(This is Part 1 of a two-part series based on an interview with U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt.)
U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville, said Thursday he is running for his 13th term of office next year, defending President Trump's actions and declaring him to be on par with President Ronald Reagan in standing up for issues important to Christians.
Aderholt, who is winding up the August break from Congress, gave an in-depth interview at the Daily Mountain Eagle office that afternoon, some of which was taped for social media.
"I do plan to run for re-election," he said, noting the House term is two years.
Qualifying is expected to start Oct. 8 for the Republican Party.
He declined to endorse anyone for the U.S. Senate race, saying he has many friends in the race.
Known for his Christian stances, Aderholt was asked about justifying the president's 'controversial actions and behavior.
He said as far as standing up for certain issues, such as the "pro-life issue, pro-family issue, making sure Christian persecutions are noticed and paid attention to, I would say of any president we've had in recent history, he has done as well or better. He has done better than George Bush, 41 or 43. He has really delivered on those issues."
As for issues in the president's past, he noted a friend has answered that question by joking, "That was when he was a Democrat."
"But a lot of this is in the past," Aderholt said. "Right now, this is not something that is ongoing. But he has stood up on those issues. He has been one of the most pro-life presidents that, that - I would really put him up there with Ronald Reagan as far as what he has said and what he has done. Some might say the proof is in the pudding."
Asked what advice he would give the president, Aderholt pointed to a recent book title, "Donald Trump Is Not My Savior."
"He was not looking to Donald Trump for spiritual advice. He wanted him to run the country," he said.
Aderholt was asked about situations that had come up with Trump's signature immigration issue, including a new Health and Human Services report that said children separated at the border are suffering mental stress issues from being separated from parents (reported by the Associated Press), and the transfer of $76.7 million in construction funds, set to be used for four military projects in Alabama, to the construction of Trump's proposed wall along the southern border (AL.com).
The congressman said it goes back to the wall, saying the issue resonates with Americans, if not all.
"I do think the majority of Americans do think having a secure border is very important. That is what the president is trying to do with that," he said.
He said families are divided if they come to the U.S. illegally. "If you had a wall, I think it would discourage people from coming here (illegally) and (they would) try to come here legally," he said.
He said Americans want to welcome others to the nation "with open arms," but there has to be a legal process instead of open borders. Aderholt said others want to take advantage of the situation through drug and sex trafficking.
As for the military projects, part of $3.6 billion transferred nationally, he said the then-Republican U.S. House passed a bill to give Trump funds directly to deal with the border, but the Senate killed it. "Therefore, he had to look at other avenues." He said he can divert resources in a national emergency, and has been able to get the money legally.
"I think at the end of the day, most Alabamians and most Americans would say (the wall) is more important than any project that is on the drawing board right now that could be done or maybe in the pipeline to be done." He said the people he talks to feels building the wall is important.
Asked what legislation Republicans would accept to address the shootings around the nation, Aderholt said the Congress has to look for common ground with Democrats controlling the House and the GOP controlling the Senate.
"No question gun control is not going to go anywhere in the Senate. The president is not going to sign anything with gun control," he said, later saying a bill on assault weapons will not go anywhere. "I think what should be the common ground everyone can find is the mental health issue."
He said when the issue is boiled down, all the shooters in the national incidents had mental health issues that was not paid attention to. "I don't believe Democrats think it is not an issue. They may want to see gun control more than the mental health issue addressed, or think it is more of a problem," he said, feeling most Democrats feel there is a mental health component.
Aderholt noted, "As we know, if someone is going to get a gun, if they want to get it illegally, they will get it illegally." He also said the Constitution speaks to the right to bear arms and that the Founding Fathers thought that was important. "I think we have to honor that," he said.
Aderholt said the Mueller report "spoke for itself" and that no changes need to come from it.
"As much as some people wanted it to say more than what it did, it didn't. I think it is really a dying issue. Every day, I hear less and less people speak about the Mueller report. I don't think it is going to be a big issue," he said.
Asked about Russian interference in elections, Aderholt said no one wants any other country to manipulate the nation's voting process.
"My biggest fear from Russian or any other country, even China, would be where they would try to go in and manipulate the actual votes being cast," he said. "Anyone can say something positive or negative in a social media context about a particular candidate, and it is hard to control that, but what we can control is making sure that when someone casts their ballot ... that is what is what is registered to vote."
Aderholt advocated keeping paper copies of ballots for security, as is currently done in Alabama. Going to electronic paperless systems "is a little concerning to me" as cybersecurity "is not 100 percent."
Asked if former U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama was treated fairly when he was attorney general under Trump, Aderholt said, "I think Jeff felt like he had to do what he had to do. I think he felt by law he was trying to err on the side of caution. Now, obviously, I don't think he was involved with any Russian collusion and there is no evidence the president was, either.
"But I think the only thing I still don't understand and really never understood what the conversation was with the president and Jeff before he took office about this issue. And clearly I think he and the president should have had this conversation. Maybe they did. I don't know. But they should have had the conversation and I think the president should have known where Jeff stood on these issues probably before he appointed him to that role.
"But at the same time, Jeff Sessions is a very good man. He is someone I've worked with for over 20 years. He is someone I have a great respect for. I think he felt he had to do what was necessary."
He noted that farmers have been concerned about Trump's tariffs imposed on other countries, but Aderholt expressed appreciation Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Trump don't want "farmers to be caught in the crosshair." He said programs have allowed Perdue to "aid farmers who have been hit by these tariffs," which he supports. He said farmers should not be impacted negatively, and if they are it is not the fault of the farmers.
"But the president has got to have negotiating power," he said. "If we're not going to gie him negotiating power, then he cannot give a good trade deal for this country. So I think we've got to give the president the power to put in those tariffs because if we don't we're just going to see bad trade agreement after bad trade agreement."
Asked about favorable remarks the president has made about leaders in such places as North Korea and Russia, Aderholt said it amounted to the old question of ignoring dictators versus reaching out to them. "Donald Trump is one of those individuals who believes in the art of negotiation," and that one should reach out to them for a solution, he said.
"I've always thought if you can do that, that is best," he said. "Obviously, if the other side or the other country is trying to use the president in some way just for their own benefit, you have to draw the line. But we saw Reagan reaching out. We've seen Nixon reaching out to China. So Republican presidents have a history of trying to reach out and as long as they try to do it for the right reason and try to change the way these dictators and presidents we don't agree with are acting, then I think it is appropriate."