The election in 2020, but already things are heating up, not only across the nation, but right here in the great state of Georgia. So we thought we would tackle some of the hottest topics facing our state and the entire country for that matter with a guest who has been kind enough to return to us. He is United States Senator David Perdue. He is going to join us for the entire Means Report today, touring the state, checking on the voters of Georgia and the issues that are important to them. Also focusing on the military and national security, issues that impact us all as does our US economy and the growth that it’s experienced, can that be sustained. We’ll cover those topics and a lot more with Senator David Perdue.
Brad Means: Senator, thank you so much for taking the time to come back.
Sen. David Perdue: Brad, it’s great to be a guest here again today. We got a full day here.
Brad Means: Listen, I was going to introduce you as Georgia’s junior senator, but that is going to be a short lived title because unfortunately for Senator Isakson, you’ll soon be the senior senator from the Peach State. Your thoughts on Johnny Isakson. He resigned right before this taping. Or he announced his resignation.
Sen. David Perdue: Well, I was surprised and saddened to hear this week from Johnny that he had made that decision. Johnny’s a warrior and if there were any way Johnny could serve out his term, he would do that. I think he and Dianne reached the decision that was best for them and their family, but I have been so blessed to be the junior senator from Georgia in so many ways. But the number one reason is because Johnny was my senior senator. He is a true statesman in the right way that you would interpret that. I call him the Howard Baker of our era. When he speaks, people listen. He’s been a great representative for the state of Georgia some four decades now.
Brad Means: Your thoughts here in the early going about what this means for the state of Georgia, those two Senate seats being up for grabs. I guess the question is are you concerned that the Democrats might get at least one of them?
Sen. David Perdue: Well, I think you’ll either get two or zero. And so my main focus right now is trying to do the job that I was elected to do and that’s fight for the people of Georgia and make sure that we deal with these two crises that I talked to people about in ’14 when I was elected. And that’s the global security crisis and this financial crisis. And we’ve been doing that, so we’ll continue to do that. The people of Georgia I trust. They’ll elect somebody to go up there and represent them in 2020 and I’m gonna make sure that our case is made to them as we get into the election.
Brad Means: Senator, take me behind the scenes. How much heads up did you get on Senator Isakson’s resignation? A few weeks, a few months? You have known about it up there, right?
Sen. David Perdue: Well look, Johnny has been a true warrior. He’s had some medical issues as we all know. I don’t think he made the decision until just this week, frankly. I talked to him this week and we’ve been talking about his infirmities for the past few months obviously. Johnny is a very transparent human being and what’s on his heart comes out. And his heart is for the state of Georgia. He’s trying to do what’s right for the people of Georgia and he’s made that decision this week.
Brad Means: He was very forthright when he was on The Means Report thinking at that time he could finish this term and unfortunately will be unable to. Are you getting anything done right now in Washington? We see so much gridlock, the headlines scream gridlock. Y’all getting anything accomplished, if so, what can you brag about?
Sen. David Perdue: Well first of all, bipartisanship is not dead. We do have a resistance movement up there right now, particularly in the House. But if you look at the last two years, this is a historic period of time. First of all, in 2017, I was invited to the White House two weeks after President Trump was inaugurated to lay out this agenda. There were only six people in the room. We agreed to work on regulation, energy, taxes and Dodd-Frank. Dodd-Frank was a bipartisan effort by the way that repealed parts of Dodd-Frank that were killing 17,000 community banks in the country. Well, we repealed part of that. We passed a tax bill that makes us competitive with the rest of the world and brings back some two to three trillion potentially in unrepatriated US profits. We have an energy policy that we put in place that now allows us to be the largest producer of natural gas and oil in the world. And we pulled back on over 2,000 regulations and the results are just astounding. This is the best economic turnaround I can find in US history, truthfully. 6 million new jobs created, the highest middle class income ever measured, the lowest unemployment in 50 years, the lowest African American, Asian and Hispanic unemployment ever measured. By all intents and purposes, this turnaround is historic in my estimation.
Brad Means: The stock market has been freaking out lately in regards to the Chinese tariffs, the tariff situation between the US and China. You’re no stranger to Asia. You worked over there in your business career with Sara Lee, if memory serves.
Sen. David Perdue: Right. How is this going to play out in the short term and will it wreck our economy?
Brad Means: Well, I leave tomorrow actually for Beijing and this is not my first trip over there. As you said, I used to live over there. I’ve worked with the Chinese now for a good part of my career. What the president’s doing is exactly what he should be doing. For the first time in five decades really, we’re standing up not only to the Chinese, but to other trading partners around the world. All we want is equal access and a level playing field. Nobody can argue with that. The tariffs are creating the opportunity for people to come to the table. Japan now is, we’ve announced a meeting of the minds there and agreement in terms we think. The EU is in there. We have a new free trade agreement with South Korea. And the USMCA would pass in the House if we would put it on the floor. I am convinced of that. I know it would in the Senate. So the president has made great progress here in dealing with our friends and our competitors in terms of getting a level playing field. The China issue is very complicated. It will take a long time to get everything we want. And we’re basically going over there to accentuate the fact that the president’s serious. And frankly, Democrats and Republicans are aligned on this that we want to see China open up and comply with the World Trade Organization and give our manufacturers equal access into their markets.
Brad Means: How do you make enough Americans buy in to what you just said to re-elect you, to re-elect President Trump?
Sen. David Perdue: Well, I think the proof is in the pudding. What president in the last five terms has stood up to NATO or since World War II as a matter of fact to tell NATO to pay their fair share for their own defense? And it took President Trump. We now have an audit of the DOD for the first time in history. Even though we had a law on the books in 1991 that required every president, Republican and Democrat, to provide a law that we now have an audit of the DOD, our third largest line item. I think the trade idea, the soybean farmers of South Georgia say it best. What we know in the long term, getting access to those markets will be in our best interest. So we’re hanging in there with the president right now. But there’s a limit to this and we all know that there’s pain when you get into this on both sides. And I’m going to China basically and have that conversation with them about there’s no reason for this. We can go ahead and get agreement about equal access. I think they’re going to be there. They just want some time to comply.
Brad Means: Does anything come out of that meeting you think that remedies this situation right away, something that you can upon your return from Beijing take back to the White House and say, look, we’ve really gained some ground this visit?
Sen. David Perdue: Well, I don’t wanna paint that expectation at all. I mean, we’re not part of the negotiating team, but I did live over there and work over there. I’m going with Steve Daines who actually lived and worked over there with Procter & Gamble. So we have a point of view that goes back 30 years. And so that point of view is now being paid attention to by the people we’re trying to make these decisions. We’ve got their attention, they’re negotiating in good faith. We’ve got other countries that have now acquiesced and moved into a negotiation. So I think we’re moving in the right direction. We just wanna see some progress with regard to agreements. Where we have agreements, let’s package them up, tell the world we have an agreement and continue negotiating on the things that are still outstanding.
Brad Means: The government reports this past week that the Chinese were trying to lure some of our intelligence experts away and turn them into spies for China. China spying on the US is nothing new. We’ve talked about it with all sorts of experts and politicians here on this very set. Does that concern you that China is spying on us? We’re spying on them just as much, right? Is this something we should worry about or be scared of?
Sen. David Perdue: Oh, absolutely. I mean, they’re five things and it’s not just trade. We’re talking about five things with the Chinese. Number one, we want them to stop stealing our technology, two is we want them to stop forcing the transfer of technology for US companies to do joint ventures in China. The third thing is we want China to comply with the World Trade Organization. Fourth, we want them to stop the cyber war. And fifth, we want equal access to their markets. If they can sell rice here, we should be able to sell rice there. Only two of those things are really directly related to trade as you noticed. The other three are really just proper behavior in a modern world. Now, yes, we have our intelligence community, they have theirs. There’s a fine difference, though. Our commercial interests and our state interests are separate, in China, they’re not. And that’s one of the things we have to understand in negotiating with them.
Brad Means: When we come back, we’re gonna continue to talk about China spying and the cyber defense that the senator has mentioned, especially when it comes to Augusta’s role in that. Our exclusive visit with Senator David Perdue on The Means Report in a moment.
Brad Means: Welcome back to The Means Report. We’re talking to Georgia Senator David Perdue. Senator Perdue, before we went to the break, we were talking about China spying on the US and what their interests are, commercial and otherwise. A lot of the defense when it comes to people trying to hurt us with their computers starts in Augusta. Your thoughts on our cyber command here.
Sen. David Perdue: Well, first of all, Augusta’s been chosen to be the Army Cyber Warfare Center of Excellence. That’s a huge deal. We already have the NSA here, one of their three worldwide headquarters right here in Fort Gordon. We don’t talk about that much, but it’s here and it’s very real. What we have here is a center of gravity coming to Augusta, Georgia. $1.6 billion in infrastructure is coming our way. We’re already committed to a $1 billion campus out there for the training. They’re committed by the end of next year I think we’ll be training 1,000 soldiers out here a year. Now, why is that important? We’re up against some really nefarious players out there and we’ve seen that under the prior administration, we were never allowed to be offensive. We could be defensive, but you have to be offensive to deter and that’s what we’re doing now under President Trump. We’re actually providing deterrents in the cyber war. There is actually a cyber war.
Brad Means: What’s a deterrent, like a virus that could cripple another country, we turn off their power? What are we doing?
Sen. David Perdue: Well, we don’t wanna talk about it, but we let them know what we are capable of doing. And our capabilities actually are ahead of theirs right now and they know that. The problem is in the past, they were able to get away with nefarious activities against our corporations and actually against the government. So we know our banking grid is a potential target. We know the power grid’s a potential target with Vogtle here and all that, it’s very important in the area. But I am so excited. My predecessor actually Senator Saxby Chambliss actually started this effort when he was on the intel committee and led to all this investment here. But Governor Deal, Governor Kemp have all made this a priority as we have. I’m excited to say that I met with the Army leadership here recently. The new Secretary of Defense knows all about this. So they are very committed to what’s happening in Augusta, Georgia. And it’s so critical because right now we have five domains, air, land, sea and we’ve added cyber and space. And this is ground zero for our capability of defending the country in cyberspace right now.
Brad Means: And the nation, your colleagues on Capitol Hill know that, right?
Sen. David Perdue: Yes, they do.
Brad Means: It’s not just something that we think here in Augusta.
Sen. David Perdue: No, we don’t talk a lot about our cyber activity publicly ’cause most of it’s classified, frankly. But a lot of it’s happening right here. You would be surprised and the people of Georgia would be shocked to know what we are doing around the world out of this facility right here in Augusta, Georgia.
Brad Means: You know another issue that’s been making headlines since our last visit and it may have been making headlines during our last visit is the future of the lock and dam. What is going to happen to our beloved Savannah River and all the things on which we depend when it comes to that river? What do you think?
Sen. David Perdue: The Savannah River as you say that’s part of our origin. I mean, it was our border in 1733 when King George gave us the land grant. The Savannah River was one of our borders. And I tell my friends in Alabama and Mississippi, it was also the Mississippi River too on the other side. So the Savannah River was part of our heritage, it’s part of our state. This lock and dam issue has been going on for 20 years and I’m committed. There’s a number that is emblazoned in my memory. 114.5, that’s the elevation, that’s the mean elevation of that pool, retention pool that we want the Army Corps of Engineers and everybody to be committed to. I believe the test that was just done this last year or early this year was unacceptable. I think most people would agree with that. So we’re committed now from a federal level to make sure that we get this done, but I think it’s gonna be a partnership between local, state and federal to get this done. The Army Corps of Engineers already has money appropriated, but we need to supplement that to get done what I think needs to be done to protect the interest of Augusta.
Brad Means: It seems like from the outside looking in, the Army Corps of Engineers is ultimately gonna do what it wants. Am I misreading that? Can they be swayed to see things Augusta, Georgia’s way and let this end with our river and our way of life being intact?
Sen. David Perdue: Well, the reason that they haven’t already done what they wanted to do is because they’ve had federal pressure through the proper channels among armed services, Johnny’s running the VA. He and I have been shoulder to shoulder with our legislative partners in the House to make sure that doesn’t happen. That’s the reason we’re still talking about this. But what they’ve told us and they do have limits of what’s been allocated under their budgets in order to take care of this as part of the deepening of the Savannah Harbor. Now, one thing we can’t let happen here and the reason we wanna go ahead and get this solved is that we’ve got a deep enough port and it’s ready right now programmed to be completed by the end of 2021 because President Trump’s the first president in 20 years that’s come in and fully funded that in the last two years. We got one more year and it’s committed now. So three years in a row, we now can see the end of that. This could end up delaying the completion of that project. And we cannot let that happen.
Brad Means: Another issue that’s continued to make headlines since we last spoke, mass shootings. A political scientist sat in that seat not too long ago and said, “Get used to it. “It’s the new normal.” Anything from a gun control standpoint or gun legislation standpoint that you’d like to see done?
Sen. David Perdue: Well, first of all, these are tragedies. Any time innocent lives are lost, it’s a tragedy. And I think there are things that we can do. The president’s already been moving with this after the Parkland, Florida incident recently. He has basically moved, we passed legislation to make sure that the background checks are strengthened, guns are kept out of the people’s hands who should not be getting them. The president and I both are strong supporters of the Second Amendment as we are the First Amendment. But there’s some common sense rules about background checks and other things that can be done. The other thing is that school safety has now gotten a much higher level of priority in the United States Senate and in the White House. The White House actually passed a STOP the Violence Act in schools last year and we’re moving to fund that. I’ve got a bill that backs that up by funding that particular deal. As matter of fact, last week I was in Forsyth County looking at how some of that money is being invested. And I have to tell you, we’ve got some best practices here in the state. So there are some common sense things we can do. The president also unilaterally banned buttstocks and so that was just a common sense thing. And anybody who believes in the Second Amendment can look at these things that the president’s doing and the Senate are doing as common sense approaches to try to minimize the potential for these sorts of things. But it’s a much bigger issue as I’m sure that your guest mentioned.
Brad Means: Will you please talk about the future of our troops in Afghanistan? We see the draw down coming. We see that the Al-Qaeda is all but gone. We’re about to reach a deal with the Taliban to see things through there. Is that a good idea to back out of that country?
Sen. David Perdue: Well, I lived in Hong Kong for a while and I kept an office in Lahore, Pakistan. I’ve been at the Khyber Pass, I’ve been in Afghanistan now as a member of armed services and a member of foreign relations before then. I have a point of view about Afghanistan and the president is right in a bigger sense and that is that we are spread too thin around the world. The world has put pressure on us to be the policemen of the world and he is right that we can no longer do that. Other people have to help us maintain peace around the world. Can you imagine what a dark world it would be if the United States had not stood up and maintained open and free markets and been the voice of freedom around the world? So our role in Afghanistan has been honorable. Remember, we went there because some nefarious players called Al-Qaeda killed 3,000 people in New York. And we went there to make sure that wouldn’t happen. And since then, we have not had another major attack. I wanna make sure whatever we do in Afghanistan precludes the potential of that ever happening again. So I’m actually planning to go back over there later this year. And I talked to the Army, two generals that are in charge of Afghanistan just recently and understand what the numbers are. We’re still to see what the president’s long term decision’s gonna be about what our position is there. But Al-Qaeda is re-strengthening. ISIS-K is now in the area and then you have Iran in the western provinces of Afghanistan. If we were to back out precipitously, I’m afraid that we would have another situation that led to the problem that we had before with Al-Qaeda. So I think the first goal is to make sure our country is safe from that part of the world, fostering another terrorist attack.
Brad Means: As we record this edition of The Means Report, a storm is threatening the US coast, whether it hits Georgia or not, we don’t know right now. But we do know that farmers in Georgia need help. They’re still reeling from last year’s Hurricane Michael. What can you tell us about relief for farmers for past disasters and future ones?
Sen. David Perdue: Well, first of all, I give President Trump a lot of credit because he broke the lodge in that the Democrats were holding up that disaster relief primarily over additional funds for Puerto Rico. We’ve already given them $92 billion after the last two hurricanes. They wanted 6 billion more. The president balked at that a little bit as I did. We negotiated that, got that worked out. Then he separated border humanitarian aid bill and made this available. So May 23rd, the Senate actually voted within two hours of him doing that, the Senate voted to approve disaster relief for not only farmers but the victims of fires in California, earthquakes, floods on other parts of the country. That money is now beginning to flow. The agriculture department, the Department of Agriculture is actually working to get that through. We’ve agreed with the states to do a block grant here in Georgia. So Secretary of Agriculture in Georgia, Gary Black, is now working, his department’s working on that. I’ve been all over South Georgia recently talking to farmers. Hopefully, that money’s on the way. The problem with this is that every dime that’s going to those farmers is borrowed money. And sooner or later, we’ve got a deal with this financial crisis we have in order to continue to take care of the people and do the things that we should be doing.
Brad Means: What do you see on the horizon from an economic standpoint for the state of Georgia? Any companies coming here, manufacturing, anything that can give us hope for the future, give our economy a boost?
Sen. David Perdue: Well, first of all, we are still for six straight years, this is the best state in the country in which to do business. That’s not my term. Those are the people who evaluate this. I am extremely proud of that. They’re here because we’ve got a state government that works. We’ve got the best workforce in the country. We’ve got domestic or in state companies here who have been very successful. We’re now attracting capital in ways that we never have before. We have a strong military presence in the state and the best agriculture in the country. So you look at all that, the future bodes very well for our economy. Now, here’s the limiters. We’ve got to deepen that port and get that done because we are a center. This is the fastest growing port in America. It’s the only one that right now exports more by value than it imports and it’s the most productive. And it reaches 80% of the consumption of America better than any other port. So that’s job one. The second is we gotta find people. What we have a real labor shortage in the country right now. We have 7 1/2 million new jobs looking for people to work. 7 1/2 million, we’ve never had that number before and only 5 million people are looking. So in the state of Georgia, two limiters, labor and I believe we have to export more and we are poised to do that through the Port of Savannah.
Brad Means: We recently learned that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had a tumor removed. Have you all in the Senate had any official or unofficial talks about what your move is if she steps away?
Sen. David Perdue: Well, I think Senator McConnell will make the ultimate judgment on that as a leader, but my view is that we hope the best for Justice Ginsburg. I’ll remind everybody that she was confirmed, I think it was ’94. Everybody knew what her political views were and so forth, but she still got 93 votes in the United States Senate in 1994. Now, this is a different day in the United States Senate where it’s hard. It’s taken us so long to get confirmations now. I hope that this will tend to soften that up a little bit to where we can pull together and do the things that we should do in a bipartisan way. I hope the best for her, but if she were to resign or whatever, then I see the Senate moving expeditiously to get a replacement in there.
Brad Means: Are your re-election chances 100% tied to the president’s re-election chances?
Sen. David Perdue: Well, yeah, I think when I look at this, I ran for one reason in 2013 and ’14. I wanted to change the direction of the country. I didn’t know whether one person could do it or not, but I was open with the people of Georgia. I said, Washington’s broken. If you want different results, you have to send a different kind of person. Well, I got elected on that premise. Now, I didn’t see President Trump getting elected but he came along and with a similar message. He fussed about politicians, bureaucrats and the media. He fussed about politicians on both sides and he’s still doing that today. We know having come from the business world that you get focused on getting results. Washington has been just not focused that way and people are frustrated with that. So I believe what’s at stake here is the agenda, not his tweets, not his personality, but the agenda. The agenda is working and a lot of people in the Republican side anyway are now saying, look, we told people what we believed in, we ran on it, we’ve implemented it and look at the results. And so people on the Democratic side now are trying to talk us into a recession. It’s almost funny how much they want us to fall into a recession and yet, we have more capital at work right now. I’m a business guy. I look at capital expenditures, I look at labor rates, I look at job openings. 7 1/2 million job openings right now. Highest middle class income in US history. A free and unfettered market is our history, it’s our future, it’s our legacy and this talk about changing the free enterprise system, I’m up for that fight because the other side has not ever proven that a socialist agenda can actually work.
Brad Means: Senator Perdue, thank you so much for your service to our state and our country and for being here today.
Sen. David Perdue: Well, thank you Brad, I love what you do. Thank you, man.
Brad Means: Thank you, sir.