by Philip Clements at the Marietta Daily Journal
MARIETTA — U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia) spoke at the Cobb GOP’s monthly breakfast meeting Saturday, touching on the recent terrorist attacks in France, the Keystone pipeline and what he would like to see done to fix the problems in the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Isakson is now Georgia’s senior senator and is the only senator in the 114th Congress to serve as chairman for two committees — Veterans’ Affairs and Ethics.
Isakson said his workload is going to increase — particularly as chairman of the ethics committee — but he is not going to take the duties lightly.
“I’m honored that the members of the Senate have confidence in me to do it, and I’m going to do the best job I can,” he said.
Rob Lee, chairman of the Cobb Young Republicans Club, said the fact Isakson is the only senator in charge of two committees bodes well for Georgia.
“Georgia is becoming the center of conservative lawmaking and policy in the United States,” Lee said. “Georgia is becoming recognized for what it should be, which is good, people-driven conservative policy.”
Isakson began his talk by addressing the recent terrorist attack on a satirical magazine in France. He said he gave a speech in Atlanta last year, during which he was asked what he thought the solution to the Islamic State was.
“I said you got to kill them. Every single one,” Isakson said. “You can’t negotiate with somebody who will cut the head off another human being. You can’t negotiate with anybody who will treat women as second-class citizens and abuse them as they do as part of their Sharia law.”
Isakson said what the U.S. needs to do is confront Islamic State group in a coordinated effort.
“We have the best Air Force in the world and the most powerful Air Force in the world,” he said. “Six months trying to get (the Islamic State) out of one little town in Iraq and we haven’t been successful. That’s because we haven’t had a coordinated effort.”
He invoked a past president as an example of why he believes President Barack Obama is not properly dealing with the terrorists.
“Think about this for a second: What do you think Ronald Reagan would have done if an American had their head cut off?” Isakson asked the crowd.
The senator said he spoke with the French ambassador who told him France was ready to form a joint task force to go after the Islamic State.
Lee said Isakson was “on point” about what needs to be done.
“He didn’t mince words,” Lee said. “He basically said what needs to be said — to protect American lives across the world, we have to stop people that don’t care about negotiating. They care about hurting other people. … I think he’s the right senator to lead that fight.”
Some of the biggest applause Isakson received during the breakfast was when he spoke about the newfound Republican majority in Washington, which he said “changed the paradigm.”
“On the 6th of January, the Republican majority was sworn into Congress (and) a lot of things changed,” Isakson said.
He said the Senate will vote on the Keystone XL pipeline, which the House passed Friday. Obama said he would veto the bill, but Isakson said the Senate had a test vote and they are two votes away from a veto-proof vote of 68.
“We got 12 Democrats come over to our side,” Isakson said. “If we can hold that majority, hold those 54 votes and add 12 Democrats here and 12 Democrats there, pretty soon we have a working cooperative majority that will become veto-proof and change America … quickly, efficiently and conservatively.”
Turning to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Isakson said it is a tough problem to fix because of the inherent bureaucracy in the system.
“We have to run for office every two years in the House and every six years in the Senate,” he said. “They have lifetime jobs. They have just been waiting everybody out. The government has tried so many times to reform the VA, and every time they get started, the VA intermediaries up and down just sit there (with their arms crossed).”
Isakson said a bill passed by the House last year would allow VA employees to be fired, which will go a long way in bringing about needed changes to the department.
Cobb GOP Chairman Joe Dendy said Isakson was “right on point” with his entire speech, but VA reform was one of the topics that stuck out to him.
“It’s so hard to fire government employees,” Dendy said. “They wait people out, just like (Isakson) said. … We’ve got to pass strong legislation to where we can fire federal employees when they’re not doing their job.”
Isakson said he met with Robert McDonald, the secretary of the VA, and said he was a good man but had a big job in front of him, noting in McDonald’s previous role as CEO of Procter and Gamble, he oversaw about 124,000 worldwide employees. By contrast, he said the VA has about 342,000 employees.
Isakson said one of the tactics he thinks will work in reforming the VA is to hold the hearings at the VA office, rather than in the Capitol.
“If they never see you in the VA, if they never see a member of the United States Senate or the United States House, we can make all the speeches on C-SPAN we want,” he said. “They could care less.”
But, he said, if the senators and congressmen are down in the offices, face to face with the VA administrators, then the impetus for reform would be greater.
“I’m committed to being highly visible, highly vocal and I’ll brag about them all day as long as they’re doing the things they should be doing, but I’ll be on their case if they’re not,” Isakson said. “And I think McDonald is going to be the same way. … Our veterans deserve no less.”
With the retirement of U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia no longer has a representative on the
Senate Armed Services Committee, causing some to worry about the future of Georgia military bases such as Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta. Isakson, though, said there’s nothing to worry about.
“As chairman of the Veterans’ (Affairs) Committee, I have a pretty powerful position with the military,” Isakson said. “We’re going to be just fine.”
Isakson also spoke about Iran and said Obama continues to move the goalposts regarding nuclear negotiations.
“We need to send a message to our arch-enemy, Iran,” he said. “We have got to see to it that we don’t end up with a weak, watered-down resolution that allows the Iranians to continue to explore nuclear … material.”
Isakson said he deals with Arab leaders as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and said their biggest fears are nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran because that would result in an arms race in the Middle East.
He said Obama has the authority to negotiate with the Iranian government, but Isakson doesn’t have confidence the negotiations are in the best interest of the country.
Isakson said a bill will be introduced requiring any deal Obama strikes with Iran to be first authorized by Congress.
“We can’t have one person unilaterally negotiating away American strength and putting us in a position of weakness. I’m afraid that’s what’s going to happen on the Iranian sanctions if we don’t do that.”
During the question and answer segment of the program, Cobb Board of Education Chairman Randy Scamihorn asked Isakson if the Senate could expedite the replacement of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
“The best statement I ever made was that Eric Holder ought to resign. I was the first member of the Senate to call for him to resign,” Isakson said.
He said he didn’t know the status of replacing Holder, but he applauded the nomination of Sally Yates, who is the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, to be the deputy attorney general.
As a federal prosecutor in Georgia, Yates was the lead prosecutor in the case involving Eric Rudolph, who was responsible for the Centennial Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympics.
“She is a terrific prosecutor and I was very glad to see her nominated,” Isakson said.
Before the program began, Isakson helped Dendy flip pancakes for attendees, something Dendy said Isakson has done for years.
Among those in attendance were Cobb Commissioners Bob Ott and JoAnn Birrell, Cobb school board members David Chastain, Scott Sweeney and Brad Wheeler, Cobb Superior Court Judge Ann Harris, attorney Fred Bentley Jr., former county chairman Bill Byrne, Col. Mike Boyce and retired businessman Larry Savage.
Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal – Isakson We changed the paradigm of Washington