By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News
Today we are talking to Sen. Doug Jones, who is one week away from the election to determine whether he gets to stay in the U.S. Senate or if voters will send him home after almost three years in favor of Republican Tommy Tuberville.
Jones came to the Senate in truly unique fashion. Alabama had not elected a Democrat statewide in more than 10 years. But when Republicans nominated the controversial Roy Moore and allegations of a history of sexual impropriety with minors surfaced, a combination of crossover, write ins and staying home among Republicans helped boost Jones to victory.
Flash forward to today, and this election does not seem unique. In fact, looking at the polling and other dynamics, it is more like typical Alabama elections, with voters tethering closely to their party or ideology. For all his inexperience and tendency for gaffes, Tuberville is not Roy Moore. Attacks on his coaching career, business endeavors and charitable efforts haven’t exactly landed in a way that would create a groundswell of conservative opposition that existed with Moore.
The latest polling in the race, first reported by Alabama Daily News, shows Jones trailing Tuberville 41% to 55% among likely voters. That aligns with a previous poll taken by AUM that showed Tuberville leading 54-42%. The Jones camp, however, insists that some of the recent polling has been off, and they have pointed to a FM3 Research poll that showed Jones leading Tuberville 48-47%.
Any objective analysis would conclude that Jones has an uphill battle in this race, but he is out there fighting it. They have been about as active as you can be in a pandemic and taking the race to Tuberville in some effective advertising aimed at moderate voters who don’t vote solely on hot button issues. That’s a contrast from Tuberville, who has avoided almost all public appearances and media interviews in favor of small gatherings and letting his ads do the talking. (Tuberville’s campaign did not respond to multiple requests for an interview recently, but we’re still hoping he’ll say yes.)
My conversation with Jones was pretty timely: just hours before he had cast a vote in the Senate against proceeding with the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. This was the last procedural hurdle before the actual confirmation vote, in which Jones also voted no.
That issue, Supreme Court confirmation votes, is one of the biggest weapons Republicans wield against Jones. He has voted against the confirmation of two of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominees, and though he has explanations for both, that’s a cut and dry issue for many conservatives. I was grateful to get an opportunity to talk about that with him as it was still very fluid and fresh.
We also talked about abortion, another issue in which his nuance defies the black and white way many on both sides see the issue. Perhaps the most surprising comment there was the way he spoke of Alabama’s 20 week abortion ban and how he didn’t have a problem with it. If you know anything about abortion politics, that’s news.
Another interesting topic we discussed was court packing and ending the filibuster, which some Senate Democrats are threatening to do in retaliation for Republicans confirming Barrett so close to the election. Jones isn’t for either, and his explanation for why is interesting. Finally, in the hypothetical of a Joe Biden presidency, he talked being a moderating voice to a president who will be tugged to the left by the liberal base.
Anyway, here is our interview, In the Weeds with Senator Doug Jones.
Todd C. Stacy: Hey, Senator, thanks for taking the time.
Sen. Doug Jones: Todd, it’s great to be with you. Thanks for having me today.
TCS: I saw that the cloture vote was earlier and you were against. Can you just kind of spell out your opposition to the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett?
SDJ: Yeah. My position is really about to the nomination of anyone at this point. I think that this process is a flawed process. What I’ve see is just great political hypocrisy going on, and I think that that kind of hypocrisy really damages the reputation of Congress, which is already pretty low. And I think those flipflop, hypocritical votes like this is one of the main reasons, and I really think it has really hurt the institution, the Senate. We’ve seen, you know, what was said by Senator McConnell four years ago. We saw what was said by Senator Graham and others four years ago about why they blocked the nominee from President Obama with a vacancy that occurred 10 months prior to the election. And then all of a sudden, now that it is 50 days, the vacancy occurring, that is 50 days before the election, we are here on the eve of the election and they completely flip flop. And quite frankly, I made the announcement before the nominee because I wanted to make sure folks understood that No. 1, my vote is not going to matter. My vote is not making the difference in this. So it is a matter of principle for me, and I believe that this is really damaging the institution of the Senate. And more importantly, it may very well do irreparable harm with the institution of the Supreme Court as an independent body, because it’s just not seen that way. That’s an evolution that’s been occurring. But I think it’s done irreparable damage and people are going to question everything that the Supreme Court does at this point. So, I said that we just need to wait until after the election, and if President Trump was reelected, I would absolutely give Judge Barrett [consideration], I said before the nominee was there, whoever it was. But I just think it’s inappropriate, totally inappropriate to take this vote this close to this election.
TCS: Well, you said you’re against adding seats to the Supreme Court. That, plus ending the filibuster, keep getting talked about in terms of what could happen as a result if Democrats were to win the majority. So, first off, I don’t know if you’ve talked about the filibuster before, so what would your position be on that? And really, your position aside, how likely is it that either of those things would actually happen. I mean, you know the body, you know the caucus, is that legit?
SDJ: Here’s the thing — and I think people need to really focus on this a little bit — right now the last thing that we need in this country is for pendulums to swing from one side to the other, whether it’s right to left or left to right, all the way over. That’s the last thing we need. We need voices in the United States Senate that can be those voices of moderation, that can bring people together to try to do things together and not have this pendulum swing. The more we see the right pushing, the louder the left gets. The more we see the loud voices of the left, the more entrenched that the far right gets. That’s why it’s important, I think, for a voice like mine to stay in the Democratic caucus, because I’m not going to let either right or left push me into a direction that I don’t want to go. And I have said consistently, I don’t like changing these rules. I am not for changing the filibuster rule. I am not for packing the court and doing things because I see those as simply a reaction to something I don’t particularly like in this nomination, but I don’t think that you follow that up with hurting the institution of the Senate and the court even further. And that’s the way I see that.
TCS: When I talk to Republicans or I guess more accurately, when I talk to conservatives, a lot of them like you, plenty of them voted for you last time. But the biggest grievance I continue to hear is Supreme Court or confirmation votes, this one, Kavanaugh years ago. And, you know, it strikes me, for better or worse, a lot of voters these days have the Supreme Court at the top or near the top of their list in terms of voting for a senator or voting for a president. And so given the state’s conservative leanings, can you convince voters to look past that to other issues?
SDJ: Well, I think they certainly should. Those are, you know, for each of those two nominations, there were two votes, four votes out of over 900 that I have cast, four votes out of over 900. I have voted to confirm 72% of President Trump’s judges that have come before me. So those were also, you know, those votes were principle, and 72 percent of the judges, the judiciary is made up of far more than simply the United States Supreme Court, and I think that those 72% of those judges and I don’t remember exactly what that number is. President Trump has put more people on the bench than just about anybody, I think more than any president in history and in my three years here, there were some nominations that went through before I got to the Senate, but out of those three years that I’ve been in the Senate, 72%. And I think people need to look at that and they need to look at the rest of my record. They need to look at the fact that it is a pro-business record, for instance. You know, we hear all of the talk about right and left and socialism. That’s a big boogey man these days. But I’ve got the three top awards from the United States Chamber of Commerce for my pro-business votes, and I think that is important to the people of Alabama because that’s votes for small businesses, for big business. It’s votes for the defense industry that we’ve got throughout the state. It’s votes for farmers. It’s votes for rural health care. It’s votes for veterans. It’s votes for for our teachers and education. So, you know, for those people who put their all their eggs in two baskets as opposed to 900 baskets, there’s not much I can say. But for those people who want to look at the whole record, which is I think what people should judge a public servant on, they should judge a senator, they should judge a governor, they should judge a president on the entire record and not just one or two votes that they feel strongly about. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that folks shouldn’t feel strongly. Those are not important votes. They are. But so were the 72% of the judges that I supported. And I would hope that people look at the entire record because if they look at the entire record, they will see someone who has had their best interest at heart, that has voted to have their backs, that is voted out of principle and not out of politics. And I think that’s really important these days to have voted out of principle and not out of politics.
TCS: The other grievance I hear from conservatives who, again, otherwise like you, is the abortion issue and I guess specifically your vote against the 20 week ban, which I think was earlier this year. Just spell it out and lay it out your position – should there be a legal limit time wise on abortion? You know, barring complications like the mother and all that.
SDJ: Todd, there already is in the state of Alabama. Alabama’s law has been upheld as consistent with the current federal court order, you know, the Roe versus Wade and Planned Parenthood versus Casey. So those limitations already exist in the state of Alabama because the law, as it currently stands, allows states after a certain point can make those restrictions — and I support that. I’ve never said otherwise. So here’s a couple of things. First of all, don’t believe the damn lies. And I say that, Todd, because that’s exactly what so many people are putting out there. That’s what Tommy Tuberville is putting out there. No one is for abortion, I’m not for abortions up until birth. That’s an absurd comment. I have voted consistently to prohibit federal funding for abortions. So, let’s don’t believe the lies to begin with. That one 20 week ban that you’re talking about was one bill. That was, one, a little inconsistent with the science. But No.2, if you go deeper, it doesn’t just stay. What it did is it put so many restrictions and made it illegal, made it criminal for so many, and had so many restrictions on the possibility of having a procedure even when the life of the mother is in jeopardy. There were so many restrictions that they tried to put on that. That here was a bill that was never going to pass. It was a political bill that no one talked to me or anyone else to say, if you really want to do something, let’s talk about this and how we can come together and make this palatable. But they don’t want to do that. Republicans, Mitch McConnell didn’t want to do that. He wanted a purely political bill that he could put on the floor, knowing that no one had been discussed. No effort for bipartisanship that might could have happened, it would have been tough, but you might could have gotten something. But they didn’t do that just so that you can have that and they would be able to really distort what that is. What people also forget, though, is the other vote that I did take, the vote that said that essentially, and I was only one of three Democrats to vote for a bill that said that if there is an abortion and the baby is born alive, that doctor is required to take all the same steps necessary to keep that baby alive. So people forget about that vote. They don’t talk about that vote and they want to lie about the first vote, and it’s a real problem. And I get it. I face it all the time. It’s hard to just explain away lies. But it’s really a sad state of affairs when something that’s so serious becomes so political …. Because the other thing that I’ve tried to do, I’ve got bills pending, I’ve been an advocate for doing those things that try to reduce the number of women who faced a very, very difficult decision. Better education, better health care, better access to contraception. Nobody wants to talk about those things that I’ve done to try to help both women and families through what is often a really difficult decision.
TCS: Let’s say Joe Biden is president of the United States, which if you look at the latest polls, is fairly likely at the moment. How could you work with him and his administration to advance Alabama priorities in the Senate as opposed to a Senator Tuberville?
SDJ: Well, number one, that’s the easy question. Tommy Tuberville will be able to do nothing. Period. Nothing. Tommy Tuberville will come into the Senate, and God forbid he does, having called Democrats evil, haven’t called Democrats Communists and Marxists. It’s a good versus evil, us versus them scenario. And so he won’t be able to work with anybody. So before I answer the question about Biden, let me mention that unlike Tuberville, I’ve been able to work with Republicans. I’ve got 22 bipartisan bills that were my bill along with a Republican. These were not President Trump’s bills. Make no mistake, these are not President Trump’s bills that I’m getting credit, taking credit for. These are my bills, bills that I was a co-lead on. And they helped small businesses. They help farmers. There was a civil rights cold case collection act. It was the widow’s tax that helped the military families. So those things I’ve got a proven record in two and a half years as a freshman senator coming in and working with the majority party and the party that the president is a part of.
I’ve got that record now. That record is also going to be important if President Biden wins. But here’s why it’s so important for Alabama to have that voice in this Democratic caucus if Joe Biden is elected president, he is going to need a voice like mine, a voice like Joe Manchin, more than one voice to help him with an agenda and help him do some things, because in order to advance anything, you’ve got to have bipartisan agreement in the Senate. You can not have my way or the highway. You’ve got to have people to work. And I am in a unique position to not only reach across the aisle to be able to talk to Republicans, I’m in a unique position to be able to talk to Democrats because there’s going to be pushback with some of the things he wants to do from Democrats in our party. And having that voice in the Democratic caucus helps him in advance to get something done, to actually get something done, to take into account the Republican voices that are going to be needed in order to advance the ball, whatever it might be. But also the voices from the Democratic side, because that’s the only way you can get things done. I can do that regardless of who gets elected president, regardless of who controls the Senate. Tommy Tuberville will be a fish out of water no matter what happens. He will be just simply a vote and that whoever tells him how to vote, if Republicans keep control, and will not be able to do anything with Democrats. And that’s the experience that I bring to this to this race.
TCS: We’re here in the homestretch. People are voting right now. You had a big absentee vote yesterday. What needs to happen here in the final days for you to win this election? But what tactically, what are yall trying to do? What are the things that have to go right?
SDJ: Oh, I mean, look, I think things are going right for us. I mean, I know what people see in these national polls, but I think things are going right for us because as people are focused just on this election, they’ve also focused on this health care crisis that is now starting to bubble back up. Just when we thought that we were getting a little comfortable, this health care crisis is coming back up. More people are getting sick. More people are starting to die again. And people are looking for leadership and they’re getting worried. And so they’re focusing on the election. They’re focusing on the issues. They’re focusing on who best can lead them out of this crisis, who best has got their back out of this crisis, and I think that I have demonstrated with everything that I have done in three years, but especially during this pandemic, that I’ve got a plan. I’ve been talking about the things that I would do for health care, manufacturing, health care, distribution for jobs, for the economy, to help it get us through this crisis. And people are looking at that. On the other hand, Tommy Tuberville, his only response to all of this is I really don’t have a clue. He has said that time and time again he wants to destroy the Affordable Care Act. He wants it to go away with no plan in which to replace it, no plan for those 957,000 Alabamians whose health care maybe, will be in jeopardy because they’ve got a preexisting condition. No plan for the 22 to 26 year olds who are on their parents health care. That will go away if the ACA does. No plan to help lower prescription drugs. And I known bills up here to do that for seniors. No plan for the folks who go on our national exchanges to get their health care and get tax subsidies and tax credits to help them get good health care because he has no plan to do that. And I do. I want to keep the ACA and if there is some way to get those things into another bill, that’s what we’ve got to do. So I think the way things are going now and people have focused on the fact that I have done these things for Alabama, I just had their backs and it’s across the board. I’d like to say from military and a strong national defense to our veterans and all that I’ve done for veterans and all I’ve done for business. And they’re looking at somebody who quit every job he’s had, but yet got million dollar payouts. He quit on his investors that he solicited to invest money in his private business. And then he and he quit on them and they had to sue him to get some of their money back. And then he has this charity in which they say they’re 30 cents on the dollar went to to the veterans. I think my accountants show it’s less, about 18 to 20%. And so if you look at that history, pretty ironic that he wants to drain the swamp when he’s really been part of the swamp. Because as folks go, look, I think we stay the course of what we’re doing and that that’s what’s going to bring us across the finish line on Nov. 3rd.
TCS: You know, 2017, December 2017, was just unique for a lot of reasons. But you had an interesting coalition. You very strong turnout for Democrats in that election. You also had Republican crossover, Republicans voting for you. You had Republicans staying home. I mean, just unique circumstances all around. But your coalition was interesting. Can can you pull that coalition back together? Are you seeing that in the polling?
SDJ: I don’t use the word coalition because we have done so much for so many people. When you start talking about a coalition, you mentioned some people and you leave others out. My last three-and-a-half years in the Senate has not left anybody out, Todd. We have truly been one Alabama. We’ve not left anybody out. We’ve been in the rural areas. We’ve been in the urban areas. We’ve been there for Black folks. We’ve been there for white folks. We’ve been there for men, for women. We have been there for all walks of life. So it’s not a coalition. There are a base of Democrats and there’s a base of Republicans. Everybody knows that. But we’ve not left anybody out. And that is the theme of this. It’s been my Senate tenure. It’s been the theme of the campaign: One Alabama. And if folks look at my record, they will see exactly what I mean. Not only in the things I’ve been able to accomplish, but the things that I have used as my platform and the things I have advocated for. It has been really to help the people of Alabama, business interests, making a strong business, trying to do things to bring businesses into Alabama and to create jobs, education, whether it is career tech or support for HBCUs, rural health care, getting the Medicare reimbursement done and trying to argue and get on a soapbox about expanding Medicaid.
So, yes, the question is not an issue of a coalition, but it’s issue of representing one Alabama and enough people seeing that and what I’ve done, that’s what we’ve been trying to do. That’s what I think we’ve been successful at. And it’s why I believe we’ll win this race.
TCS: A lot different campaign trail out there just with the pandemic, I’m sure there are a lot of Zoom calls. Is it kind of less fun than last time?
SDJ: That’s a great point. And that’s probably the best way to describe it, Todd. I love getting out with people. I just enjoyed it so much. And I miss that. We talk about it all the time that I miss getting out there. And it’s not just for supporters. I mean, I don’t need to just get out there with supporters and get people clapping and things like that. I love going out to the town halls when I was able to go out. I like to telephone town halls, even though it’s of phone, because it’s a chance to interact. And I learned so much with voters. I learned so much with people and their cares and concerns. What I have found is we do have so much more in common than divides us. But I do miss it. I miss it a lot. And it’s just not the supporters, though. It’s those people that I listen to to understand where they’re coming from, what their cares or their concerns that I can take back to Washington to try to make sure that we craft something to give them some of that relief and some of the help that they need and to support them in general. That’s especially true. I wish so much that we could have gotten out so much more during this pandemic and seen firsthand the challenges that people have faced that have been laid off, you know, that have been sick or that they have lost a loved one. And it’s it’s just harder to get that during, you know, when you can’t really get out there with people.
TCS: Look, I really appreciate, again, you taking the time. I know it’s a busy day for you traveling from Washington, but thanks for taking the time.
SDJ: You got it. Thanks, Todd. I appreciate it.