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Exclusive: Jeff Sessions Lays Out America’s Mandate for GOP Debates on Immigration, Trade

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, told Breitbart News in a wide-ranging exclusive half-hour-long interview via phone on Wednesday that the first Republican debate for the GOP nomination for president in 2016 should hone in on the candidates’ stances on not just illegal immigration but all immigration policy—and on trade policy.

Sessions, who’s widely viewed as the intellectual leader of the Republican Party, told Breitbart News that if Republicans first hash out immigration correctly, they will be able to run the tables and drive the Democrats from the White House.

“There’s no issue that will bring in more new voters to the Republican side than immigration,” Sessions said. “Our nominee needs to be crystal clear that we will end the illegality and we will produce an immigration system that serves the interest of the American citizens and that we can be proud of. The American people want to hear that. They have a right to hear that. Politicians have been promising that for decades and it’s time for somebody to deliver on that. So I think that will attract new voters.”

High immigration levels and “unwise trade policies,” Sessions said, have contributed directly to the severely lowered wages and workforce participation rates—perhaps the worst since the 1970s. It’s up to the next Republican nominee—and the GOP as a whole—to convince Americans they will actually fix this problem rather than kicking the can down the road again.

“Wages are down over $3,000 from the recession in 2008, we’ve got the lowest percentage of Americans working since the 1970s, wages are stuck at 1970s levels, we’ve had this huge flow of immigrants and we’ve had unwise trade policies,” Sessions said. “Those things, the American people instinctively know, have been adverse to their financial well-being. They want to see their leaders speak up on them. I think that the Republican nominee should say something like ‘we are looking at these numbers too, and they’re bad. I understand your concerns. We can get a trade policy that ensures fairness and reciprocity and that are not one-way agreements and that we can and will establish an immigration policy that serves your interest and is honorable and we can be proud of.’”

If Republicans succeed in clearly articulating what Sessions is talking about—and campaigning aggressively on it, like now Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) did against now former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor—Sessions expects that the Republican Party can cut substantially into the Democratic Party’s voting base, and easily win elections like the White House and other races in landslides like haven’t been seen in a very long time. That, he noted, runs counter to the belief from some on the liberal side of the Republican Party who believe the GOP needs to pander to minorities to win. Sessions said pandering is “wrong” and Republicans should take the high ground and fight to win.

“I think there are large numbers of working Americans itching to abandon the Democratic Party but they want to hear our candidates say some things they care about,” Sessions said. “So, what you’re talking about is a message designed to reach out beyond the base and bring in new people. Some say the way to reach out beyond the base is to use all kinds of special interests and ethnic politics and things of that nature. I think that abandons our high principles and is a mistake politically. It’s wrong. And just not good politics. We should appeal to everybody that goes to work every day—African-American, Hispanic or whatever their background is—and tell them that we hear their concerns and we’re going to deliver and be believable in that promise.”

Sessions told Breitbart News he is pleased that in the recent New Hampshire Voters First Forum earlier this week at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, the issue dominated discussion. Moderator Jack Heath of WGIR-AM’s “New Hampshire Today” on Monday night asked early and often about immigration policies when it comes to the levels of green cards handed out to foreigners by the U.S. government to take jobs away from Americans. Sessions hopes the trend continues as he believes Republicans need to discuss this issue and do so intelligently in order to beat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—or whomever the Democrats nominate—in 2016.

“It absolutely is healthy,” Sessions said. “More than healthy, it’s essential for American well-being and it’s essential for Republican victory. It’s absolutely part of it and a lot of candidates come from backgrounds where they’ve not had to deal with it that intensely, so that’s understanding—I can understand that—I think they can be given some slack. But I believe our candidates are going to have to think through immigration and trade and they’re going to have to be able to talk to the American working person and they’re going to have to appeal to them. So them getting these questions reflects a change in some of the things that have gone on from conventional Republicans. Conventionally, it almost seems like there’s a sense that you shouldn’t talk about immigration or even mention the word. That is so silly. It’s on the minds of the American people.”

Sessions said that Republicans shouldn’t be afraid to discuss immigration levels—it’s an issue that is commonplace in political discussion all around the world, and only in America is it somehow taboo. In the United Kingdom, for instance, Sessions noted, Prime Minister David Cameron has discussed the importance of immigration levels in the political discourse. When American high-tech companies like Southern California Edison, Disney, Infosys and more keep laying off American workers to replace them with lower-paid foreigners brought in by the American government on H-1B visas, Sessions said that’s a travesty. What makes it worse, he noted, is that new technological advances in robotics and automation have replaced American workers in manufacturing nationwide—more proof there’s no need for any more importing of cheap foreign labor.

“David Cameron in the United Kingdom said that people act like you shouldn’t talk about this but it’s an important issue to our constituents and they need to hear us talk about it,” Sessions said. “It’s perfectly appropriate to talk about it. The whole message of all this we need to get Americans back to work. When you have layoffs, you got the threat of automation, you got triple the number of H-1B workers when we have a labor surplus. We don’t have a shortage of workers. We’ve got a shortage of jobs. The whole idea is we need to get people from welfare and dependency to independence and work. There was an article in the Los Angeles Times recently about this—and a cover story in the Atlantic, this month I guess—’A World Without Work,’ I think, was the title. And it’s all about how automation and robotics are diminishing the opportunities for people to get traditional jobs. So the last thing we need to be doing is flooding the job market with large numbers of people when we don’t have jobs for the people who are here.”

The discussion about immigration also applies to American trade policy, Sessions said. He hopes candidates are pressed on the issue and provided Breitbart News with a breakdown of how candidates should answer trade questions.

“They need to say we are a trading nation and believe in trade but we believe in fair trade and we believe in trade that serves not just the interests of corporate elites but working Americans,” Sessions said. “[They need to say] we’re going to evaluate trade agreements based on how they impact the American people and that we’ve got to say, and we have to admit that many of the trade agreements have not fulfilled their promises and that therefore we’re going to be more cautious and more tenacious in our negotiating of trade agreements in the future because I care about you. I care about your jobs and I’m not bought and paid for by somebody on the 90th floor of a tower in Manhattan. I care about you. Just to say I care about you is not enough, I think you’ve got to take stances on some issues that demonstrate you’re willing to take some heat to advance the interests of the American working man and woman.”

Sessions specifically praised billionaire businessman and GOP frontrunner Donald Trump for campaigning hard on these issues and proving with his rise in the polls that they are the pathway forward for Republicans. He also praised former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker for bringing up various parts of these issues in their campaigns.

“I am very encouraged by recent developments,” Sessions said. “The fact that people are talking more openly and more naturally about immigration and how it should be conducted is very good news. Donald Trump has definitely resonated with the clarity of his position and the strength of his position and of course now he’s going to need to follow that up with some details. Of course, also, Senator Santorum has talked about it, Governor Huckabee has talked about it, Senator Cruz has talked about it, and Governor Walker has talked about it and seem to be open to the kind of policies that I think are essential to the country.”

Sessions provided, when asked for some questions Megyn Kelly, Bret Baier and Chris Wallace of Fox News Channel—the moderators of the debate here Thursday evening—detailed inquiries he thinks they should ask about immigration and trade.

“On trade, I would ask them: Do they believe in trade agreements that improve our trade deficit or not?” Sessions said. “Do they believe it should increase job opportunities and wages for American workers, or not? Will you evaluate agreements in that light? And with regard to immigration, I would ask the candidates: Do you believe that large flows of immigration can impact adversely the job prospects and wages of American workers? Yes or no, and why? I think pressing that issue and causing our candidates to wrestle with it to try to articulate their answers in an honest and effective way will be helpful to the process.”

Sessions thinks Republicans shouldn’t be caving to Democratic demands at every turn, as they have been doing for the first eight months of this new Congress with GOP majorities in both the House and Senate. What they should be doing, he said, is challenging and engaging the Democrats at every opportunity, exposing their flawed ideology and proving to Americans that Democrats can’t govern and Republicans can. Instead, what has happened all year so far—something that has led to the rise of Trump and widespread grassroots fury against the political establishment—Republicans haven’t been governing but have instead been caving to Democrats.

“I believe we should engage the Democrats and challenge them on issues where we feel strongly and where they are in error and not hesitate to do that,” Sessions said. “I think it’s a mistake to carry out the next 18 months without defining the deep difference there is between Republicans and Democrats. Fully and properly advocated, the American people will support our views for the future of America over the Democrats’ views. They’ve had seven years almost of Democratic rule. We’ve had the slowest recovery ever. Wages are down. The percentage of people not working is up. Why? We need to talk about our traditional arguments—the regulations and taxes and all of those issues do impact job creation and wage growth in America—but I do think we need to add to our list of issues concern over trade and concern over immigration. That’s the new issues that are going to play in this next election.”

The reason why, Sessions said, Republicans need to talk about the detrimental economic effects of out-of-control immigration and trade policies is because those topics prove in a substantive way to voters that they care about ordinary Americans—the people who vote in elections.

“When George Bush won in 2004, he got a good vote from the under-$50,000-per-year working American,” Sessions said. “He basically split that. Romney lost it by double digits. That’s why he lost the election. The key question was: ‘Does he care about people like me?’ He had a huge detriment in that area. So when we talk about trade and we talk about immigration, we’re doing it because we’re worried about the financial health of America and in particular we’re worrying about people who go to work every day. We’re worried that they may not have a job and that they might not get a raise that they are hoping to get.”

Sessions, who just introduced a bill with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI)—the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee—that would end sanctuary cities, also called on Republican candidates to detail their plans to expose President Obama’s immigration lawlessness on every level including his defense of sanctuary cities.

“I would like our candidates to not only promise that they will confront this absolutely outrageous policy of major cities and departments in America refusing, basically acting to undermine the laws of the United States and to assist lawbreakers—that should be absolutely condemned,” Sessions said. “As a terrible example of many of the other problems we have on immigration, this is just the most dramatic problem that we have. But there are a host of others that as a result of President Obama’s leadership—or non-leadership—that are daily decimating law enforcement and undermining the ability of law officers to do what they were sworn to do which is enforce the law. People need to know that our candidates grasp the enormity of the wrong the Obama administration is imposing on the American legal system and immigration system.”

While Sessions is laying the gauntlet down ahead of the Fox News-sponsored debate, it’s unclear at all if Baier, Kelly and Wallace will focus on these major concerns for Americans in their line of questioning. If they do, Americans will learn lots about various GOP presidential candidates’ true allegiances—whether they back the donor class or the American people—but if they don’t ask about this stuff it’s not like these issues are going to go away. If Fox News’ anchors and the moderators of future debates ignore these issues, Sessions says, it’s the new media—he specifically mentioned Breitbart News Network—that will step up, replace the old media guard and get the answers to these questions from the Republican leaders of tomorrow on immigration and trade.

“Clearly, there’s been an attempt to suppress the issue of immigration and to a lesser extent any criticism of trade agreements,” Sessions said. “But it’s been the alternative media—the places like Breitbart and others—where the voices of the American people are being heard and I think that’s been a factor in altering the mood of this campaign and the nature of this debate as this campaign proceeds.”

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