While Congressman James Comer has served as Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner and spent more than a decade in the Kentucky House of Representatives, he is new to Washington D.C., having won the District 1 seat in western Kentucky last November, formerly held by Rep. Ed Whitfield. Comer stopped by WKMS on his way to a speaking engagement to speak with Matt Markgraf about his thoughts on President Trump, legislative priorities, trade deals and hemp.
During his campaign for Congress, Comer commented on the presidential race, mentioning that Donald Trump was tough to compete against as he tended to dominate the headlines. "There's never a dull moment with President Trump," Comer said, noting that Trump is still dominating the press.
Comer said Trump deserves a chance to get his cabinet confirmed. "I think he's put together for the most part one of the best slates of secretaries I've ever seen. And I feel like in Washington that everyone should come together and give him a chance."
He said Trump also deserves to have his agenda see debate with up and down votes. "Every day that's wasted filibustering is a day that nothing's accomplished in Washington. And the voters, whether they voted for Trump or Clinton, are frustrated and want some things to get done. The issued deserve to be debated and hopefully that will happen and both parties will come together."
While he agrees with Trump on immigration issues like opposing sanctuary cities and building the wall, he said he there is some uneasiness on trade. "We can agree that we need to create jobs in this country. We need to ensure that American workers are on a level playing field with workers in other countries. We need to renegotiate some of our trade agreements. So let's put our differences aside and try to come together on issues where we can come together which is put America first and try to rebuild our military," Comer said.
Comer said feels Trump could negotiate better deals than President Obama, but doesn't want to see 'trade wars.' With regards to the state's agriculture industry, Comer said: "We export far more than we import. I understand that. If you start putting tariffs on goods that come into the United States, the countries are going to turn around and put tariffs on goods that come from the United States. And that could wreak havoc on the commodities market, for example."
He said there is a need to have a free and fair trade system, but said some agreements put American workers at a disadvantage. He urged Trump to 'tread lightly' when having conversations with leaders from other countries.
At a recent soybean industry conference at Murray State there was much uncertainty expressed over the future of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12 nation trade agreement including South American and Southeast Asian countries. Comer said Trump has indicated that instead of having a TPP with all of these countries he wants to have direct negotiations with countries individually, which he said he'd be open to.
He said if TPP is going to be replaced it needs to be done now and stressed finishing Trump's cabinet appointments so that negotiations can begin.
As Kentucky Ag Commissioner, Comer was instrumental in getting the hemp industry up and running, introducing pilot projects through Senate Bill 50, including Murray State. "We've proven the crop is economically viable. We've proven it's not a drug. The next step is to begin to deregulate. And that's what I'm going to do with legislation that I'll be filing in the next week."
He said he is still working on his first bill, which will be bipartisan legislation on hemp. "When I got to congress most people knew that I was the guy that came to congress advocating for industrial hemp in the first place so for better or worse I'm tied to that issue so I think I have a lot of credibility in Washington on that issue." He predicts his bill will be 'the next and final phase' on hemp going to the 'next level.'
The hesitation to deregulate, he said, involves law enforcement and the Department of Justice. "We have a serious drug problem in America, especially in Kentucky... Pain pills, heroin, meth. Industrial hemp is not a drug." Comer's bill will seek to reclassify hemp from a controlled substance to an agriculture crop, which he said will "get the DOJ off the farm."
Comer said Kentucky's Republican senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul support the language, as does Kentucky's lone Democratic Congressman John Yarmuth. He added that a "very prominent" Democrat will co-sponsor the legislation and said he believes it will pass.
Comer he heard concern over regulations during his campaign and said Congress is working to reduce bureaucracy. "I believe Congress lost a lot of control to unelected bureaucrats and regulators. We want to take that control back and get the bureaucrats and bureaucracies and regulators off the backs of the small businesses to where the private sector can grow and create jobs."
He said the bills that have been filed thus far, Trump's executive orders and noting a recent jobs report and stock market growth are all indicators that Washington is 'changing the tone' in the business climate and said he thinks it will help create jobs.