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Burr, Tillis praise Trump during lecture in Raleigh

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, North Carolina’s senior Republican senator, discusses President Donald Trump’s CIA nominee Gina Haspel and special counsel Robert Mueller’s collusion investigation at the 30th anniversary event of the Jesse Helms Center Foundation. (Photo by Dan Way).
U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, North Carolina’s senior Republican senator, discusses President Donald Trump’s CIA nominee Gina Haspel and special counsel Robert Mueller’s collusion investigation at the 30th anniversary event of the Jesse Helms Center Foundation. (Photo by Dan Way).

Both of North Carolina’s U.S. senators and a member of its congressional delegation praised President Trump during their appearance at a conservative lecture series in Raleigh.

U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, and U.S. Rep. David Rouzer, R-7th Congressional District, all Republicans, had a united front supporting Trump.

They spoke Friday, May 11, at the 30th anniversary lecture series of the Jesse Helms Center Foundation, titled Foreign Policy, Trade and Energy Challenges in the Age of Trump.

“The president has every day been out there talking about making America strong again,” a theme that began with his 2016 presidential campaign, Burr said. “You don’t accomplish the position of strength by necessarily being the guy that’s liked the most.”

Jesse Helms, North Carolina’s late, five-term U.S. senator, used to say, “You’re able to use a big stick because people think you’re bigger than life,” Burr said. “And to some degree I think that’s a model that President Trump’s trying to emulate.”

Trump believes America has been marginalized on the world stage, Burr said.

“The president wanted to change the landscape we negotiated from. He wanted to change America back to where we negotiated from a position of strength, whether we were negotiating a trade agreement or whether we were negotiating a security agreement,” Burr said.

“It shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody that the president immediately looked at NAFTA, Korea, TPP, trade with China, and said, ‘Whoa, wait a minute. We’ve got to change the rules of the road because we’ve gotten the wrong end of this. We negotiated a bad deal,’” Burr said.

He believes the Trump administration will seal an agreement to restructure NAFTA in a few weeks, and “Everybody will claim victory.”

He said most Americans are unaware the Trump administration is deep into trade negotiations with the United Kingdom since its withdrawal from the European Union.

Burr said Trump is a disruptive force whether in trade negotiations with China, NAFTA, or Southeast Asia, or national security concerns with NATO, Russia, Iran, and North Korea. His goal is not to harm permanent relations, but to create a playing field where both sides win, and develop rules with conditions that must be followed.

Burr said the media castigated Trump’s hardline dealings with North Korea as a headlong descent into a nuclear confrontation. Instead, he has a summit planned with the hermit state’s leader Kim Jong-un, who released three American hostages and is pledging to halt nuclear missile development.

Burr said he talked with many people from both sides of the aisle who negotiated the past two agreements that failed to keep North Korea from becoming a nuclear power. They said Trump’s approach from a position of strength might be the last, best option at this point.

“Sometimes God uses a blunt instrument to make the changes he wants,” Rouzer said. But Trump’s successor probably will use a scalpel, he joked.

China will be our long-term adversary, Rouzer said.

“You’ve got to remember China is Communist. Their values are not our values,” Rouzer said. Trump is right to stand up to China’s practices of intellectual property theft and market manipulation.

“I appreciate the president’s approach … hang tough, and keep cool,” Rouzer said. “There’s no lack of confidence with this president, that’s for sure.”

“The president has a genius style that’s working,” Tillis said, noting the release of the Korean hostages, and a recent poll showing optimism among the nation’s corporate CEO’s jumping 154 percent since the last quarter of the Obama presidency. He supports Trump pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, and reinstating sanctions.

NAFTA hurt North Carolina’s textile industry, but is an important trade pact that needed reviewed, Tillis said. “It was passed when the Back Street Boys were popular, and hasn’t been updated since then.”

He explained why he sponsored a bill to protect special counsels from presidential firings. Many assumed it showed Tillis had a beef with Trump. News reports claimed the president considered firing former FBI director Robert Mueller, who is investigating allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians.

Rather, Tillis said, it was designed to claw back congressional institutional authority. The bill allows for a special counsel to be fired only by a senior Department of Justice official, for good cause. Tillis said with Democrats so opposed to Trump, the climate was ripe to get bipartisan support they would be unlikely to give when a Democratic president is in office.

“I’m completely convinced that President Trump has no intention of removing the special counsel,” Tillis said. He got assurances from the president when he called Tillis on his cell phone as he was checking out of a home-improvement store last August, just days after the bill was introduced. Tillis said he knows he remains in Trump’s good graces because he has not been subject of a presidential Tweet.

The special counsel  bill has cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee, but has not been taken up on the floor.

Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, said Trump should be applauded for not kicking the can down the road on North Korea as his predecessors have done. She praised his withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, and reimposing sanctions.

“That may not result in the world loving us … but that requires real leadership,” Pletka said. “Sometimes leadership doesn’t involve compromise.”