HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – It was a speech that could best be described as “vintage Jeff Sessions.”
Six miles and 1,312 days removed from where the former U.S. Senator gave GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump his first major endorsement of the 2016 presidential campaign, Sessions spoke to attendees at the Madison County, AL Republican Party’s Freedom Celebration gala. There he pledged his unwavering support for the current commander-in-chief and the policy positions that got Trump elected.
After acknowledging things could have gone better during his tenure as U.S. Attorney General and offering attendees a brief history of the rise of the GOP in Alabama, Sessions turned his focus on three critical areas of policy – trade and China, immigration and foreign policy.
Trade and China
There is no question about it – trade has been a significant issue for President Donald Trump, especially with regards to China.
As the United States and China are embroiled in a bitter trade dispute, Sessions explained why it was vital that the United States maintains its posture, which he argued was for the good of the American worker and for the sake of national security.
“Trade – I supported all kinds of trade deals over the years and hoped they would be the right thing,” Sessions said. “We had these intellectuals tell us, and they come from both sides of the aisle, trade deficits don’t matter. You’ve heard that argued, right? The Wall Street Journal and others. Trade deficits — $500 billion with China, so what? It doesn’t make any difference. If it is two cents cheaper at Walmart, we’ll just buy it there.”
“So what’s the problem? Products that are made in the United States are made by people, by workers,” he continued. “And when you import a product, you, in fact, lay off workers in the United States and hire workers in some other country to make these products. And it’s not a little matter. Yes, we believe in trade and comparative advantage. As I said, I supported all of that, but I’m telling you – when you’re dealing with a country like China that has the kind of surplus they have with us – a state-dominated economy that’s determined to advance their strategic national interest. We act like it is OK to have 5G in the United States, and Huawei gets to make – an entire computer network, internet network nationwide run by the Chinese? But they’re cheaper. Free market, right? There are limits to free markets. There is a question of national security that is real about this.”
Sessions said if China wanted to rise up and become a real international power, it had to start playing by the rules. According to the Alabama Republican, that included the end of the theft of intellectual property.
“The American people get that,” he said to a round of applause. “And I’m sure there are certain companies that have got investments in China. This is not helpful to them. I’m sure some of our farmers might suffer for a while. But if we’re going to be victors in a good trade policy, the world needs to be buying a whole lot more of our products because we’ve got the best farm products, the cheapest farm products and we can supply the highest quality. I think that we are in a good position. We’ve just got to stand. The American people are there. We have got to get our party helping the American people get this done.”
Long before Trump promised a border wall, Sessions served as the intellectual godfather of modern conservative immigration policy.
He credited the American public for having a favorable view on immigration, which he noted was backed up by numbers. However, he also noted there were reasonable expectations for immigrants seeking to come to the United States.
“The American people favor immigration,” he said. “They’re not against immigration. We admit 1.1 million people every year to become legal residents in the United States. They can be a citizen in about five years. No country in the world admits that many people.”
“The American people believe in the wall,” Sessions added. “They believe we should have a lawful system of immigration. And people should apply and wait their time, and we’ll admit people who want to be successful and prosper in the United States, flourish in our country – not be people who are going to sell dope, commit crimes or go on welfare. I mean, how simple is this?”
The former Alabama U.S. Senator criticized the suggestion that having a so-called “open borders” immigration policy was good for the economy and urged his fellow Republicans to lend their support to Trump on immigration.
“We’ve got people out there – many of them are basically open borders people,” he added. “Yes, you get a little GDP boost if you add a number of people to the United States. But per capita GDP goes down, which is what we should be concerned about – per capita GDP. I just think the American people are right about that, and it’s time for us to get on board.”
“The president said I’m going to end it,” he continued. “I agree with you, American people. We’re going to stop it if you elect me. He’s done everything he possibly can. I was there trying to help him get this done. It’s going to get better.”
One of the other central components of Trump’s 2016 election campaign dealt with limiting foreign entanglements so that more focus could be put on a domestic agenda.
Sessions recognized the United States’ long-standing role in the world but argued for discretion when it comes to sending U.S. military assets abroad.
“The American people are proud of our world leadership when it comes to spreading democracy and trying to make the world a better place,” he said. “We do it selflessly to advance freedom and law and prosperity and democracy around the world. But the American people thought when they electing people in this representative democracy, as Henry Kissinger said, they thought they were electing wise statesmen, who with caution, realism, history would advance these goals wisely.”
“When our military is committed, we support them – and I always have,” he said. “Yet, there has been in the minds of a growing number of Americans, a majority pretty clear in mind, a concern that the positive results predicted for our military activities haven’t materialized. We have to be honest with ourselves. They think we have gotten into too many wars. Not only do these wars cost us treasure but the cost us the blood of patriots who we sent out there. They didn’t make the decision to go. We sent them out there. The president sent them out there.”
He advocated for criteria to be met in the cases of U.S. intervention around the globe.
“In the end, the question is has there been progress advancing the interest of the United States and have our efforts made life better in these countries?” Sessions added. “They were supposedly trying to help. Shouldn’t those be fundamental questions as we go forward?”
As an example, Sessions referred to former President Barack Obama’s opposition to the U.S. effort to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. As he explained, despite at least 500,000 dead and 5 million displaced, ISIS was able to gain a foothold and Assad remains in power.
Noting that this was central to Trump’s 2016 campaign, it required Trump standing up to the so-called establishment.
“I think President Trump sensed that correctly,” he said. “He said the American people are right. ‘I’m with you. I’ll stand up to the establishment,’ whoever they are – the global community, the Congress, the State Department, the military, ‘and we’re not going to be in so many wars. I’m going to pull this country back, and we’re going to put the national interest first.’”
Sessions said it was an evolution to those positions but reiterated his support for Trump given those positions were the views of the American people.
“I came to many of these ideas gradually over time,” he continued. “I began to wonder aren’t we drifting away on these issues and a lot of others from what the principles of our party basically are. Trump announced it. Mo [Brooks] reasserted it. That’s why I support him, and why I still do support him. These are essentially the views of the American people, and I think they are good views. They’re wise.”
He issued a call to action for the Republican Party and said if it were to follow suit, electoral success would come for the long haul.
“Who is running this country?” he said. “How did this happen? The Republican leadership needs to get their back up and understand this. It’s not business as usual. There is the opportunity for this party to achieve a historic governing majority in the Congress for quite a number of years – maybe a generation, maybe 10, maybe 20 years – a realigning election. The average voter does not like the Democratic agenda. But we have to show them sufficiently how much we need them and how much we care for them, and we’re willing to listen to them about the things they care about. Special interests don’t get to run this country – not for long.”
“The stakes are high,” Sessions added. “The left’s vision is being rejected. I think on issue after issue despite all their influence with the mainstream media, the academy, the socialist internationale – the anti-Brexit people. They operate in their own world.”
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