In discussions that focused largely on foreign policy, Ebola and immigration, U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., was sharply critical of President Barack Obama during two public appearances in Jefferson Parish on Tuesday.
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa — and a recently confirmed case of the disease in Dallas — is cause for considering restrictions on travel, Vitter said. While he did not lay out a firm proposal for such restrictions and noted the difficulty of designing a system that would still allow aid workers to get to the area, he said, “I’d rather cause inconvenience than cause a serious situation, so I think we have to consider travel restrictions.”
The ongoing fight with the Islamic State group in the Middle East will demand soldiers on the ground, Vitter said, and not just the airstrikes the U.S. is conducting. He said the troops fighting need not necessarily be American, though, and that Middle Eastern states should step up with troops, resources and money for the effort.
“I’m war-weary like every American, right, left and center, Republican, Democrat or independent,” Vitter said. “But this threat is a direct threat on our security and our interests, and it’s growing.”
Vitter also linked that threat to immigration, warning that the Islamic State or other groups could get supporters into the country across the Mexican border.
The Affordable Care Act came in for significant criticism as Vitter addressed the West Bank Rotary Club and a town hall meeting in the Yenni Building on the east bank.
Vitter praised Republican efforts to repeal the law. The Republican-controlled House has voted dozens of times to repeal the law, though all those efforts have died in the Senate, which has a Democratic majority. Even if the Republicans were to gain a majority in the Senate this fall, Vitter acknowledged such efforts would still be symbolic because they would face a veto from Obama.
But, he said, he still supports such measures.
“It’s an important way to further the debate, and it’s an important way to set up the debate before the presidential election,” he said.
Vitter, who announced his intention to run for governor in 2015 earlier this year, also addressed some statewide issues.
Despite his opposition to the Affordable Care Act, he said he is willing to consider a Medicaid expansion outlined in that program, though there would need to be significant changes to Medicaid before he would sign off on the expansion.
Vitter said he would oppose raising the state’s minimum wage because doing so would “kill jobs.” Instead, he pointed to industrial projects on the horizon and said he would be focused on workforce training as governor.
While praising the state’s film tax credit program, Vitter said he is looking into changes he would implement to the incentive program if he is elected. While proponents of the program have praised it for bringing productions to Louisiana, critics have argued it is too generous, takes money from the state budget that could be spent on priorities such as health care and education, and benefits out-of-state movie studios and actors more than local residents.
Vitter said he would look into scaling back the incentives or else adding requirements that would increase local participation in the movie projects.
Asked about the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East’s lawsuit accusing oil and gas companies of massive coastal erosion — a suit that Gov. Bobby Jindal has attempted to quash — Vitter said he is still evaluating the situation and watching as it plays out in the courts.
However, energy companies’ arguments that the work they did was properly permitted are cause for “legitimate concern” about whether the suit should succeed, Vitter said. Supporters of the suit say the oil and gas companies never lived up to requirements in those permits that they repair any damage caused by their activities.
Vitter didn’t shy away from a small jab at the current occupant of the Governor’s Mansion, who is prevented from running again by term limits. As he contemplates a presidential run, Jindal has spent much time traveling around the country, leading one Rotarian to ask Vitter what he thought about governors who seem to “retire early” in their second term.
“I think early retirement is fine as long as you actually retire and give up the job and give up the salary. I think what you’re referring to that’s objectionable is when you keep the job and keep the office,” Vitter said, laughing. He added that if he were elected, “it would be a busy four years of work, and if I’m re-elected it would be a busy eight years of work.”
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.