(Alabama Political Reporter) – Incumbent U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, addressed Auburn University students at a forum on the university’s campus on Wednesday.
“I am a Democratic candidate, but I am an Alabama senator, and that is what I have tried to be since I have been here,” Jones said. “I promised I would work across the aisle.”
Jones said that he has sponsored 22 bipartisan bills that have been signed by President Donald Trump.
Jones and his Republican opponent, Tommy Tuberville, were both invited to address the Auburn College Democrats and the Auburn College Republicans in what the two college groups hoped would have been a debate between the two Senate candidates, but Tuberville declined to participate.
“I really appreciate the Auburn College Democrats and especially the Auburn College Republicans for inviting me,” Jones said. “I am disappointed that Tommy Tuberville is not here. I think it is important that people see two candidates side by side answering the same questions.”
“What you are seeing in the ads that are attacking me are simply not true,” Jones said.
Jones said that he does not support defunding the police, taking guns from Americans who like to hunt, and he does not favor abortion all the way to the point of birth.
“I have been a strong advocate for our military,” Jones said. “I have been a strong advocate for farmers. Even though I do not serve on the Agriculture Committee, I have done more for Alabama farmers than any senator has done since Howell Heflin, who was on the Agriculture Committee.”
The students asked Jones what he thought his greatest accomplishment in the Senate was.
“That would be ending the Military Widow’s Tax,” Jones said.
Jones explained that the Military Widows tax only affects about 2,000 people In Alabama, but it is a big deal for those military families. When a serviceman is killed, the Pentagon pays a stipend to the surviving spouse. Many soldiers also purchased insurance for the possibility that they would not survive their service.
Instead of paying both the survivor’s benefit and the insurance benefit, the VA previously subtracted the insurance benefit from the VA death stipend. The widows were only getting about 55 cents on the dollar of what they had expected. Every year, the Gold Star wives came to Washington and asked for that change in the law, and every year, Senators would pat them on the back and then choose finances over repealing the tax and doing what was right, Jones said.
For 27 years, the Gold Star widows had made this a priority and nothing got done. Jones did not know about this until he got to the Senate, but when he found out, he reached across the aisle and sponsored a bill with Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine to end the tax.
Eventually the bill had 82 co-sponsors, and it got passed.
“It is not the voting rights act, it is not the civil rights act, but for those widows, it meant $1,200 a month,” Jones said.
The students also asked Jones what his greatest mistake was.
“Voting for Bill Barr,” Jones said on confirming William Barr as Trump’s attorney general. “I was so disappointed. I feel sorry for Jeff Sessions. I disagree with him on a number of policy issues, but I don’t think that he deserved the hits he was taking. I knew Bill Barr from his previous service. I thought he would be an independent voice, and he hasn’t.”
“I voted on the best information I had, and I was wrong on Barr,” Jones said. “I can defend every vote that I made. What I do in the United Senate is not about politics it is about service.”
Jones was asked if he favored ending the filibuster when Democrats win control of the Senate.
“No, I have too much respect for the Senate,” Jones said. “I don’t think Joe Biden will do that — at least he won’t start that way. He has too much respect for the history of the Senate as an institution. I want to try to get the Senate back to the way it was.”
The students asked if he favored the Democrats using their new power to adjust the number of judges on the Supreme Court.
“Nope,” Jones replied. “This goes back to the filibuster. We can’t start tearing down institutions because we don’t like some decision they make.”
Jones said that many Americans wanted to do the same thing when the court seemed to liberal with the Warren Court in the 1960s.
“Right now packing the court is not something I would be in favor of,” Jones added. “At the end of the day, you never know what is going to happen.”
“We always talk about I just want the courts to call balls and strikes, but it is not a baseball game,” Jones said. “Intelligent people disagree about the law and the rule of law.”
“The goal is to find common ground,” Jones said. “Frankly, Tommy Tuberville cannot do that. A football coach is trained to beat the other side — not work with them. On the radio, he calls them communists and socialists. I have two and a half years of working with them. He can’t do it. It is not about good and evil, and we need to stop thinking in those terms.”
The students asked if farmers should be given some relief from new regulations on the environment.
“I have been a huge proponent of agriculture,” Jones said. “The current USDA has been helping the biggest farmers and not Alabama farmers. The tariff wars hurt the Alabama farmer.”
“It is going to be a challenge to work it out,” Jones said. “It is in their best interests that we do something about the climate. I believe the science and so do farmers.”
Jones urged everyone to have faith in scientists.
“Trust them please,” Jones said. “One of the most frustrating things I see these days — and we see it in climate and I see it in the pandemic — is that we have got to trust our scientists.”
Jones said that is true of both the climate and the coronavirus pandemic.
“I have consistently said don’t believe what politicians say about this pandemic not unless they are repeating what the scientists say,” Jones said. “This next six months could very well be worse than the past six months.”
“We have got to trust them,” Jones said of the scientists. “If the doctors at the FDA approve the vaccine, I will trust the vaccine. We need to listen to the scientists at the FDA, the CDC, the NIH, at UAB, and what the companies say about the vaccine.”
Jones was asked what could be done to prevent Russia, China and Iran from interfering in our elections.
“We have the technology to do it, we have the will to do it, but we need an administration who will do it, and If you think I am knocking the Trump Administration, I am,” Jones said.
Jones was asked how we can move beyond partisanship.
“It is a lot more partisan outside of D.C. than in D.C.” Jones said. “People vote for partisanship. It is your vote that will change it. Your generation can change it. You need to tell your leaders that we want to hear issues, we want to hear politics.”
Jones said that he favored delisting marijuana from the banned drug list and making it legal for people with legal marijuana to cross state lines without going to jail for it. Jones was asked what we can do to fight the opioid crisis.
“We can’t prosecute your way out of it, though there is a role there with the prosecution of doctors for running pill mills,” Jones said. The civil lawsuits against drug manufacturers is a start, he said, and leaders need to be doing a better job of educating people. Mental healths should also be a priority, he said.
“There is a reason that people have to stand up and say ‘Black lives matter,’” Jones said, saying that too many Black people, particularly Black men, are killed by police.
On trade, Jones said that he is not an isolationist. “We (Alabama) need those foreign markets. We are an exporting state. We are the third largest exporter of automobiles in the country.”
Students asked Jones if he favored repealing the Patriot Act.
“I don’t think that is going to come up,” Jones said. “When it comes up for renewal, we will tweak it. I have had concerns about it, but at the end of the day that is something that we have to constantly monitor. We will not repeal it.”
Jones predicted that debate on health care will “dominate the next Congress.”
“I am very concerned about what we are going to do about health care if the ACA is declared unconstitutional,” Jones said, also reiterating his support for expanding Medicaid in Alabama. “The state made a huge mistake when it did not expand Medicaid,” he said. “I am not for Medicare for All, but I do think that there should be a public option.”
Jones was asked about the governor’s plan to lease and build three new so-called “mega-prisons.”
“The Trump administration really issued a scathing report on the state’s prisons, that really surprised me,” Jones said. “I don’t like privatizing the prisons or the post office. We had convict labor in this country for a long time, and it was horrible.”
Jones said solving the state’s prison problems requires money, and nobody wants to raise taxes. “Everybody wants to lock them up, but it costs money.”
The next president, whether it is Trump for a second term or his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, is getting a $27.2 trillion debt plus a coronavirus stimulus package at the end of this month that may make it close to $30 trillion by inauguration. APR asked if there is going to be a plan put in place to prevent the national debt from surpassing $40 trillion by the end of this decade.
“We have got to get out of this crisis first,” Jones said. “George W. Bush spent trillions fighting wars without paying for them while cutting taxes, and this president has done the same thing, and now those tax cuts are coming home to roost.”
“I am not going to start looking at this until after the coronavirus crisis is over,” Jones said. “Part of the reason that revenues are down is because people are not working and paying taxes. If we don’t get this solved, we could end up owing $50 trillion.”
Due to coronavirus concerns and maintaining the proper social distancing, Wednesday’s event was limited to just five news reporters. Jones told reporters that he is running neck-in-neck with Tuberville approaching Tuesday’s election.
“I am not going to guarantee a win, and I am not going to guarantee that we are not going to win,” Jones said.
Polls open on Tuesday at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. CST. You must have a valid photo ID in order to participate.
(Brandon Moseley, Alabama Political Reporter)