U.S. Sen. David Perdue strongly backed President Trump – likening him to Winston Churchill – while calling for a bipartisan unity to attack the national debt at an Aug. 23 Sandy Springs Perimeter Chamber of Commerce lunch.
Speaking later to reporters, Georgia’s Republican junior senator addressed several other topics, including the national debate over Confederate memorials, which he suggested remain standing with additional interpretative signs.
“I personally think the monuments and the whole memorabilia is part of history, but needs to have context,” he said, adding that such a balanced approach reflects the unity among diversity the country needs in its politics.
During the lunch, held at the Westin Atlanta Perimeter North hotel, Perdue largely gave his standard speech focused on Trump as an unconventional leader who is able to deal with the country’s two root problems: the spiraling debt and “self-interested” politicians who won’t work on bipartisan solutions. Such controversies as health insurance policy boil down to those issues, he said. He also implied that more privatization was one solution and praised the city of Sandy Springs, which famously outsources most of its government departments.
“Just look at this city” as an example, he said. “Government works when people are close to it.”
Perdue took some audience questions, but they were written down beforehand and read by Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul, and they all echoed topics and themes of his speech.
Before the lunch, Perdue met privately for about 45 minutes with chamber board members and some other officials. Among them was state Rep. Deborah Silcox (R-Sandy Springs), who said she asked Perdue about possible budget cuts to the metro Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She quoted Perdue as saying such cuts were unlikely because the CDC is “our first line of defense.”
The event was heavily guarded inside and outside by Sandy Springs Police officers. That level of security is unusual for chamber events, including previous ones attended by Perdue’s colleague, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson. Perdue had similar security at a Brookhaven and DeKalb chambers lunch in April, where protesters outside demanded he hold open “town hall” meetings.
The police presence at the Sandy Springs event was the city’s idea, according to city spokesperson Sharon Kraun. Perdue told reporters he “absolutely” feels he is in touch with his constituents without holding town halls.
Perdue is a former CEO of Dollar General and Reebok, a resume that Paul referenced in introducing the senator to the crowd.
“He’s the only CEO in the U.S. Senate. We need more of those” to accomplish policy goals,” said Paul. “He’s got a hand on the plug of the swamp and he just needs a little help pulling it up.”
Paul joked about his father’s love for a Dollar General near the family farm in Alabama and, more seriously, echoed Perdue’s call for bipartisanship.
“Serve your party best, but serve your country first,” Paul said, paraphrasing former Congressman and U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp, for whom Paul worked in the 1990s.
A CEO elected in 2014 as a non-ideological populist, Perdue is often discussed as a political foreshadowing of Trump and he is close to the president.
“I don’t understand why Republicans aren’t supporting a Republican in the White House,” Perdue told reporters, and in the lunch, praised Trump in the highest terms.
While acknowledging that “we have a person in the White House who doesn’t fit your mold of a president, doesn’t fit my mold of a president,” Perdue said Trump is like “men of destiny” such as Winston Churchill.
“Forget about his tweets. Forget about everything else the media wants you to focus on,” Perdue said. Instead, he listed what he said were Trump’s accomplishments, such as successfully nominating U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, reducing hundreds of business regulations, and convincing other NATO member countries to consider paying a greater share to that mutual defense program.
He also praised Trump’s recently announced policy to allow more U.S. troops on more flexible missions in Afghanistan. “We told the enemy when we were leaving… That’s no way to win a war,” Perdue said of the previous policy of reducing troop levels.
Call for unity and memorial comments
While backing his party’s president, Perdue repeatedly emphasized that the country must find ways to work together on practical, bipartisan solutions. He criticized Democrats and Republicans for failing to work together on such issues as health insurance, causing the current system’s problems with premiums, coverage and fines.
Underlying such issues is the national debt, Perdue said, and it should be seen as a “crisis” that could unite Americans like world wars have done. He said typical answers from across the political spectrum – raising taxes, cutting spending or growing the economy – won’t work, and left the solution less clear than the problem, though he emphasized pragmatism.
He also criticized national media on the left and the right, such as Fox News and CNN, saying that “we’re not served very well” by them. He suggested that people instead turn to local media.
One currently divisive issue is the fate of memorials honoring the Confederacy, most of them erected during the era of Jim Crow laws. The issue was revived following a white supremacist rally earlier this month in Charlottesville, Va., centered on the removal of a statue of Confederate Army commander Robert E. Lee. Trump attracted criticism, including within his own party, after blaming “many sides” for violence at the rally, which included fights and the killing of a protester by a rally participant.
On the issue of Confederate memorials, Perdue said he liked the approach he said he has heard from mayors in Charlottesville and Savannah: keeping the memorials in place, but adding interpretative signs to explain them. That goes beyond “hysterical responses” and avoids “radical” changes, he said.
Perdue said he agrees with the position that “the reality is, they probably should stay up, but put some context up” about their history. He did not directly say what that context should be, but said he grew up in a diverse “melting pot” of a military town and that the signs “can’t be offensive.”
In an example of cross-cultural friendship and unity, Perdue said he remains friendly with the Atlanta rapper Waka Flocka Flame. The rapper, known for such hits as “O Let’s Do It,” was a surprise supporter of Perdue’s 2014 campaign. Perdue says they remain in touch through a mutual friend, and cited the friendship as a tribute to American diversity.
“I love his music,” Perdue said. “We talk occasionally.”