WASHINGTON - Sen. Doug Jones said Alabama's soybean farmers and automobile manufacturers are "scared to death" over President Donald Trump's tariff wars. But he cautioned his fellow Democrats from spending too much time attacking the president as the party tries to win back heartland voters ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
In an Associated Press interview, the Democrat who won a stunning victory in the Deep South a year ago Wednesday said he doesn't think there's enough evidence to impeach the president, even as prosecutors allege that Mr. Trump directed his lawyer to make illegal hush money payments. Democrats' time would be better spent conducting oversight of the administration, Jones said, and working with the president to improve trade policies, the Affordable Care Act and other issues.
"I don't think you have to just jump into that right now because it can not only politically backfire," he said about impeachment. "There would be backlash. Our country is divided enough as it is. Democrats right now have an opportunity to try to get some things done."
Thanks to Republican victories in midterm elections last month, Jones will soon be one of the few remaining Democratic senators from deeply conservative states. That status has made him something of a guide for his party on how to win back Democrats who voted for Trump 2016.
As longtime friend of Joe Biden, Jones said he hopes the former vice president makes a run as the party's pick for 2020.
"Democrats need to do a better job at reaching the heartland of America," he said. Biden is "probably the best one qualified to do that. He's been doing it for a long, long time, and I'm hoping to see that. I am sure, I feel confident, that there are others as well. We may not know who they are just yet."
The president remains popular in Alabama, but that's shifting, Jones claimed, as voters in the middle "don't like a lot of the hateful rhetoric." And while partisans on both sides will remain dug in, for or against the president, others "really can't point to a lot of things" that are better now, other than tax cuts, after the president's first two years in office.
"They're beginning to question," Jones said.
Questioning Trump's "nationalistic approach"
He added that the path for Democrats is to stay focused on the "kitchen table" issues that helped him defeat conservative Republican Roy Moore, who faced decades-old allegations of improper sexual relations with young women, to become the first Democrat sent to the Senate from Alabama in a generation.
The senator said that even in Alabama, people are starting to question whether Trump's "nationalistic approach" on tariffs is a threat to their financial well-being.
Soybean farmers are watching their crops rot, and automobile manufacturers, which he said have played a leading role in boosting the economy after other industries declined, face high costs because of steel and aluminum tariffs.
Farmers "are beginning to say, 'OK, we put you in here to try to get us a better deal, but there's got to be an end game. Tell us what the end game is and how long this is going to last.'"
"Things are changing"
Facing his own reelection in 2020, Jones acknowledged he has taken some tough votes in the Senate, including against the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
"It's a mixed bag," he said.
But he said Democratic gains being made in the Deep South - as evidenced by his own election and the closer-than-expected race for a Senate seat in neighboring Mississippi won by the Republican - shows that the shift.
Said Jones: "Things are changing."