Monday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), an early supporter of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, discussed the GOP as a whole and what direction it needs to take on policy specifics.
Sessions advised Trump not to get too in the weeds with policy details, and also had some words of advice for his Republican congressional colleagues on trade, specifically House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI).
Transcript as follows:
MIKA BRZEZINSKI, MSNBC HOST: All right, joining us now, Republican senator from Alabama, Senator Jeff Sessions. He was the first senator to endorse Donald Trump for president and he will be among tonight’s speakers kicking off the Republican National Convention here in Cleveland.
So I was wrong, there are heavy hitters.
JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC HOST: That’s right. Well, Roll Tide first of all. Always —
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: Roll Tide.
SCARBOROUGH: Yes, and you know, Senator, you said something very interesting, which was you’ve said something that — you said the Republican Party is finally getting around to where its base and rank and file have been for many, many years. Explain that.
SESSIONS: There’s no doubt about it. The working Americans that have provided Ronald Reagan with a victory, big victory of George Bush in 2004, are just average, good people. And they are frustrated about what’s happening. Things are not working well for them. Median income in this country is down $4,186 since 1999. So you have this steady decline in people’s financial well being. And politicians haven’t understood it, they haven’t talked about it, and I do believe bad trade deals and excessive flow of labor through immigration and illegal immigration is impacting wages also. No doubt about it.
SCARBOROUGH: And you’re saying the Republican Party has just ignored these issues for too long.
SESSIONS: Right. The Democratic Party has been on the wrong side of those. They’ve advocated those. The Republicans have — their constituency have expected them to be more effective in defending their interests as we go forward.
MARK HALPERIN, MSNBC SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Donald Trump needs to be more specific about policy in order to win, or he can stay this vague and still win?
SESSIONS: I think he does not need to get in the weeds with a whole lot of details. He wants to say that he needs to go forward with a plan that would strengthen our immigration system, make sure it serves our interests, and he needs to say that the trade deals, he’s going to fight for every single job. We believe in trade. We are a trading nation. But we’re not going to allow our trading partners to cheat, to manipulate the currency manipulation and other things that take jobs unfairly. We cannot lose jobs in this economy.
WILLIE GEIST, MSNBC HOST: Senator, you heard some of the reaction in the room when you said you don’t believe he has to get into details. Don’t people voting, deciding who should be President of the United States, deserve to know specific policies —
BRZEZINSKI: Maybe just a few?
GEIST: — that that president would enact when he arrives in the White House?
SESSIONS: Well, sure, and he will do that. There’s no doubt about it. But I mean just lay out minute details of your foreign policy and how you’re going to deal with Iraq and the Kurds and so forth, that’s not — he’s not prepared —
HALPERIN: Where would you like to see him more specific on the issue of job creation and incomes?
SESSIONS: I think he can be more specific on trade, how he believes that trade is good for America and how he can show that we’ve had bad trade deals and how things are not working well. I think he needs to be more specific in understanding — in articulating the pain that the average American is feeling now. And why that’s happening. I mean, it’s instinctive that he’s got it. He’s talked about it and people are responding to it. But I think more detail could be helpful.
BRZEZINSKI: Any concern about his vice presidential pick supporting NAFTA? Having some differences? What do you make of this alliance?
SESSIONS: Well, you know, I supported most of the trade deals. I supported the Korean — when the last big one. I supported the China deal. I think they were now mistakes. The data came in. It was not anything close to what they promised. In Korea, they promised — when Obama signed it and I voted for it — that we would increase exports to Korea by $10 billion a year. It was $30 million in increase last year, four years later. Whereas their imports to us were $15 billion increase. The trade deficit is more than double. The China trade deficit was supposed to be the same. It has increased fivefold.
So we need to be —
SCARBOROUGH: So — so how do you —
SESSIONS: So Mike was there, at that time, and we were supporting that. But the data is showing it’s not working.
SCARBOROUGH: So how do you square that with what Paul Ryan believes, what Mitch McConnell believes? What the overwhelming number of Republicans in Congress believe about trade?
SESSIONS: Well, I was part of that, but we’ve got to look at the data.
SCARBOROUGH: They’re still over there. You and Donald Trump and a couple other Washington — Donald Trump are sitting, one (ph).
SESSIONS: Right, he did. And the Republican Party is the Republican voters. And they are on Trump’s side —
SESSIONS: — in sentiment.
SCARBOROUGH: So does Paul Ryan need to change?
SESSIONS: Absolutely he needs to change. Just like I have.
SCARBOROUGH: All right.
BRZEZINSKI: Wow. OK.
SCARBOROUGH: Message of the (INAUDIBLE) here.
SESSIONS: That’s great.
SCARBOROUGH: Oh, I got to ask him one more important question.
BRZEZINSKI: Yes, Roll Tide.
SCARBOROUGH: Crimson Tide, how are they going to look this year?
SESSIONS: They’re going to be good. They got a pretty good coach and I think we’ll have a good quarterback and they can go a long way.
SCARBOROUGH: All right.
BRZEZINSKI: Senator Jeff Sessions, thank you very much.
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