U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, recently took time from a multi-county visit to the Volunteer State to spend an hour with Franklin County constituents and elected officials.
The visit was held on Oct. 8 at the Annex Building in Winchester with about 50 local residents and elected officials attending.
Blackburn arrived at about noon and took a few minutes to personally greet supporters and constituents, including State Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma; State Rep. Iris Rudder, R-Winchester; Franklin County Mayor David Alexander; Sheriff Tim Fuller; county commissioners; and other regionally elected and appointed officials.
Following the friendly meet-and-greet, the audience was directed to an available room in the Annex Building to take their seats.
Once everyone had found a seat, Alexander then briefly welcomed the gathering and thanked Sen. Blackburn for her visit to Franklin County.
“I just want to officially welcome you to Franklin County and to thank you so much for being here,” Alexander said to Blackburn as he formally introduced the senator to attendees.
Blackburn began her address by telling attendees she was thrilled to be back in Franklin County.
She then gave her impressions on the Downtown Square in Winchester. She said it was looking great, and it was good to see the increased numbers of shoppers in the stores and shops, including the Above Average Boutique where she said she could have spent a little more time.
Senator Blackburn then spoke about serving in Washington, DC, on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and told attendees that she had been fighting in DC and had helped appoint over 155 judges who abide by the United States Constitution, with 40 more waiting in the queue to be confirmed.
Senator Blackburn then spoke regarding her work with the issue of immigration, and told attendees that she had visited the US/Mexico border twice this past summer and had met with U.S. Border Patrol agents who work there.
Blackburn then informed the gathering that, after hearing the concerns faced by U.S. Border Patrol and U.S. Department of Homeland Security agents at the border regarding the human trafficking of children, she took action.
She said she had written a bill, the End Trafficking Now Act, which requires all persons who show up at the southern border with a child to submit to a 90-minute DNA test if they do not have the documentation to prove that they are the legal guardians of that child.
Blackburn explained that the DNA test will tell authorities if that child is actually related to that person who is claiming familial relation with the child which would make the trafficking of children much more difficult for those claiming to be family members.
She then told attendees about her work chairing the Technology Taskforce and explained how the effort will protect Tennesseans’ online privacy by holding large-scale technological companies accountable.
Speaking about her work in the Armed Services Committee, Blackburn said that she had been successful in securing provisions that will put more money into the work being done at Arnold Air Force Base in Tullahoma in various programs, such as work involving autonomous vehicle development.
She then stunned the gathering with the big news of how the funding has helped enable Arnold Air Force Base to be the first Air Force base to be fully 5G-cellular-network compliant.
Blackburn went on to tell attendees about some of her other work in the Armed Services Committee, including working closely with U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Jeff H Holmes, who recently took command of the Tennessee National Guard after being appointed as adjutant general by Gov. Bill Lee.
She said that critically-important matters of national security are handled in Nashville by the Tennessee National Guard.
Blackburn also told the gathering about her experience earlier this year visiting soldiers in the Tennessee National Guard who were serving in the Ukraine and Poland.
She then spoke about her commitment to helping Tennesseans and about working closely with Tennessee’s county mayors, county executives and county leadership teams in how to best help Tennessee’s citizens with issues like rural healthcare challenges, closing the digital divide, and in helping rural areas have access to broadband internet.
“I really led the way on that legislation at the federal level, putting $600 million dollars into grants for unserved rural areas,” Blackburn said.
Before opening up the floor to take questions from attendees, she told the gathering she would be presenting Alexander with a system designed to help local leaders in better assisting their communities with topics ranging from Social Security questions to helping U.S. veterans navigate the Veterans Affairs system which is compiled in seven books, and each book contains information that would aid local elected officials in helping locals find answers to questions.
Blackburn also told elected officials about a host of grants that are available and that her team members would be working to help familiarize them with navigating the system.
She then opened up the floor to questions and comments from attendees.
One concerned constituent brought up the Democrats and their impeachment efforts toward President Donald Trump but also mentioned lingering questions regarding the Clinton Foundation.
“The Senate Judiciary Committee is going to be — as I say it — the adult in the room on this,” said Blackburn. “I can tell you for sure that what Tennesseans want is for elected representatives to abide by the rule of law, to adhere to the Constitution, and they want you to be the adult in the room.
“They want to know exactly what happened and who did what, and this means going back and looking at what happened with the Clinton Foundation.”
Blackburn said that when she was in the U.S. House, she had led that investigation.
“But we couldn’t get the Department of Justice to take it up,” she said. “It is still there. The report is done, but the DOJ investigation was not done, so it is up to us to go back and look at that.”
Alexander then brought up a question regarding agriculture.
Alexander said that agriculture was extremely important to Tennessee and Franklin County, and he spoke regarding how the recent trade issue with China is likely affecting farmers in Tennessee before asking Senator Blackburn about any news from Washington, D.C., on the critical issue.
Blackburn informed the gathering that she had just met with Vice President Mike Pence the day before and that the two were working on that particular issue.
She then told attendees that she had also been doing a lot of work with the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), and that there was enough bipartisan support now for the agreement to pass in the U.S. House, but they were waiting on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to call the vote.
“What I have heard from so many farmers is that they want us to deal with the China issue so that they feel like they’ve got a level playing field,” Blackburn said. “Agriculture producers and manufacturers are tired of unfair trade practices with China, and President Trump is standing up to them and is not allowing China to take advantage of U.S. producers and manufacturers who want a level playing field.”
Bowling then spoke up and reaffirmed Blackburn’s words.
“What I had heard from farmers was that they definitely recognized that there was going to be a little pain before there was a healing, but that they could not continue the way it was,” Bowling said, referring to the trade issue with China. “They really appreciate the fact that President Trump is holding the line so that this can lead to a better negotiation with China.”
Fuller then addressed Blackburn on law enforcement issues and concerns
“We are seeing seven out of 10 people that come through our jail who are addicted or are using methamphetamine,” he said. “The opioid issue is still there, but where we see the gap sometimes is when we have people dealing meth, which is coming to our area from Mexico, and we need to see those cases in the federal system.
“I have someone assigned to the DEA Taskforce, but we need to see more help from the federal level if possible.”
Blackburn said she had recently participated in a roundtable meeting with members of law enforcement in upper East Tennessee, and this area had been hit particularly hard with drug problems.
Drug courts, treatment facilities and setting up beds and facilities for people who have mental health issues and drug addiction are all ways to combat the issue, she said.
Blackburn’s roundtable meeting also pointed out the major source of the drug epidemic.
“This is an issue that is going to continue until we secure that southern border,” she said. “Every town is a border town, and every state is a border state because all these drugs come across that southern border right up Interstate 40.”
She then spoke about “sanctuary cities” and “sanctuary states” and how Mexican drug cartels are setting up distribution centers in them.
Blackburn said drugs weren’t the only issues regarding the cartels and the sanctuary cities and states.
“Cartels make money on two things — drugs and people — and there are more people in this country in slavery right now than ever in our nation’s history, and it is because of the sex trafficking and the work gangs,” she said.
Blackburn said the drug cartels are facilitating sex traffickers, human traffickers, labor groups, MS-13 gangs, and drug traffickers.
“God bless our Tennessee General Assembly and our Tennessee Governor for making it illegal to be a sanctuary city or a sanctuary state,” she said.
Fuller then brought up the issue of phone scams and explained how they are taking advantage of the elderly in Franklin County.
“If there is any way in the world you can help us with this, our elderly community is getting slammed with scams continuously,” he said. “You trace these calls back, and the source is coming back from somewhere outside of the country.”
Blackburn told Fuller that the Senate had passed legislation concerning the “robocalls” issue, but that it would take some time before the House reviewed and voted on it.
She called on Bowling to add information regarding Tennessee legislation on robocalls.
Bowling said legislation was passed this year in Tennessee dealing with the issue and that it was a problem that was growing daily.
She said many of the calls originate in Eastern European countries, and they can be classified as felonies, but since the issue is international in scope, action was needed at the federal level in the U.S. House to get this legislation passed.
Several veterans then passionately addressed Blackburn about their frustrating experiences and problems they face with their medical care when dealing with the Veterans Health Administration.
Blackburn, who is also a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, thanked the veterans in attendance for their service and assured them that she was working on their behalf to improve their experience in getting their needed medical care while dealing with the agency.
She talked about the VA Mission Act of 2018, which was implemented to allow veterans to seek medical care outside the VA system.
Blackburn also spoke about creating an online system of cloud-based networks which should streamline and speed up the entire process veterans are facing when dealing with a frustrating VA healthcare system.
An attendee then asked a question about funding and grant money for investing in local infrastructure.
Blackburn, who also serves on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, spoke about the need for a Surface Transportation Bill in the Senate to go along with last year’s passed aviation bill, but she cautioned that they might face some challenges getting the bill passed in the House.
Blackburn also mentioned Build Grants, and how she and Alexander had written 40 letters of recommendation for them and how they are very successful for vital local civil infrastructure.
Finally, an attendee asked a question regarding Social Security and Medicare benefits being given to those who had never paid into the system.
“I am also against this ‘Medicare for All’ proposal because that means healthcare for none,” she said.
Blackburn wrapped up her visit to Franklin County by thanking Alexander, Bowling and Rudder, and she also warmly thanked everyone in attendance for coming to the event.
In a closing remark, Blackburn said that men in the gathering were wearing pink, and urged everyone to tell the women in their lives to get a mammogram because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
In 2018, Blackburn was the first woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate from Tennessee and serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, Veteran’s Affairs Committee, and Armed Services Committee.
Before being elected to the Senate, she previously served in the U.S. House representing Tennessee’s 7th Congressional District from 2003-2019.