U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Mountain Brook, said he feels the Mobile River Bridge project can be revived if leaders find alternative funding for the $2 billion project.
While speaking to a group of business leaders at a Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Jones called the project “stalled” and said he doesn’t think the project is dead, despite comments to the contrary by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey.
“We’ve just got to keep talking about this,” he said. “It’s about innovation … We’ve got to look for innovative ways to fund it. We’ve got to find new ways to fund it. This doesn’t need to die.”
In a tweet from July, Jones criticized the plan to toll the route and called it a “tax on working families who can’t afford it.”
“[The Alabama Department of Transportation] needs to find a way to build it without reaching into the pockets of working families,” Jones tweeted.
As a form of alternate funding, Jones touted a bill he supported that would provide up to $100 million in additional federal funding for use on hurricane evacuation routes. He told the chamber group funding should be considered in the future.
Jones criticized President Donald J. Trump’s handling of trade negotiations with both China and the European Union during a visit to Mobile.
Jones questioned the success of the tariffs the administration has placed on both Chinese and European goods coming into the United States.
“These tariffs are just simply taxes,” he said. “They are taxes on you; they’re taxes on businesses. [Trump] wants to use tariffs to punish China, but the burden of those tariffs falls on us.”
While the global economy is currently strong, Jones said he met with Jerome Powell, chairman of the Federal Reserve, and the two discussed some “dark clouds on the horizon” because of the ongoing trade disputes. Jones told the group he’s heard from businesspeople and especially farmers, who are struggling because of it.
“If we see an economic downturn in the next 18 months, it’ll be a self-inflicted wound,” Jones said. “It will be the result of these trade wars.”
The first-term senator said he supports efforts to bring about fair trade, especially with China, but disagrees with Trump’s policy.
“I have a problem with the way they are being done,” he said. “I don’t think it’s very productive.”
An increase in tariffs back and forth would only hurt commerce, Jones said, specifically pointing to the Port of Mobile.
“Higher prices mean fewer goods being exported, which could lead to fewer jobs,” he said.
While Jones said he was excited about Trump’s planned meeting on trade with the vice premier of China, he criticized the president’s tweet announcing it. Trump tweeted, in part: “big day for negotiations with China. They want to make a deal, but do I?”
“What does that mean?” Jones asked with a laugh.
The White House has reported a tentative deal with the Chinese, which would stop the imposition of some tariffs.
In comments at the luncheon, Jones criticized Trump’s withdrawal of troops from Syria because of the impact it would have on the region.
“When I went to Afghanistan and Iraq in April, what we were seeing [was] ISIS was not defeated, but had just recalibrated,” he said. “They had lost all their land.”
Because of the president’s phone call with the leader of Turkey, Jones said, “We abandoned our friends and the minute we did that, Turkey started an invasion.
“There are 11,000 ISIS fighters the Kurds are holding … I’m afraid those folks are going to get out.”
Some supporters of ISIS fighters escaped from a prison over the weekend, according to national media reports.
The Democratic senator also criticized Trump for comments about Kurdish fighters not helping the U.S. in World War II and his assertion the ISIS fighters would end up in Europe.
“Europe is our friend,” Jones said. “What we’ve done is a terrible sign to our friends and neighbors.”
Despite his criticism for the 45th president, Jones wasn’t as hawkish on the much discussed impeachment inquiry as some of his Democratic colleagues. He told the crowd his oath of office required him to defend the U.S. Constitution and that’s what he intended to do if the House decides to impeach Trump.
While he called the allegations of the president’s phone call with the Ukrainian leader “very serious,” he cautioned against jumping to conclusions before all the evidence has been brought forward, alluding to his time as a U.S. attorney in Birmingham.
“We’re not there yet,” he said. “It is crucial that Congress’s oversight ability be allowed to play out without any obstruction.”
Jones called healthcare one of his biggest priorities and said he couldn’t understand the state’s hesitance to expand Medicaid, especially since the Affordable Care Act gave states 90 percent of the funding, early on, to do it. With hospitals around the state, especially those in rural areas, closing, Jones said he didn’t see any alternative.
“I don’t get it,” he said. “We need to expand Medicaid. In this state we’re losing billions of dollars per year.”
An expansion of Medicaid would result in coverage for 300,000 more Alabamians, which would be an economic boost for the state, he said.
He is co-sponsoring a bill that would give 14 states, mostly in the Southeast, another chance at federal relief when expanding Medicaid. Jones said he understands the fiscal crunch states find themselves in and the aversion to committing resources to help pay for it, but he remains mystified by states’ aversion to do it because of its connection to Obamacare.
In addition, Jones called for better facilities for veterans, more hospitals and more mental health facilities.
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