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Friday, May 17, 2019

ICYMI: Isakson Talks Middle East, Trade, National Security, Disaster Aid, Veterans

Guest appearance on Appen’s ‘Inside the Box’ podcast

ATLANTA – U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., outlined top pressing national and state priorities in an episode of the “Inside the Box” podcast on Thursday. During the interview, Isakson shared his views on his recent trip to Iraq, the increased tensions with Iran, his leadership on the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, U.S. trade relationships, national security and his work to secure federal disaster aid for Georgia. 

The interview was conducted by Hans Appen and made available online and though the Appen Media Group on iTunes, GooglePlay and anywhere podcasts are available for download.

Isakson recently returned from his fourth official trip to Iraq. During this April trip, he visited the Iraqi cities of Baghdad, Taji and Erbil with a bipartisan congressional delegation where he met with senior State Department officials and U.S. military commanders to receive updates about operations in the region.

“All in all it was a successful trip,” Isakson said. “Baghdad was obviously a heavily damaged city because of the invasion and the surge and a lot of that has been repaired. It’s still obviously a country that’s greatly affected by conflict and war but the streets were relatively peaceful, and there was some springing up of new businesses and there was a lot more to come but some are beginning to get business.”

Isakson again highlighted a local Georgian, noting that the military transport aircraft he flew on during the trip was piloted by Air Force Captain David Zitelli from Fayette County, Ga., a 2007 Air Force Academy appointee who was nominated by Isakson.

“I was really honored that one of the pilots of the C-17 that picked us up in Southern Iraq and flew us to Northern Iraq was one of my nominees to the Air Force Academy when he went through high school. That was really fun,” said Isakson.

Isakson also detailed that recent escalating tensions with Iran are “nothing new” from the “most rambunctious, most nefarious actor in the region” and said that “our intelligence sources are on high alert following whatever they do, any changes they might make in their employment of manpower,” emphasizing the United States’ capability and readiness to respond if provoked.

Isakson explained that enforcement is key when the United States draws a line in the sand. He offered an example of the failure to back up our commitments in Syria, when lives and opportunities were lost for the United States and “the people of Syria lost a country… and the only one who came out a winner was Assad, one of the sorriest people who ever walked the face of the Earth.”

He detailed the strength of American armed forces, noting our service members are “trained and they are ready but we only want to use them if we have to, and if we use them we want to use them to the fullest extent of their effectiveness.”

In response to a question about the role former presidents and world leaders should play in advising current leadership, Isakson related an anecdote he heard this week from former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn, whom President Trump recently called to discuss the situation in the Middle East.

“So Sam [Nunn], as a Georgia senator, a senator of great repute and great knowledge… was called on by President Trump for advice just to consult in this period of time now leading up to [what] we will ultimately do in the Middle East,” said Isakson.

Isakson talked about his chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and addressed the vacancies in several major leadership roles at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). He noted that those should soon be filled, including the number two position at the VA. James Byrne has been nominated by Trump to serve as deputy secretary, and Isakson chaired Byrne’s confirmation hearing just prior to the interview.

Isakson also touted the legislation passed by the committee during 2017 – 2018, including the new G.I. Bill, called the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, which makes lasting reforms to the post-9/11 G.I. Bill, including removing an arbitrary 15-year expiration of the benefit.

He also lauded improved access to care thanks to the VA MISSION Act, which takes effect on June 6, and “will be a huge improvement for our veterans and also an improvement in terms of the through-put and the amount of people who have access to care though the private sector who wouldn’t have had it before.”

Isakson called the national debt “the biggest threat to our national security” and argued that a balanced trade policy is key to lowering it.

Isakson also gave credit to Trump for his ongoing negotiations to improve U.S. trade relations with foreign countries but warned that “you can’t always just one up the other side with another tariff and get them to capitulate and whip into shape. Eventually they’re going to come punch you, when they put a tariff on us, it’s going to hurt our Georgia farmers and ag business because that’s the number one place tariffs would hurt us.”

Appen also asked about progress on federal disaster aid, which is another key focus for Isakson, whose home state of Georgia was hit by Hurricane Michael in October 2018 and still awaits federal funding to assist with recovery efforts and address significant crop losses.

During his flight this week aboard Air Force II with Vice President Mike Pence, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the ranking Democrat on the appropriations committee handling ongoing negotiations for disaster aid funding, and other senators, Isakson pressed them on the topic. The vice president and the senators were headed to Indiana to attend the funeral of former Sen. Richard Lugar.

“I have every reason to believe that we are about to” pass disaster aid, Isakson said. “I think we are getting close… I would be very surprised if, by the end of this month, that’s not a past chapter in our history – and we’ve finally gotten it taken care of,” he concluded.

Listen to the interview in its entirety online.

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