Alexander says he won’t lean farther right

Nathan Baker • Nov 9, 2013 at 12:37 PM

Facing charges from his primary opponents that he’s not conservative enough to represent the Republican Party in the 2014 midterm elections, Sen. Lamar Alexander said he’s not going to try an end-run to the right to avoid an upset from a Tea Party movement challenger.

“What I’ve tried to do is what I said I would do when I ran,” Alexander said Friday during a brief interview with the Johnson City Press’ editorial board before a jobs talk at Johnson City’s Carnegie Hotel. “The people of East Tennessee know me pretty well, so if I tried to be something different this year, they wouldn’t think much of me. I’ve got conservative principles and an independent attitude, and I spend my time trying to get results in Washington.”

Since announcing his bid for the incumbent senator’s seat in August, Joe Carr, the most vocal of the field of four expected primary challengers, has called into question Alexander’s stances on immigration reform, health care and energy policies, to name a few.

Although he is known for crossing the aisle in the Democratic-controlled Senate, Alexander portrayed himself as a pragmatist, who’s more concerned with enacting workable legislation than making political statements.

“I think most Tennesseeans know very well that I’m a conservative who tries to get results,” he said. “I’ve done my best on the major issues that come before the Senate, and I think it’s up to anyone else to say what they would do instead.”

Earlier this year, the weekly political magazine the National Journal named Alexander the eighth least-conservative Republican member of the Senate in 2012, based on his bipartisan voting record.

Recently, one of Alexander’s votes that brought him the most grief from more radical figures was his approval of a comprehensive immigration reform bill authored by eight of his fellow senators.

He defended the position, saying the bill fixes an obviously broken system by increasing border security, while providing a legal source of seasonal labor that much of the country’s economy depends upon.

“If we don’t do anything, we’re just freezing in place amnesty for 11 million people who are illegally here,” he said. “The legislation we voted for identifies them and does what you usually do with people who break the law, you penalize them, you fine them and you put them on a probationary status.”

The senator also said the two-week government shutdown over defunding portions of the Affordable Care Act in October was an obvious mistake.

“We had a disagreement over tactics on the government shutdown,” he said. “I’m not in the shut-down-the-government crowd, I’m in the take-over-the-government crowd. I want to elect six more Republican senators and a Republican president and change the health care law and fix the debt and secure the border for immigration. You can’t do that unless you have a majority and persuade independent voters — of which there are a lot in East Tennessee — that they can trust you with government.”

The congressional stalemate didn’t bring about any changes to the health care reform law and cost the federal economy billions as workers were furloughed and nonessential services were paused.

But Alexander said his views on the fruitlessness of holding up a continuing resolution doesn’t mean he approves of the Affordable Care Act.

At a recent Senate hearing, Alexander grilled Heath and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on the faulty health insurance marketplace website, healthcare.gov, and the president’s broken promise that Americans who like their current insurance would get to keep it.

“The presidential apology is welcome, but it’s not enough, because we’re apparently going to get to the first of the year with several million Americans who don’t have health insurance because Obamacare has canceled their policies,” he said. “What we should do about that is pass legislation by Sen. (Ron) Johnson of Wisconsin that puts the president’s promise into law and says if you have health care, like the CoverTN plan, you can keep it.”

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