Doug Jones

U.S. Sen. Doug Jones discusses the impeachment probe and its effect on the upcoming session during an interview at The Cullman Times office Monday afternoon.

An impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump may bring a momentary halt to any major bills in the U.S. legislature, but U.S. Sen. Doug Jones is hoping to get a bill passed to make sure military widows get their full benefits.

In an interview with The Times Monday afternoon, Jones spoke about the beginning of the impeachment process, its possible effects on future legislation and his re-election campaign as a Democrat in a majority-Republican state.

The impeachment inquiry was opened against Trump last week after a whistleblower report alleged Trump used his office to encourage foreign interference in next year’s presidential election by asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to order an investigation of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, in exchange for the return of U.S. military aid for Ukraine.

Jones said the allegations that have been made against Trump are very serious and seem to be credible, but he needs to hear more before he decides if he is for or against the impeachment of the president.

“It’s very, very concerning, but we’re still at an early stage,” he said. “There’s a lot of facts that have to come out before I make any decision.”

One of the side effects of the impeachment talks is both sides of the political divide retreating further into their own corners, which means the consideration of legislation is likely to be slowed or stopped altogether, Jones said.

“I think it’s going to be tough to get things done,” he said.

Jones said it was already difficult to get significant legislative work done before the talks of impeachment picked up, but that doesn’t from a lack of bipartisanship in the Senate. Instead, it comes from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s lack of action, he said.

“There’s a lot of bills pending there, we just can’t get it to the floor of the Senate. Sen. McConnell doesn’t bring it to the floor of the U.S. Senate,” he said. “He continues to operate the Senate as if we’re an extension of the president, instead of an Article I independent branch of government, so that’s been very frustrating.”

While the going may be tough in the near future, one near-term legislative certainty is the re-authorization of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), an annual defense appropriations bill to make sure the military stays funded, Jones said.

“That has to be done,” he said. “It’s being done in a bipartisan way. The administration supports it; they’re just hammering out some of the details now.”

Jones has also sponsored a bill to eliminate the military widows’ tax, which prevents the spouses of military service members who were killed in action from receiving their full benefits.

Service members are automatically enrolled in the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) from the Veterans Administration, which provides around $15,000 per year to their families if they are killed in action, but many veterans pay out of their own pocket for additional coverage from the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP).

Right now, any money that is received from the SBP is deducted from the DIC, meaning the families of service members are not getting all of the money that they should be getting, Jones said.

“They’re not getting the full benefit of what they paid for,” he said. “They’re getting roughly 55 percent of what they are due.”

Jones said the bill has received a lot of bipartisan support in both the Senate and House of Representatives, with around three-quarters of the Senate and more than 300 members of Congress signed on to help pass the bill as part of this year’s defense appropriation.

“It will cost some money, but it is money that I think is long overdue to these veterans’ spouses,” he said.

Jones took office after a special election in 2017 and is facing re-election next year, and he says wants his campaign to focus on the issues that really matter for the people of Alabama.

“We’re talking about issues that people care about on a daily basis,” he said. “Those issues that people talk about around their kitchen tables.”

One of those issues is the uncertainty surrounding the automotive tariffs that have been threatened as part of Trump’s trade war with China, which Jones says could put Alabama’s 57,000 automotive jobs in jeopardy. Jones’ view is that, with the tariffs on China and other countries, the U.S. should be able to turn to its allies for support — but, he believes, the president seems to be inciting trade wars with them as well.

The uncertainty that comes with trade wars is worrying the nation’s farmers, and the federal government is already paying out more bailout money to American farmers than it did to auto companies during the previous administration, said Jones.

“Farmers don’t want bailouts; they want markets,” he said. “And they’re scared of losing those markets.”

Jones has been outspoken against the president’s tariffs, and he is in favor of returning more power over trade and tariffs to the legislature, which he believes would let the nation form a coherent strategy in its trade policies.

Another issue is healthcare, which is not seeing the support it needs from the state that it needs to make sure the people of Alabama are able to receive the the medical care they require, said Jones. “The State of Alabama hasn’t invested in healthcare for the people of Alabama,” he said.

In Jones’ estimation, Cullman is faring better than most areas with Cullman Regional’s continued expansion. But, he added, other hospitals are struggling around the state, and Jones is in favor of expanding Medicaid in the state to open up more federal funding. “We’re seeing rural hospitals closing left and right,” he said.

Jones said people have allowed politicians to divide them, whether it’s on social issues or other things, but he hopes the people of the state can see the work he is doing to support them.

“I want people to understand what I have been doing for them on a state and local level,” he said. “We’re not going to let people divide us. Our campaign is one Alabama for everyone. We want to make sure the people of Cullman are treated the same as people in Birmingham, that the people in the Black Belt — Hale County, Marengo County — are treated the same as the people in Madison County. At the end of the day, we all want the same things.”

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