Shelby on immigration crisis: ‘We’re really fighting for the soul of America’
MONTGOMERY — Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) was the keynote speaker at the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce’s monthly Eggs and Issues breakfast Monday, where he spoke about a wide range of state and national issues, from infrastructure to border security and his personal thoughts on President Donald Trump.
Shelby was introduced by his newly former chief of staff, BCA President Katie Boyd Britt. While calling Alabama’s senior senator, the chair of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, one of the three most powerful people in America and one of the 10 most powerful people in the world, Britt highlighted Shelby’s status as “Alabama’s greatest statesman.”
Following a resounding standing ovation, Shelby thanked Britt and complimented her leadership before moving onto his first topic: geopolitical threats. He identified China as America’s biggest economic and potential military adversary, and then touched on Russia and the Middle East.
“We live in a troubled world,” Shelby emphasized. “A real troubled world. A challenging world, and we often forget that.”
“We’ve seen the rise of China as an economic and military power – unprecedented, unprecedented. … And they’re competing [on] everything in the world. That’s good, we want them do that peacefully and fairly. But the fact remains they’re going to be our biggest challenge, biggest opportunity perhaps and perhaps biggest impediment economically and – globally – militarily.”
Shelby then moved onto Russia, calling Vladimir Putin “ruthless.”
“I met him before, and I didn’t do like George Bush — he looked in his eyes and saw [his] soul. I looked there and saw KGB,” he quipped.
“Russia is dangerous,” Shelby summarized, adding that they do not have the economic might of China.
He then said that problems in the Middle East “are not going to go away” anytime soon, as conflicts between Shia and Sunni Muslims have been ongoing for approximately 1,500 years.
The ‘soul of America’
Shelby then pivoted to domestic updates, first highlighting “the hottest economy” he has ever seen.
“It’s been hot for a while, it’s doing very well and I hope we can stay that way. … I’ve never seen an economy better,” Shelby remarked.
While that is a highpoint, Shelby also sees challenges that need to be addressed.
One of those, as he said, is “on our southwest border.”
Shelby pushed back on recent claims that there is not a “crisis,” saying, “[W]e’ve got thousands and thousands of people coming across that border into this country and it amounts up into millions and millions – it does.”
“We’re probably the only nation in the world that I know about that has not secured our borders for years and years and years,” he added. “Well, that’s the fight. … I believe we oughta secure our borders.”
“We benefit from immigration, we’ve always benefited from immigration but we oughta have legal immigration. And I’m going to do everything I can to continue to fight for that battle. It’s worth the fight. Because we’re really fighting for the soul of America,” Shelby advised.
‘President Trump is unique’
Later, when speaking about getting congressional Republicans and Democrats to put the priorities of the nation ahead of partisanship, Shelby alluded to the fact that this will be tougher now that the 2020 election cycle is kicking off.
“[E]verybody’s running for president [on the Democratic side],” he joked. “There are 20-25 running, might be somebody in [this] room.”
Shelby, after wrapping up his remarks, took several questions from the audience. The first was about what it is like working with Trump and if the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election cycle.
Shelby shared that he recently spent an hour and a half or so on a flight to Huntsville with the president, as well as a number of lunches and a flight Friday on the way to visit Lee County tornado victims.
“President Trump is unique,” Shelby said, to the audience’s amusement. “He is, he is unique. I’ve known a lot of presidents, and he’s different. But he does – his end results, some of [them] are strong. … I’ve tried to work with him where I could.”
“Now, about the Russian interference, I don’t know everything – nobody know everything. But I don’t believe that Trump himself was involved with the Russians to get them to help in the election,” he advised.
Shelby explained, “Now, did the Russians try to interfere in our elections? Why, yes. Are they the only ones? Why, no. Do we do some of that [around the world]? I can’t say.”
‘We need a huge infrastructure deal’
The last question posed to Shelby was regarding if a federal infrastructure and transportation package could be passed in the next year or two, especially considering how polarized Congress has been recently.
“Well, it seems like they’re moving along on in the state from what I saw the other day,” Shelby said. “Infrastructure is important. And to all of us. It is important to the growth of jobs and people being able to invest and create jobs.”
He outlined the dire need for infrastructure improvement and expansion from coast-to-coast, reminiscing on what a boon the interstate highway system was on the economy decades ago.
“We need a huge infrastructure [package],” he added, listing roads, bridges, airports and seaports as priorities. “All tied into transportation one way or the other – and economic growth.”
He continued, “We need a huge infrastructure deal in the United States Senate. Now, you’re talking about money, nobody wants to step forward and say, ‘I want to put a 25-30 cent per gallon of gas tax or diesel fuel [tax] on the American people.’ They want that to just pop up out of the air or something. … So it hasn’t happened yet.”
Shelby reiterated that he recently joined his fourth committee, Environment and Public Works, to put Alabama at the table when infrastructure legislation is seriously considered. He also reminded the audience of the vital, statewide economic impact of the State Docks at the Port of Mobile.
“[T]here’s going to have to be some day of reckoning with our infrastructure and our needs,” Shelby said, emphasizing infrastructure would be a top priority for the remainder of his current term, which ends in January 2023.
Speaking to reporters after the event, Shelby commented on his Friday trip with the president to visit areas in east Alabama impacted by the recent tornadoes.
“It’s a real tragedy,” Shelby lamented.
“We want to help those people, and we are going to help them. I’m in a position to help them,” he added, before saying he would be working through the appropriations process to expeditiously secure the necessary level of funding.
The senator said “the human tragedy” of what occurred is going to stick with him.
“I saw the crosses [for the victims] at the church, it was rather poignant. It reminded us that we’re here today, but not for long. And also the tragedy unique to these families – I saw children that their parents were gone. That’s really tough for them, and I think the president was touched. … I think that he won’t forget. He thinks he has a good connection to Alabama,” Shelby said.
Packed from wall to wall here pic.twitter.com/UNczueyThT
— Sean Ross (@sean_yhn) March 11, 2019
Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn