Prior to his remarks, Isakson said he had visited Cartersville and Bartow County a number of times, citing the growth the area has seen.
“Well, I represent the entire state of Georgia and Bartow County’s a very important part of Georgia. There’s a lot of growth here,” he said. “Former Governor [Joe Frank Harris Sr.] lives here. He’s a good friend of mine. So when I’m home in August, which we’re on for a break, I try to travel the entire state, speak to Rotary clubs, have town hall meetings, hear what’s on people’s mind. My job is to listen and hear what’s on their mind.”
Isakson started his talk with the subject of America’s foreign policy.
“We have a fractured foreign policy and fractured foreign leadership in America right now. Russia — which is nothing more than a gas station with a flag — is not the great nation it used to be, [and] is using its infinite source of energy to run Germany, quite frankly, and to run the Ukraine. Putin would have never done what they did in the Ukraine and what they’re doing to the Germans by holding them at bay if they didn’t have an economic noose around their neck because [of] their gas and their oil.
“There’s no reason why the United States cannot and should not, now that we have an infinite supply of natural gas, export natural gas to Germany and the Ukraine so they’re no longer dependent on Russia. We need to use our soft power in our foreign policy to show the bullies of the world, like Russia, that we’re not going to stand for what they’re going to do.”
Noting the beheading of American journalist James Foley, Isakson went on to describe ISIS as a major threat that required “all hands on deck immediately,” and the need for America to “declare absolute war” on the movement.
“What happened yesterday when ISIS beheaded an American citizen was the most barbaric and tragic thing I have ever seen or witnessed. It’s an example of what we’re dealing with. I made a speech seven days after 9/11, 2001, on the battlefield of Kennesaw Mountain. ... I said I believe America has entered the ultimate war between good and evil. What has happened this week in Iraq proves that we have confronted evil and it’s ISIS. There’s only one way you can deal with evil and that’s to destroy it and kill it,” he said.
Isakson then moved on to the VA and explained portions of the reform bill the Senate passed in an effort to overhaul the department.
“There are 6,500,000 veterans in the country using VA health care. Any one of them who lives more than 40 miles away from a VA health care facility, or who cannot get a scheduled appointment within the 30 days after they call for an appointment, can automatically go to a private sector doctor who’s approved by Medicare — that’s the only minimum requirement — and receive their service and the VA will reimburse them for that. So all of the sudden you have the miracle of competition,” Isakson said.
Though he believed the VA’s leadership needed to be held accountable, and the department is in need of visible, active enforcement to ensure it holds to its standards, Isakson was complimentary of the department’s level of health care for veterans. When later asked if the reform bill would allow the VA to fire employees or care providers at all levels, Isakson said firings were allowed “up and down the ladder.”
Before opening the floor for questions, Isakson addressed one last topic he believed was important for Georgia: keeping the highway transportation fund solvent. Doing so, he believed, required more than simply increasing the gas tax.
“But you don’t do it by raising the gas tax because you’re only perpetuating the same problem you’ve already got,” Isakson said. “You’ve got to think outside the box with privatization, with toll roads, assessments on barrels of oil that are imported from foreign countries, whatever it might be.
“Come up with a 21st century fund so we have a 21st century infrastructure, and I’m committed as one member of the Senate to doing exactly that, because in Georgia we depend on transportation infrastructure to keep our economy growing and keep it moving.”
One of the questions guests posed involved how the Republican Party could reign in the Environmental Protection Agency in light of its continued efforts to push increasing restrictions on emissions for power plants and industries. Isakson said Republicans in the Senate had thrown up legislative “roadblocks” for years on a number of issues. He continued, describing the other legal avenues Republicans have opted to take as well.
“We’re also suing the president of the United States in the United States Supreme Court for executive orders and we’re nine for nothing. Most recently the Supreme Court ruled 9-0 in our favor when we sued the president over his illegal appointments of members of the National Labor Relations Board during a recess. So we are using every tool at our disposal under the Constitution to thwart an administration that otherwise, through executive order and through agencies, will try and run this country in a way we don’t want it run,” Isakson said.
Giving assembled guests his forecast for the 2014 election, Isakson said it was possible for Republicans to gain control of the Senate if they could take six of 12 Democratic seats on the ballot. If that is done, he said, then the party would tackle issues such as the growing national debt, fixing the highway trust fund and implementing a balanced budget. In terms of Senate operations, Isakson said a Republican majority would return cloture to the chamber, which would once again require 60 votes to end a filibuster.
When asked about what the U.S. should do in Afghanistan as it prepares to brings toops home in less than a year, Isakson said he was in favor of leaving behind a residual force.
“We built all the infrastructure to support an army or special operations team. We leave next July with the ground troups, which may in fact be the thing to do. We’ve got to leave a residual force to keep Bagram Air Force Base open. ... We wouldn’t have ISIS in Iraq today if we had 10,000 American troops, aircraft and special forces there to take out these guys. When we left, we created a vacuum,” he said.
“... Let me end by saying this: I have a tremendous job and I’m a lucky man and I am because of each and every one of you. Our office in Atlanta is 770-661-0999 and we are there 24/7 to try and deal with your problems, whether it’s Social Security, the VA, SSI, disability, adoption, income tax, whatever it might be. I can’t promise we can solve every problem, but I will promise you it’ll never be because of a lack of effort.”