Freshman U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Georgia, spoke to Marietta Daily Journal staff Thursday. Topics covered include the recent protests surrounding the death of George Floyd and racial inequity, a police reform bill put forward by House Democrats, the removal of Confederate symbols in the military and, finally, the coronavirus and her plan to help pull the American economy out of the recession it caused.
Loeffler was appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp in 2019 to replace retiring Johnny Isakson and was sworn in at the beginning of the year.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Senator, Georgia had an election on Tuesday. Some voters, particularly in metro Atlanta, had to wait hours to cast their ballots. As of this conversation, ballots are still being counted. What can be done to prevent this mess from happening in November’s general election?
A: First of all, that is unacceptable. I think everyone must have the right to vote without waiting hours in line, being turned away. We’ve got to get to the bottom of it. We’ve already heard that they’re looking into this through investigations. Look, I trust that that process will get to the root cause, and, as we go into the runoff in August and the general election in November, that those problems will be solved.
Q: What do you make of the mass protests we’ve been seeing across the nation following Mr. Floyd’s death? We saw Sen. (Mitt) Romney participate in one of them. Do you have any plans to do that? How are you approaching this situation?
A: My heart goes out to George Floyd’s family, and I am glad that swift justice is being served with the arrest of those officers involved. But the reaction through violent protests is very concerning. It puts peaceful protesters, which have a constitutional right to do that, at risk. ... The exploitation of these protests by violent elements like antifa needs to be investigated. And that’s why I signed on to a resolution to investigate it. Where’s the funding and the organization for these type of groups coming from? And we need to hold those elements accountable for criminal activity. Because again, it takes away from the peaceful protests, it takes away from the dialogue we need to have, it dishonors the memory of George Floyd. And as his family has said, we have to find another way to do this. And if you look at the police side of the equation, the police can be part of the solution.
But the police are 99% officers that we can be so proud of, and they deserve our support and respect. And this concept of defunding the police is exactly the wrong reaction. In fact, I think we need to provide more resources to the police. I think we need to give them the tools that they need to do for their jobs, which are increasingly complex. ... It’s troubling what you see in Seattle, the lawlessness, the takeover, you know, of multiple blocks of a city. And it just shows what the world would look like without good law enforcement. So, you know, let’s get back to having the discussion we need to have about police brutality, let’s get back to the law and order that we need to have in our country so that we can have the dialogue we want to have.
Q: Have you or do you plan to participate in any rallies or protests or memorials centered around this?
A: I have not actively participated. My focus right now is working for the people of Georgia and making sure that we’re providing for the security and the resources we need at this time, whether it’s for the CARES Act, to protect our communities, to protect peaceful protesters, to support the efforts of our state as we start to stand the economy back up. And through a strong economy, we can lift up all Georgians and provide economic opportunity and get back to the economy that we had that saw record employment levels for women, for African Americans, for Hispanic Americans. Our economic engine is a significant contributor to elevating the well being of all Americans. And we need to get back to the focus on that.
Q: House Democrats unveiled a bill this week that would, among other things, create a national registry to track police misconduct and lower legal standards to pursue criminal and civil penalties for police misconduct. Do you support such measures?
A: I haven’t had a chance to read the House Democrats’ proposals. ... Once the bills are completed, my staff and I will be reviewing the proposals. Right now in the Senate, we’re working on our proposal and it’s being led by Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.
Q: There’s an old saying about never attributing to malice that which is explained by stupidity. Whether it’s malice or incompetence, what actions do you support the U.S. taking against China for how it handled the coronavirus?
A: From the start of the coronavirus outbreak, it appears that China has withheld significant information from us. Not just information, but access, and caused the (World Health Organization) to withhold information about the virus that resulted in the cost of thousands of lives, millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in global economies. The real wake up call here is our dependency on China. And so what I’ve done is look at this holistically. China’s a significant trading partner for the United States. What we have to do is hold China accountable for their trade agreements, including the phase one trade deal, which means buying, purchasing our agricultural products. It means looking at our supply chain. For example, today I introduced a piece of legislation, and it’s called BEAT CHINA. And it actually stands for Bringing Entrepreneurial Advancements To Consumers Here In North America. And the purpose of the bill is to create incentives for businesses to locate production of critical medical supplies and pharmaceuticals, relocate that to the United States by providing economic incentives. So there are things that we can do to incentivize business to move here, to hold China accountable and to continue to look at dependencies that we have that maybe we should reevaluate.
Q: Another issue that has surfaced here of late are Confederate memorials and of course, Georgia has several of those streets named after Confederate leaders, etc. This week, President Trump said he would not even consider changing the names of U.S. military bases’ named for Confederate generals. Do you agree?
A: I think the president is right. What we have to look at is the leadership within the municipalities and the military. ... We need to look forward at what can we do as a society to help learn from the past, and create a different future through those lessons. And I hope that we’re using this moment to do that. None of those decisions will be up to me. So I trust that local leaders in the state in the military will make the right decisions.
Q: You’ve unveiled a series of bills meant to stimulate the economy. Tell us about them. What exactly would they do?
A: So, when we were delivering the release under the CARES Act, I realized that once we stabilized the economy, we’d need to move on to the phase of stimulating the economy, but that we had already put out about $3 trillion worth of relief. So as a member of the president’s congressional group to reopen up America, I developed a plan called the USA RISE plan. So, Restoring and Igniting the Strength of our Economy is what it stands for. And it has four pillars: “made in the USA.” As I mentioned earlier, helping to move our supply chain to the United States through economic incentives, where it makes sense, for example. Another example is investing in infrastructure. The second pillar is “grown in the USA”: supporting our food supply and our agriculture industry, because as we learned during the pandemic, our food supply has dependencies that we need to evaluate to make sure that we’re never dependent on external sources ... So, this is the area where national security relates to food security. The third pillar is “hiring in the USA.” These would be examples like preventing litigation for (COVID-19) for example. A lot of businesses are afraid to open up because they’re afraid they’ll be sued if a customer catches (COVID-19) and then blames it on their place of business. Another example is capping unemployment insurance at 100% of the employee’s earnings. So right now unemployment insurance can actually exceed what a worker was making at their job. What that does is disincentivize work. It creates friction in the labor supply. And right now, as businesses try to reopen and bring their employees back, it undermines their ability to do that, and to recognize the benefits of PPP. And then the last pillar is “families in the USA.” So that’s things like providing options for affordable insurance for health care, making one of President Trump’s executive orders (into) law, which brought back short-term health insurance. So those are some of the examples which enabled us to create an economy that incentivizes hiring and investment in the USA. And also make sure that the dependencies that we learned about through this virus are addressed.