Mar 15 2007

Iraq, immigration always on Shelby's mind

Montgomery Advertiser

By Jess Nicholas

Following the theme of a similar speech U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby gave to Elmore County residents last month, Shelby told a crowd of Autauga County residents Saturday that immigration and Iraq War issues would be part of his legislative platform in 2007.

Shelby, speaking at the Prattville Area Chamber of Commerce, described the Iraq War as "asymmetrical" and said it would take consistent support to win it.

"It's nothing like our soldiers have been trained to fight before," Shelby said. "There are people on every street corner wanting to kill you. I'd support sending 200,000 troops if we had them."

Shelby's visit to Prattville was part of his annual tour of all 67 Alabama counties.

"It's good to come home, listen to the people and hear from the people in unvarnished ways," he said. "If the whole Senate would do that, they'd find out what the people want. Some find out too late."

The crowd Saturday was heavily sprinkled with veterans of past wars, but while Shelby also addressed concerns with the Veterans Administration later in his presentation, it was the Iraq War and immigration that made up most of his speech before the question-and-answer period started.

"We'll know by Labor Day how we're doing," Shelby said of the war. "I don't mind leaving there, but I don't want to be run out of there."

Shelby pledged to consistently vote his support for troops, particularly financial support, but also revealed he believes, "the war with Islamic fundamentalists will last for 100 years."

"There's such a cultural, philosophical divide between us," he said.

On the subject of immigration, Shelby noted the divide between himself and President George W. Bush.

"The president and I are on different sides of the street on that," he said. "I'm not supporting (amnesty). (Bush) won't waste any time with me on that."

Shelby said there are 12 million illegal immigrants currently in the country, but he believes the numbers are greater.

"Immigration services are not working," he said. "It's a sham. We need to repeal it or enforce it. We all come from immigrants, but if we have a legal system, we ought to enforce it or repeal it."

Turning to economic matters, Shelby praised Autauga County for its low unemployment rate. He also touched on the U.S. trade deficit with other countries.

"We're not living within our means," he said. "Congress isn't, either, and I'm part of Congress. We're spending more than we're taking in."

Shelby answered several pointed questions from veterans in the audience about the quality of medical care and disability coverage through the Veterans Administration, and used the Walter Reed Hospital scandal as evidence that better care is needed.

Shelby also repeated his long-held distaste for the United Nations, and reiterated his support for tax reform. Shelby said he'd prefer a flat tax, but would support a so-called "fair tax" or national sales tax.

Shelby also said that while he is now in the minority party in Congress, he didn't feel his influence would be wiped out.

"It hasn't affected me yet," he said. "I'd rather be chairman of my committee, obviously, but I'm the ranking Republican on the Banking Committee. That gives me some clout.

"In 2001 and 2002, we were in the minority, and we did OK. The reciprocity has been good, and it's helped us with what we want to do in our state. Politics swings, then swings back."

Responding to an audience question of whether he'd consider a run for the presidency in 2008, Shelby said he was happy where he was.

"The Senate is full of people who ran for president -- they're still there," he said.