ERWIN — In Erwin for a Friday luncheon with her constituents, U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn was met by a crowd of about 70 Republican faithful and nearly two dozen protesters from the local Democratic Party.

The luncheon was hosted by the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce on the request of Blackburn’s office during a weekend visit to Northeast Tennessee, in which the senator was slated to serve as grand marshal of Saturday night’s NASCAR race at Bristol.

Billed as “A Conversation With Marsha Blackburn,” the event was held at The Bramble entertainment venue adjacent to the Unicoi County Courthouse where members of Unicoi, Washington, Carter and Sullivan counties’ Democratic party stationed themselves on both sides of the street to greet Blackburn with homemade signs of protest to multiple Republican policy initiatives and her close ties to the president.

Inside the Bramble, 68 people paid $25 a plate to hear the Senator speak about issues in a question-and-answer session moderated by state Rep. David Hawk of Greeneville, who introduced her as “a fireball” and “a tireless worker” who works well with both congress and the president.

Blackburn, who toured the Nuclear Fuel Services plant in Erwin immediately prior to the luncheon, began her remarks with a discussion of how the plant is vitally important not only to the local economy but to national defense.

From her role as chairwoman of a new technology task force working with the Department of Defense and others in Washington, Blackburn said she sees national security being increasingly driven by technology.

She said she believes “much of 21st century warfare will be cyber” and that health care, education, law enforcement and “every single section of our economy” will likewise be dependent on high-speed internet. And she cited her work with former Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam to leverage $45 million in grants available to Tennessee communities this year “to close the digital divide.”

Addressing the international economy, Blackburn said three key trade agreements are eminent beginning with the U.S., Mexico and Canada agreement that she believes will be finalized in September.

She said a new U.S. trade agreement with Japan will also happen “very soon” and will be very important to agricultural interests in Tennessee. And in the United Kingdom, she said, a new U.S. trade agreement will follow the finalization of that nation’s exit from the European Union.

With those three agreements, she said, “China will not want to be left out” and will relent to U.S. demands for protection of intellectual property and removal of spyware embedded in Chinese manufactured telecommunications equipment. “They will come to the table,” she said.

Blackburn said she is also working with Republicans to make permanent the Trump administration tax cuts set to expire in 2025 because of the “phenomenal” economic performance the cuts have produced.

On health care, she said she supports a proposed block-grant program that will allow Tennessee to use federal dollars more effectively, a rural health agenda through which doctors and treatment facilities can be placed where they are most needed and the expansion of telemedicine across state lines.

And on the national debt, Blackburn said she voted against the recent spending bill and its $3 trillion in new debt saying, “The debt we are leaving to children and grandchildren is immoral.” She also reiterated a sentiment shared with her that “the greatest threat to our nation’s security is our nation’s debt.”