United States Congressman Bradley Byrne made a grim prediction in Mobile last week: Partisan gridlock is the new normal for the House of Representatives and could threaten even simple legislation efforts until the 2020 presidential election.
Speaking at the “Forum Alabama” luncheon hosted by the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce on April 12, Byrne touted a number of “good things” happening in Washington D.C. and in southwest Alabama. However, he also bemoaned the state of a Democrat-controlled House he says is continuing to shift further to the political left.
“There’s some new thinking up there, and I’m not sure where some of that has come from,” Byrne said. “When the President gets up at the State of the Union address and says, ‘America is not a socialist country’ and only half of the body stands and applauds, something is wrong.”
“Forum Alabama” is supposed to be more of a legislative update than a campaign stop, and for the most part, Byrne stayed away from his 2020 challenge to Democratic Sen. Doug Jones. However, Byrne did take shots at some of the proposals Democrats have championed since taking the House in January, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “Green New Deal.”
He told the business-friendly crowd that when he first saw the plan, which aims to “achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions” by 2030, he “thought it was a ‘Saturday Night Live’ sketch.”
Byrne said those kinds of “extreme” proposals have made it hard for many Republicans to find common cause with Democrats and said the partisan divide seems to be growing. However, he acknowledged there are also Republicans who “don’t necessarily believe in bipartisanship.”
“There are ways for people with different views about where to take this country to sit down and work things out, and I’m committed to doing that,” he said. “However, this is such a stark difference that I don’t think you can paper over it. I don’t know that there’s a compromise.”
According to Byrne, the now-complete investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller has also been a major source of tension with Democrats.
While the full report is expected to be released this week, Attorney General William Barr has already said Mueller found no collusion between Russia and President Donald Trump. That’s been good enough for most Republicans, including Byrne, who said last week the two-year probe has “done more harm than anything” and he’d like to see the country move on.
“The Mueller investigation is over. The president doesn’t have criminal issues, and I don’t think he ever did,” Byrne said. “They’re not harming the president. In fact, I think they’re probably helping President Trump, but these investigations are harming the United States.”
Outside of marquee national issues like immigration reform, healthcare and climate change, Byrne said gridlock in Washington could have direct impacts on Alabama and Mobile as well.
Recently, a disaster relief package—typically the kind of thing that passes with ease—failed in the Senate over relief funding allocated to Puerto Rico. Byrne said if something that simple can’t pass, he isn’t hopeful Congress will be able to agree on bigger issues like the federal budget.
That could have a big impact on Austal USA and Ingalls Shipbuilding, which depend on Navy contracts funded each year through defense appropriations. However, even if Congress fails to authorize new contracts, work on contracts already awarded would be able to continue.
“That’s critically important for those shipyards, because if we don’t have a spending bill come Oct. 1, we’re not going to be able to award a single contract. The Navy can’t issue contracts under a continuing resolution, unless there is a shutdown,” Byrne said. “I hope that we get some sort of bipartisan effort towards a spending bill, but right now, I don’t see it. We’re not going to get a whole lot done between now and the general election next year. I’m just being honest.”
Political gridlock could also sideline talks about a comprehensive infrastructure plan, which could affect progress on the proposed I-10 Mobile River Bridge. Despite that, Byrne said he believes Alabama “will be successful” in seeking federal funding through existing programs.
Last week, Byrne did make some time to discuss his campaign, which now has its first official primary opponent in former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville. An Arkansas native, Tuberville entered the U.S. Senate race earlier this month as a “conservative Republican,” who—like Byrne—says he supports the President Trump’s agenda.
While there has been talk of multiple candidates entering the GOP primary, Tuberville is the first to do so and brings with him significant name recognition from his nine-year tenure at Auburn. Though he’s entertained the idea before, Tuberville has never held political office.
A graduate of the University of Alabama School of Law, Byrne said college football fans in the Yellowhammer state are as passionate as any in the country, but he doesn’t think people are going to select a senator based on what anybody did on the football field.
“Like a lot of other people, I watch football. I read about it. I probably talk about it too much, but that doesn’t make me a college football coach,” Byrne said. “It’s an object of curiosity right now, but that will fade away and he’s going to have to show what he would do as a senator.”
“Those are two different things,” he added.
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