influence.

Almost halfway through his second decade as a member of the state senate, Orr has now also clocked enough time as budget chair that he knows every corner of education funding and every mechanism available for appropriation. He has established near total control of his chamber’s spending and priorities.

If someone wanted to make a movie about the story of the deliberative upper chamber, Orr might be the best choice to go on the poster. He has an incredible tolerance for details and is methodical in all of his actions. He is representative of the chamber’s approach to governing.

With the clout of the education budget in his corner, he is also not afraid to take on tough budget reform fights from which others shy away, like ABC privatization and welfare reform.

Brick by brick, Orr has built a fortress of political power and influence.

9. Quentin Riggins

The work Quentin Riggins does outside of politics would probably land him on any list of influential Alabamians. He is a pillar of the community and has involved himself in a myriad of different causes aimed at improving his home state.

His service on the powerful Auburn University Board of Trustees is plenty for one person. However, Riggins also serves on the boards of Grandview Medical Center, the Business Council of Alabama’s ProgressPAC, the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center Authority, the Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham and the Frank M. Johnson, Jr. Institute. He has previously served on the boards of Leadership Alabama and the Baptist Foundation.

Then there is the work he does as senior vice president of governmental and corporate affairs for Alabama Power Company. He heads up the company’s state and federal government affairs program, which is a vast and yet intricate undertaking. Riggins is able to pull from more than 25 years of service in the arena in representing the interests of one of the state’s largest employers.

Not to be forgotten, though, is his orchestration of one of the purest flexes of political muscle in several years.

Riggins oversaw the forceful changing of the guard at the Business Council of Alabama which set in motion a series of events resulting in the implementation of two monumental policy initiatives enacted to move Alabama forward: Rebuild Alabama and rural broadband expansion. Riggins’ plan for new leadership at BCA allowed the organization to establish the type of clout and cohesion necessary for success.

Riggins’ ability to look out over the horizon is a scarce commodity and produces uncommon power and influence.

8. Joe Perkins

Joe Perkins is unspeakably powerful and influential. So much so – and in such a way – that we probably should not even be speaking about it.

Perkins founded the robust, yet mysterious, Matrix firm. He and his firm occupy a unique space in the world of Alabama politics. The variety of clients he serves is remarkable. From some of the state’s biggest companies to some that could be construed as ‘mom and pop shops’ if not for their success. His work is not limited to industry, and he has a hand in the activities of trade and business associations from small, specialized groups to the very biggest.

And what he does is different.

He’s not a lobbyist. He’s not engaged in a governmental affairs practice. He consults on strategy and direction for different organizations. He provides public relations expertise carefully calculated to position his client in just the right space.

And it all goes back to the people, companies and campaigns at which he is directing his focus. He is the invisible guiding hand behind major initiatives, campaigns and state institutions of higher education. He is quiet counsel to high-ranking officials and regional decision-makers.

Trying to explain Perkins’ power and influence is far more difficult than his ability to exert it.

7. Bill Poole

Bill Poole might just be the most powerful non-Speaker member of the Alabama House of Representatives. Ever.

Talk about a guy who could do whatever his heart desired – Poole’s blend of intelligence, charisma, work ethic and integrity have led him to be a rising star in Alabama politics since his freshman year in the House.

Every year, that star has gotten brighter, and this past session just exacerbated that trend.

Poole’s stalwart leadership as sponsor of the Rebuild Alabama infrastructure package was one of the most impressive feats in recent legislative history.

However, his performance really came as little surprise to those who had observed the statehouse this decade.

Everyone in the chamber likes Bill Poole – and they respect him without exception.

His reputation inside and outside the membership has been well earned. He treats people right, leads by example and delivers results time after time.

His excellent chairmanship of the education budget committee in the House wields him power and influence already, but Poole exponentially has increased his stock over recent years well beyond a normal leader in the House.

What’s next for Poole? Well, the sky is the limit.

Could we soon have another statesman-like U.S. senator from Tuscaloosa?

Whatever he chooses to do, Poole will excel – and Alabamians will continue to reap the rewards.

6. Katie Boyd Britt

Talk about a baptism by fire.

Katie Boyd Britt and her newly assembled BCA governmental affairs team were thrown into a legislative battle for the ages to kick this year off.

Working together seamlessly – and tirelessly – the Britt-led BCA helped guide Rebuild Alabama to passage. The work was not easy. In fact, it was the stuff of lobbying lore, an accomplishment to be bragged about for decades to come. But they did it with a smile on, a gleam in their eye. The only acceptable result was going to be success, and the end result was the final vote exceeding all expectations.

It all starts with Britt. From the very first day on the job, this ex-chief of staff for Senator Richard Shelby effortlessly looked like the power and influence he wields rubbed right off on her.

Britt has brought an energy, an excitement and an optimism back to BCA through her buoyant leadership. Through vision, determination and an undefinable charisma, she is setting the organization and its member companies up for unparalleled successes.

However, her personal star also shines brightly.

People are mentioning Britt at the very top of the list of contenders to succeed Shelby, whenever the venerable senator does decide to call it quits.

Whether she is interested or not remains to be seen, but regardless she is going to be one of Alabama’s most powerful and influential people quite possibly for the next half-century.

And the people of our state will be better off because of it.

5. Jo Bonner

There are very few people who have served Alabama in a more exemplary way this century than Jo Bonner.

Congressman. Vice chancellor for the University of Alabama System. And now the immensely powerful and influential chief of staff to Governor Kay Ivey.

Bonner has been the epitome of a statesman throughout it all and now runs the day-to-day operations of state government. A third act that would beat the first of most in politics and government.

He not only has the governor’s ear but is, in effect, the governor’s ears and voice on many matters.

Everyone with dealings on Goat Hill knows that Bonner is the gatekeeper to Ivey, and he has put together a top-notch staff that runs the governor’s office like a well-oiled machine with him leading the charge.

Bonner’s contributions to the state’s current historic success might be behind the scenes, but they are well recognized by those in the know. Bonner is by far the most impactful non-elected official in state government right now and will continue to be as long as he serves.

4. Mac McCutcheon

You will find no kinder a person, no more of a gentleman in elected office than Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon.

McCutcheon has dedicated his life to the people of Alabama. From protecting and serving as a career law enforcement officer in Huntsville to leading the rambunctious lower chamber of the Alabama Legislature, McCutcheon has led with integrity and compassion every step of the way.

Honored with Yellowhammer’s Power of Service Award last year, McCutcheon has continued in 2019 to be an ideal role model for people young and old looking for the best of humanity in their public servants.

How he carries himself only adds to the considerable, inherent power and influence of his office.

The members of the House listen to McCutcheon not just because he has the gavel – but because they like him and respect him. This stems for the personal interest that he takes in all of the members. For McCutcheon, being speaker is a solemn duty – and the House membership is like a family.

McCutcheon will have another tough challenge ahead as the criminal justice and prison issue comes to a head in 2020 (with Medicaid still hovering). But if anyone can handle it, it’s him – with empathy and patience.

3. Zeke Smith

Zeke Smith has worked to establish the largest and most comprehensive external affairs effort in the state. Everything from lobbying to public relations to regulatory affairs to charitable giving falls under his purview as executive vice president of external affairs for Alabama Power Company.

An array of responsibilities that affect 1.4 million customers and 7,000 employees in Alabama require that Smith have an abundance of exceptional traits.

One of the most impressive and useful traits that Smith displays is an unmatched capacity. His knowledge of Alabama Power’s massive operation extends to every corner of its business. Layered on top of that is a continual awareness of Alabama’s political climate, its power players and what makes each tick.

As with most high-performing individuals, a function of his success has been his ability to extend beyond the discipline in which he trained. An Auburn University graduate with a degree in engineering, Smith has had a distinguished career and was inducted into the Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame earlier this year. Now, at this point in his career, he finds himself in a position where a mastery of politics and a firm grasp of people’s motivation are essential to the job.

Assembling a top-notch team to carry out the external affairs mission has been a key component to his success. To work for him means you have been vetted, and it has been verified that you can deliver. Smith carries with him a calm urgency to his actions, and he expects results.

All of this has contributed to the end result, which is that he, perhaps more than anyone else in Alabama, receives the first phone call from aspiring office-seekers. Nothing speaks more to power and influence than when people operate under the premise that they need your support to succeed.

For most of us, the names and numbers on our ‘Recents’ call screen are in black to designate outgoing calls. We imagine Smith has nothing but red on his.

He operates at a level of power and influence where the air is thin.

2. Del Marsh

It was 87 years ago this week when Babe Ruth called his shot during the third game of the World Series. In the top of the 5th inning, with two strikes on him, Ruth pointed to the centerfield wall then promptly hit the next pitch over the fence.

Del Marsh called his shot twice this year – and hit home runs each time.

In the months leading up to the 2019 legislative session, Marsh told anyone who would listen that he intended to pass a huge infrastructure package and a historic education reform proposal. Insiders viewed Marsh’s plans with skepticism, while many supportive stakeholders even continued to express pessimism.

If conventional wisdom was supposed to dictate action, someone forgot to tell Marsh.

The president pro tem of the Alabama Senate immediately powered through the Rebuild Alabama infrastructure legislation during a special session. In doing so, he left no doubt about his clout in what may prove to be a generational, game-changing boost to the Yellowhammer State’s roads, bridges and waterways.

During a conversation with Yellowhammer News following the passage of Rebuild Alabama, we asked Marsh if the collective temperament of the legislature would allow for any other major pieces of legislation. He reacted as if we were speaking in tongues.

Marsh was not finished. He next set out to pass legislation enabling a constitutional amendment reforming the state school board and abolishing Common Core. Once considered an issue no one would even attempt to take on, Marsh whipped the bills through the legislature and onto the next statewide ballot.

Two for two out of the park.

Like so many others on this list, Marsh never stops. So while his next power move may not be readily apparent, do not expect him to slow down. He is a reformer and a wildly successful businessman who has a genuine interest in seeing his state improve.

In the meantime, Del Marsh remains one of the most powerful and influential people within his generation of public servants.

1. Kay Ivey

Governor Kay Ellen Ivey will go down as one of the most consequential leaders in Alabama history.

And she’s not even close to being finished yet.

From the second she put her hand on the Bible and became the state’s 54th governor, Ivey has been laser focused on governing and nothing else.

She’s steered the ship through all of the noise – the politics, the gossip, the fluff – like a warm knife through butter, staying on course to a better future for our great state.

Ivey quickly became known as Alabama’s education governor through her Strong Start, Strong Finish initiative, adding onto this legacy through her historic push to add 500,000 more skilled workers by 2025.

However, the progress certainly does not end there. From landmark economic development wins to increasing foreign trade opportunities, Alabama is winning big under Ivey’s steady hand.

The Rebuild Alabama Act will go down as a crowning jewel of her administration – not just the merits of the forward-thinking infrastructure package itself, but how she got it done. The legislation passed in stunningly overwhelming fashion because of Ivey’s personal ownership of the issue. She bulldogged the package to passage – certainly with the tremendous help of organizations like BCA, ALFA, the Road Builders, etc., but it would not have happened without the governor.

She faces two more big issues this coming year and through the end of her term: the prison system and rural healthcare/Medicaid.

How will Ivey continue to utilize her position as one of the most powerful and influential governors ever?

Check back on Saturday for the entire list published in one article.

9 mins ago

Dick, Liz Cheney to headline Bradley Byrne Senate fundraiser

Former Vice President Dick Cheney and U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) will be the “special guests” at a U.S. Senate campaign fundraiser for Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01) on November 21 in Birmingham.

The fundraiser invitation obtained by Yellowhammer News outlines that there will be a VIP reception and a general reception. The VIP reception calls for a sponsor contribution level of $5,600 per couple, while the general reception allows for either a $2,800 host level or $1,000 attend level — both amounts also per couple.

The event is being held at The Club.

Rep. Cheney is currently the chair of the House Republican Conference — the GOP caucus within the lower chamber. As such, she holds the third-highest position in Republican House leadership.

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Like her father, Liz Cheney has been critical recently of President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw American forces from Northern Syria. The Cheneys generally have found themselves at odds with Trump on foreign policy issues for years, carrying through his time in office.

Back in 2011, Trump in a since-deleted YouTube video said of former VP Cheney, “He’s very, very angry and nasty.”

“I didn’t like Cheney when he was a vice president. I don’t like him now. … Here’s a guy that did a rotten job as vice president. Nobody liked him,” Trump added.

His criticism of the George W. Bush administration has continued in recent days and weeks. Trump in one tweet emphasized, “GOING INTO THE MIDDLE EAST IS THE WORST DECISION EVER MADE IN THE HISTORY OF OUR COUNTRY!”

Similarly to her split with Trump on foreign policy, Rep. Cheney has found herself in a heated spat as of late with Senator Rand Paul (R-KY). The two have fundamentally different worldviews when it comes to intervention abroad and the United States’ national security strategy.

Byrne has found himself somewhat split between the Cheneys and the Trump/Paul side of things recently when it comes to foreign policy. While Byrne signed on as an original cosponsor to Rep. Cheney’s resolution to impose “very tough sanctions” on Turkey over the Syria/Kurdish conflict, the coastal Alabama congressman also voted against a resolution opposing Trump’s decision to withdraw. As Byrne outlined in a column published on Tuesday, his public stance on the issue does not fit neatly on one side of the debate or the other.

Yellowhammer News sent a request for comment to the Byrne campaign on the upcoming Cheney fundraiser, as well as posing a few specific questions.

Yellowhammer asked whether Byrne more aligns with Trump or the Cheneys on foreign policy, as well as whether Byrne would be more like a Senator Paul or Rep. Cheney on foreign policy if elected to the Senate. Rep. Cheney herself is heavily rumored to be weighing a U.S. Senate bid in Wyoming, and the three could even find themselves to be colleagues. Yellowhammer further asked the Byrne campaign if he would support a Cheney Senate bid.

Additionally, given Rep. Cheney’s high leadership perch in Congress, Yellowhammer asked, “Does this signal leadership in D.C. getting involved on behalf of the Byrne campaign?”

The request for comment and questions were met with a brief response from Byrne’s campaign press secretary.

“Think you’re making something out of nothing. See below— we’re excited about the event!” Lenze Morris wrote in an email.

Morris pointed to a Monday tweet from Trump thanking Rep. Cheney for backing him against House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, as well as an article from August detailing that both Cheneys are helping the RNC and the Trump 2020 reelection campaign with their joint fundraising efforts.

While the Byrne campaign is “excited about the event,” so too are the other leading Republican 2020 Senate campaigns.

A spokesperson for former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville’s campaign told Yellowhammer News, “Politicians are supporting a politician while the Alabama Farmers Federation is supporting Coach. He’ll take Alabama farmers over the swamp any day.”

In a statement, Secretary of State John Merrill told Yellowhammer News, “My campaign is focused on traveling around the state to all 67 counties meeting with Alabamians from all walks of life and listening to their concerns. When I am in the United States Senate, my only concern will be representing Alabama thinking and Alabama values and not the thinking and values of the Washington, D.C. elites.”

State Rep. Arnold Mooney’s (R-Indian Springs) campaign declined to comment.

Read about the latest fundraising numbers from these GOP Senate candidates, as well as former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, here.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

39 mins ago

Sewell: Trump tweet comparing impeachment inquiry to ‘lynching’ is ‘despicable’

Along with Senator Doug Jones (D-AL), count Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07) as an ardent critic of President Donald Trump’s Tuesday tweet comparing the ongoing House impeachment inquiry to a “lynching” of him.

Trump tweeted, “So some day, if a Democrat becomes President and the Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the President, without due process or fairness or any legal rights. All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here – a lynching. But we will WIN!”

In a Facebook post sharing a screenshot of that tweet, Sewell outlined, “From Reconstruction to the Civil Rights Movement, 3,446 African Americans were murdered by lynching.”

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“The history of lynching in our nation is one of white supremacy, humiliation and dehumanization,” she continued.

Sewell, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, represents a district that includes Selma.

“For President Trump to liken the impeachment inquiry—a lawful investigation—to the racial terror millions of African Americans endured is despicable,” she concluded. “And for the people of Alabama’s 7th Congressional District, who marched, bled and died to end this type of terrorism, the sting of the President’s words is especially sharp.”

RELATED: Rep. Sewell: ‘You don’t need a quid pro quo’ for an impeachment inquiry

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

57 mins ago

Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce launches initiative to support local startups

The Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday launched a new  initiative to help boost the River Region’s entrepreneurial  ecosystem.

The new “Work Together” business studio and coworking space located at 600 S. Court Street in Montgomery will be more than just a physical space, according to a press release.

Starting in 2020, “it will also feature dynamic programming and events focused on creating a haven for makers, creatives, small businesses, entrepreneurs, freelancers and the community to connect, innovate, create and learn.”

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The Work Together location offers flexible space for working, training and community building that can accommodate up to 100 individuals and includes WIFI and audio-visual resources. Additional smaller spaces inside Work Together provide areas for small group or one-on-one meetings, and it also offers a conference room set-up that can accommodate up to 10 people.

The chamber announced the new initiative at InnovateMGM, a half-day event celebrating  those who are innovating within traditional and non-traditional businesses, start-ups and creative ventures.

The event served as a taste of the community building that Work Together aims to provide, which goes far beyond the limits of a physical gathering space and seeks to provide meaningful programming that empowers users to achieve their greatest potential.

In a statement, Montgomery Area Chamber Chairman Willie Durham said, “Supporting and strengthening our start up and entrepreneur community is one of our biggest priorities at the Chamber.”

“Our mission is to connect people to people and people to resources and this space allows us to do just that,” he continued. “By providing the training and the space for creatives and entrepreneurs to connect, we are enhancing our ability to build community, elevate the quality of life of the region and ensure the prosperity of our business community.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

Clyde Chambliss named 2019’s ‘Outstanding Public Official’ by American Society of Civil Engineers

State Senator Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville) was recently named the 2019 Outstanding Public Official by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

ASCE’s Committee on Advancing the Profession selected Chambliss to receive the prestigious national honor for “impeccable service and dedication to the State of Alabama, as well as to the civil engineering profession and land surveying professionals.”

“Instituted in 1963, the award is made to those members of ASCE who have contributed substantially to the status of the engineering profession by meritorious public service in elective or appointive positions in civil government,” Lawren Pratt, the ASCE member who nominated Chambliss for the award, advised in a statement.

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During his tenure in the Alabama Senate, Chambliss has led the effort to reform and modernize government regulations on the engineering profession. He was first elected in 2014 and reelected in 2018.

In 2018, Chambliss helped write and pass Senate Bill 316, which required Qualification Based Selection (QBS) to be included in the State Administrative Code and added two public members to the Alabama Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers and Professional Land Surveyors.

Brad Williams, P.E., president of the Alabama section of ASCE, praised Chambliss’ leadership.

“Senate Bill 316 led to one of the strongest QBS laws in the nation; it would not have passed without Senator Chambliss’s leadership,” Williams outlined.

Chambliss and his wife, Tara, also a civil engineer, own and operate a civil engineering firm that provides engineering services to small towns, water systems and developers in central Alabama.

“Senator Chambliss’ knowledge of our profession as a practicing Professional Engineer was instrumental in how he was able to lead meetings, mediate between parties of differing interests, and educate legislative members on the importance of QBS,” Williams added.

In accepting the award, Chambliss said that he appreciated the collaboration between legislators and professionals in the engineering field that led to the passage of SB316.

“It is such an honor to be recognized by my peers and colleagues with this award. Passage of SB316 was truly a group effort, and I appreciate the work of my engineer and surveyor peers in the development of such a great piece of legislation. I also want to thank my legislative colleagues for their support in voting for the bill, and Governor Ivey for signing it into law,” Chambliss said.

Chambliss was recently named as a member of the 2019 Yellowhammer Power & Influence 40.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

Byrne: How do you solve a problem like Syria?

Recent developments in Syria highlight the need for the United States to revisit its broader Middle Eastern policy.

Early last week, I joined a small meeting of House Republicans for an update on Syria from Secretary of Defense Mark Esper where he discussed a phone call from President Erdogan of Turkey to President Trump.

During that call, Erdogan notified President Trump that after years of waiting at the Syrian border, Turkish troops would finally cross over. He assured that Turkey was not coming after our troops but targeting certain Kurdish factions they consider terrorists. He gave President Trump 48 hours to relocate the two dozen or so American troops stationed on the border.

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President Trump was faced with a difficult decision. Ultimately, he decided to remove American servicemembers from harm’s way to prevent a full-blown conflict with Turkey.

Turkey’s incursion into Syria is wrong and very troubling. Erdogan should never treat our president and our country the way he did on the phone call. There will be serious consequences for his behavior.

I support seeking methods of leverage with Turkey that do not endanger our troops.

After President Trump proposed harsh economic sanctions, the administration negotiated a cease-fire with Turkey. The cease-fire has been shaky at best, but it probably prevented many more deaths in the region.

This is happening in the context of a greater strategic problem in the Middle East. For at least a decade, we’ve lacked a well-defined mission. What are our interests in the Middle East? What do we do to pursue and protect those interests?

Since coming to Congress and serving on the House Armed Services Committee, I have not seen a strategic, conventional interest for the U.S. in Syria, other than destroying the ISIS caliphate.

To be sure, Kurdish forces were the largest part of the successful campaign against the caliphate, and we need to stand by them as best we can under these challenging circumstances.

But Syria is a failed state. It is bewildering the number of groups in some form of combat. With so many factions, it is often difficult to know who the good guys are. Problems between the Turks and Kurds will persist for generations, but this dispute is one of many combustible problems in the Middle East today. Just weeks ago, Iran attacked our Saudi Arabian ally.

We need to work with our allies to determine our strategic goals and how to reach them. We should continue providing assistance to our allies, including the Kurds, but progress requires buy-in from all of our allies in the region.

Turkey, as a NATO member, does currently play a role in supporting our alliance goals. Turkey is the home of an important U.S. airbase and many other critical NATO assets including U.S. nuclear weapons.

However, Turkey’s actions cast serious doubts on whether they will honor their NATO commitments going forward, and frank discussions between Trump, Erdogan and other NATO leaders are needed.

We must be tough with Turkey. I still believe strong sanctions to weaken and punish Turkey are needed, and I signed on as an original cosponsor to Liz Cheney’s resolution to impose very tough sanctions.

After the Turkish incursion, I was disappointed that the House hastily put forward a resolution condemning President Trump’s actions without knowing the full facts. The very next day, I received a classified briefing shedding more light on his tough decision. I think everyone in Congress should have access to these classified briefings to gain a fuller understanding of what happened.

Instead of attacking the president, we need to have sincere bipartisan conversations and propose concrete solutions for Syria and the Middle East. On critical national security issues, we must put America first.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope. He is a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate.