Democrats shouldn’t hold out for midterm elections before holding a vote on a new Supreme Court justice, U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Birmingham, told a crowd in Anniston on Friday.
“I don’t think two wrongs make a right,” Jones said after a speech at the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce.
Jones stopped at the Chamber of Commerce between tours of the Center for Domestic Preparedness and Anniston Army Depot. In remarks before an audience of about 40 people, he spoke mostly about the bipartisan bills he thinks a divided Congress can actually pass: a plan to fight opioid abuse, an effort to improve rural broadband and a bill to require Veterans Affairs to be more transparent about inspections at VA-run nursing homes.
Bipartisanship is a recurring theme for Jones, who worked in Sen. Howell Heflin’s office in the 1970s, and who promised on the campaign trail to bring back the across-the-aisle style of the South’s old-school moderate Democrats.
Still, a very partisan fight is brewing that promises to keep Jones in the public eye. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, generally seen as a crucial swing vote, announced this week his plans to retire. That will give President Donald Trump a chance to nominate a consistently conservative judge – potentially setting the stage for the high court to reverse course on abortion rights and same-sex marriage.
Democrats have called for any vote on a new justice to be postponed until after midterm elections, a move that mirrors actions by Senate Republicans, who left a seat on the court open for most of the last year of the Obama administration by refusing to hold nomination hearings for appointee Merrick Garland.
Jones said he didn’t think it was fair to postpone the Garland vote, and he said he wouldn’t support a delay on Trump’s appointee.
“I don’t care what anybody says, politically or otherwise,” Jones said. “I think (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell was wrong to do this the last time. I don’t think that’s the way the Senate should operate.”
Still, Jones said he’ll take a “deep dive” into any Trump nominee and give that nominee a fair hearing.
“It’s one of those cases where you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” he said. “But I knew what I was signing up for.”
Jones told the crowd he was concerned about the effect Trump’s tariffs and foreign counter-tariffs would likely have on the state’s economy – and not solely because Alabama is one of the top car-manufacturing states. Soybean and cotton prices have fallen, he said.
Jones said China, a big importer of both products, has for years been investing in Brazil and various African countries on a level that rivals America’s post WWII Marshall plan. Brazil is a major supplier of soybeans.
“At some point, China’s going to say, ‘we don’t need you anymore,” he said.
Jones also spoke out against tariffs on Canadian newsprint, put in place this year, that have forced some newspapers to lay off workers or reduce their days of print circulation.
The senator said he’d support the idea of identifying Anniston Army Depot as a repair depot for the Armored Multipurpose Vehicle, or AMP-V, which is proposed as a replacement for the M113 personnel carrier. The topic was brought up by an audience member, and the Senator’s answer got him a round of applause.
Jones said he asked for a $20 million increase in spending for the Center for Domestic Preparedness, the Anniston-based center that trains first responders for disasters. The money, he said, would be used to refurbish the center, which is about 20 years old. He said he expected Senate committees to reduce the amount as spending bills move through committee, but it remains at $20 million so far.
He praised the city of Jacksonville and Jacksonville State University for their response to the March 19 tornado, saying the experience offered lessons for other campuses that the university should be able to pass on.
“We’ve got to get together and build a playbook,” Jones said.