If you did not know better, Senator Richard Shelby could have been mistaken for royalty at the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce’s Eggs and Issues Business Breakfast on Monday. After a glowing introduction from the new CEO of the Business Council of Alabama Katie Britt, even Shelby looked somewhat embarrassed by the adoration. Britt confessed that Shelby had taken a risk on her when he hired her at age 22 to be his Assistant Press Secretary. Of course Britt was handpicked for her current job, by Shelby, following a public fallout between the Senior Senator from Alabama and Britt’s predecessor Billy Canary.
Shelby breezed through a number of topics with a deft touch expected of someone who has held elected office in Alabama politics for nearly 50 years. He traditionally employs humor and a folksy approach in his speeches and Monday’s gathering was no different.
Shelby spoke a comparatively long time about foreign affairs and geo-politics, contrasting his feelings about China and Russia in the context of international competitors.
“(China) saw the future and began sending their students to the U.S. and Europe to be educated. Now 20-30 years later they are our chief competitor. Now they build universities of their own. That’s the way you are supposed to do it. If you do it fairly. With Russia, unlike China, there is very little they make that the world wants to buy, except new weapons and oil. If oil revenue went away it would cripple Russia, that is not true for China,” Shelby said.
Shelby mentioned that he has met Vladimir Putin personally.
“Unlike President Bush who said he looked into Putin’s eyes and saw his soul. I looked into his eyes and saw’KGB,’” Shelby quipped.
In response to a question from Montgomery County Commissioner Ronda Walker about a possible Space Force, Shelby assured the very Air Force-friendly crowd that any such force, should it ever be created, in his opinion needs to be part of the USAF.
“It needs to be under the Air Force. There is no need to create an entirely new bureaucracy,” Shelby said.
Shelby was questioned about Russian interference in the 2016 election and what it was like to work with Trump.
“Trump is unique. When it comes to president’s I’ve never seen anything like him. But his results sometimes are surprisingly good. As for interference in the 2016 election I’m not sure Trump himself did anything with Russia to interfere in the election. Most of the people who have been indicted so far have been for lying to investigators, not for actually doing anything to interfere with the election,” Shelby said
“Now did Russia try to interfere in our election? Of course. And they are not the only ones to try it. Do we try to interfere in other countries elections? I can’t say,” Shelby said with a wink and a smile.
When asked about the possibility of a Federal infrastructure bill that could benefit Alabama, Shelby referenced the recent efforts to raise gas tax revenue for that purpose. In the business friendly crowd about three quarters of those attending clapped in response.
“In the State it looks like we are already working toward (improving infrastructure). That includes making improvements at the port (of Mobile),” Shelby said.