Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., joins this edition of “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss key questions and issues in our current politics.
Blackburn, who was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2019 after 16 years in the House, articulates the major themes and principles that Republicans need to articulate as they head into the 2022 midterm elections.
She also considers the economic distress, inflation, and energy issues that face Americans under the administration of President Joe Biden, and discusses what ought to be done to bring relief.
“When you look at what the Democrats have pushed forward,” Blackburn says, “you have Biden’s greatest hits of failures. And people are talking a lot about inflation, crime; they’re talking about the open border, drugs on the streets; they’re frustrated with Afghanistan, with the Chinese Communist Party. The list goes on and on.”
Blackburn, joining the podcast from The Heritage Foundation’s Resource Bank conference in Nashville, also articulates what comes next in abortion policy if the leaked Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade becomes final and puts an end to abortion on demand in America. (The Daily Signal is Heritage’s multimedia news organization.)
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Richard Reinsch: Hello, this is Richard Reinsch. I’m a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation. We are at Heritage’s Resource Bank conference here in Nashville, Tennessee. We’re with Sen. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican. Thank you so much for joining us.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn: I am delighted to join you. Thanks so much.
Reinsch: All right. Sen. Blackburn, we are headed into the midterm elections this fall, five months away. What do you think the messaging, the policy, the focus should be of the Republican Party heading into this fall?
Blackburn: It’s so interesting to me that when you look at what the Democrats have pushed forward, you have [President Joe] Biden’s greatest hits of failures. And people are talking a lot about inflation, crime; they’re talking about the open border, drugs on the streets; they’re frustrated with Afghanistan, with the Chinese Communist Party.
The list goes on and on. It’s like a Tennessean told me a couple of weeks ago, said: “Everything this administration does makes my life worse.” Interesting thing is, that was a Democrat.
Blackburn: And people are beginning to say, “What are you going to do? What’s the difference?” They don’t like the agenda of the Democrat Party and they see it all as pushing people toward big government control; protect the government, don’t protect the people.
So then they look at the Republicans and they want to know what our vision is, what we are going to do to walk back toward freedom and free markets and free people. And I think it’s going to be up to us to say, “We have a vision.” They have a checklist, but we have a vision for a better country, better days, hope for a better country, opportunity for all citizens, equal justice for all.
Reinsch: As you think about these issues, like the border, the Biden administration seems to be running a de facto open-borders policy, we have an inflation issue sprung by insane monetary and fiscal policy, and energy prices amongst all prices continuing to rise. Are you surprised at the intransigence of the Biden administration, the refusal to rethink what they’ve done, or do you see this maybe as he cut deals with the left wing of the party to get elected, to earn that nomination, and now he’s stuck, whether he likes it or not?
Blackburn: I think you have to look at the repeated actions and say, “This is intentional. This is their agenda.” And Richard, that’s what people have moved away from. They’re just so frustrated.
I was talking with somebody over in South Carolina last night and early voting started yesterday, they had been working the polls and they said so many people that were coming in were pulling a Republican ballot. And as people exited, they would say, “I did this because I’m so fed up with what Biden is doing, the inflation, the open border.”
Richard, the things you’re talking about, these are the things that when they were going to vote, this is the reason that they were going to vote. And people like their freedom, and they don’t want to hand that over to the government and let the government divvy back out to them what they think they deserve to get.
Reinsch: Thinking more recently about this baby formula shortage, what’s behind that? I mean, I read a lot of heartbreaking stories, people traveling 30, 40 miles to try and find baby formula. What did the government do specifically to cause this crisis? And it would seem to me that the solution is to find ways to incentivize production and distribution of that good. What’s the Republican approach and solution on that?
Blackburn: Yes. What happened was Abbott has a plant that makes a little above 40% of all the baby formula that is on the shelves in the country. And there was an accusation that came at them that the formula had been tainted and caused the deaths of a couple of children, which is tragic and it had to be investigated.
So the [Food and Drug Administration] had shut down the plant. Then once it was shown that the formula was not what had caused this, they did not open the plant back up.
So this administration knew back in February that they were already running at a 25% shortage in the marketplace, but they didn’t do anything. So having the FDA not deal with the issue is what has caused this shortage.
Now, also back in February, they could have said, “We’re going to put some waivers in place for Canada, the EU, U.K., get the formula in.” They didn’t do it then, they waited until it was a crisis. And Tennessee, 54% of the bestselling formulas were totally out of stock in the state.
And at that point, the administration is going, “We’ve got a crisis on our hands. We have to do for us. Cheer for us, planes are landing now to import this formula.” They should have waived those restrictions in February. This would never have happened.
Reinsch: I’m thinking, a similar crisis in energy. And the fear being, as we move into summer, could gas go even higher? I think many people think it will. We’ve already seen it rise in last few weeks, despite releasing oil from the strategic oil reserve.
Again, it seems the Biden administration refuses to move in the direction of markets, move in the direction of production. They tout that federal energy leases are open and available to these companies.
The response to the companies is that may be true, but there are a lot of regulatory restrictions on using that land. And of course, they’ve been under a lot of restrictions, whether the past five, six years, from how capital can be flowed or directed away from them, also by encouragement from the administration, from major shareholders.
As you think about America’s energy industry are one of our major domestic strengths, policy wise, what are you pointing to?
Blackburn: You have to begin with the Biden policies, through the executive orders and regulations. The executive order on Day One ending the Keystone pipeline. That pipeline would’ve been finished by the end of ’22, had he not stopped it.
So he did that on Day One, then he followed that with making it difficult to drill on leases. He took Alaska, the shore in Alaska off, you can’t drill there anymore. Offshore drilling, can’t do that anymore. Go talk to people in Louisiana, they’re really upset about this.
And then you have to look at the impact of all these regulations. You’ve got to realize 69 major regulations, and most of them targeted to energy, that is enormous. [Former President] Donald Trump did 22 regulations during four years, and he took 1,600 existing regulations off the books.
But if you’re going to restrain oil production and not issue the drill permits for those existing leases, it doesn’t do you any good to have a lease. It doesn’t do you any good to have mineral rights. They’re worth nothing without a drill permit.
And a company, whether they’re a wildcatter, an independent, a major oil company, they cannot put a drill in the ground until they get that drill permit, will not happen. So they have one person at the [Environmental Protection Agency] doing these drill permits.
Now, if you want to help out Ukraine, help out our EU allies, NATO allies, you need to make us energy-dominant again, like we were under President Donald Trump, and exporting energy. That is the fastest way to make certain we provide for our allies.
The other thing, when you look at the inflation rate and what is happening there, everybody knows it’s well above 8% or 10%, because what you’re paying to fill up your car, what you’re paying for food at the grocery store, clothes, shoes, everything that you’re purchasing that has a polymer component, whether it’s a plastic bag or a fabric, it all is coming out of hydrocarbons.
And so in addition to the transportation and the home heating and the industrial energy, you also have that impact on the marketplace, when it does come to the polymers that are being used.
Reinsch: Thinking also about difficulties the American energy industry is facing, we just spoke about at this conference, we heard from Vivek Ramaswamy, Andy Puzder, some others on this ESG movement that’s been receiving now a lot of pushback—environmental, social, corporate governance—and attempts really by BlackRock and other major proxy firms that hold pensions, 401ks of Americans, using that weight to try, and succeeding, in forcing capital away from the energy industry.
Is there a policy response from Senate Republicans that can be made to stop this from happening or limit the power of it?
Blackburn: Yes. There are a couple of things that can be done and our Banking Committee is looking at some fairness components, also, when it comes to policies of an administration.
And this is going to be a big thing in the ’24 election cycle, is to make certain that you’re not seeing these executive orders and this push on industry to have these ESG policies because this administration and the left writ large go back to [former President] Barack Obama’s first term, we’re going to radically transform this country. They couldn’t get their policies through Congress.
So Donald Trump gets elected. These guys are out. So they spend their time pulling together an agenda. And we all know that they’re the ones that are making all the decisions. That’s why they refer to this as the third term of Barack Obama. They see this as their open window to force companies to do what they could not achieve through legislation, which they’ll never achieve through legislation.
So it’s up to Congress then to push back on that and to say, “Oh no you don’t, you’re not going to use corporate America. You’re not going to use the not-for-profit sector to achieve your goals.”
Reinsch: I want to ask, you were recently censored by Facebook for a post that you made about women in sports. You also had, I thought, a great moment with Biden’s judicial nominee to the Supreme Court, where you asked her, “What is a woman, could you tell the difference between a woman and a man?” And she said she could not. That seems to be becoming de rigueur amongst our progressive elites, that you’ve got to be a biologist now to make these determinations.
What do you make of this? Is this something that just questions the very idea of citizenship in America, that reality itself is optional?
Blackburn: I had one of the county mayors out in Tennessee, I was out in some counties yesterday, and one of them looked at me and he said, “Marsha, what’s right is now wrong. What is up is now down. What is forward is now backward.” He said, “I’ve never seen such in all of my life.” And I chuckled because that is where so many people are.
If you have someone who’s a nominee to be on the U.S. Supreme Court who will not answer the question about a curriculum that instructs 5-year-olds to choose their gender, who will not say whether or not they agree with Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg that there are enduring differences between male and female, will not answer a question about the NCAA allowing biological males to compete against biological females—and then I thought, out of frustration, “Well, just give me the definition of the word woman.” And she refused. She refused.
And then you look at Facebook censoring me for putting up some information about competition between biological males and biological females. And 80% of the country agrees with me, but Facebook decided that was hate speech and they needed to take it down. It’s not hate speech. It’s called common sense.
Reinsch: Yeah. And that Facebook move raises also the specter, similar to what we’re talking about ESG, of major private corporations functioning, it seems, as arms of the federal government.
Blackburn: Well, they do indeed. And this administration will protect government and protect big business and not protect the people that is their modus operandi. They do it every single day because they want to tighten that circle of control. And just a few people will have that control.
And Big Tech is playing right along with them because if you exercise censorship under Section 230, and it’s why we have to rework that, then you have the ability to control what people see, what they say, what they hear, what they think, and how they vote.
Reinsch: Final question for you. The Dobbs [v. Women’s Health Organization] draft opinion leaked, many people think it will hold, that opinion will be released. Republicans have been a pro-life party for decades. Let’s say that opinion holds, what’s next?
Blackburn: And I think we just pray every day that opinion holds because we have talked for years as conservatives about sending the issue of abortion to the states. And so the issue would be sent back to the states, and that is the opportunity for states to move forward with their regulations and restrictions on abortion and how they’re going to approach that. I know Tennessee is reviewing their regulations and will be ready to move forward.
We should all agree, our goal is to protect life, the largest number of lives that we can. And when you look at Roe [v. Wade] and you look at, and you can look at Eisenstadt, too, and say, “These were wrongly decided, the premise was wrong, the precedent is incorrect.” And to revisit that and reset that and allow the people to have their say in how this is regulated is appropriate.
Reinsch: Sen. Blackburn, thank you so much for joining us today. We really appreciate it.
Blackburn: Delighted to join you. Thank you so much.
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