While much of country remains divided in its expectations of President Donald Trump, Congressman Robert Pittenger, R-Charlotte, is excited for the new administration.
He spoke about his hopes for Trump and the nation when he drove through Wadesboro on Jan. 18, two days before former President Barack Obama passed the mantle on to Trump.
“I think when you assess where we are today, we’re at a very anemic economic growth; we’re at 1 percent,” Pittenger said. “That’s abysmally low. Frankly, (Obama) is the first president since World War II that did not reach economic growth of 3 percent. So that has a huge impact on new jobs and peoples’ lives.”
Pittenger said that any claims that Obama inherited a poor economic situation from his predecessor, President George W. Bush, are “nonsense.”
“In the (past President Jimmy) Carter years, we had 20 percent interest rates, high inflation, high unemployment, gas lines,” Pittenger said. “And what did (former President Ronald) Reagan do? He cut the regulatory burden, he cut the tax burden, and within two years — not the eight years we have right now, with Obama — within two years, the economy totally turned. And it took off. And because we took the burden, the weight, off of small businesses, particularly.
“Small businesses and entrepreneurs, they create 70 percent of the new jobs in this country,” he continued. “We’ve had a dearth of new jobs. We haven’t had expansion. That’s the hope. That’s the reality, is that we will be able to see a time of transformation, because you’re going to see similar reforms from President Trump and of reducing the regulatory burden, reducing the financial regulatory burden on small banks, particularly.”
The Congressman said small banks now have the same compliance regulations that larger banks do.
“That doesn’t make sense. There’s no systemic risk to a small bank,” he said. “Yet, that’s where the loans come from. Over half the loans for small businesses come from small banks. North Carolina has lost 40 percent of the banks since 2010. It’s an extraordinary effect — the lack of credit and capital in the market for starting a business or to expand. So, that’s the transformation that’s going to happen.”
Pittenger chided those who boycotted the inauguration. Democratic lawmakers from several states, including North Carolina, declined to attend.
“The sad part about this is, those who, frankly, are protesting the inauguration, I feel for them,” he said. “Number one, they miss out on the transition of power and free democracy, but the impact of the regulatory burden and tax burden, the Obama economy, has hurt low-income minority people… they’ve moved up the least up the economic ladder in the last eight years. Yes, it has a real effect on peoples’ lives, and that’s why I’m very hopeful with what will happen when freeing up this economy.”
In September, Pittenger was criticized for a controversial statement he made in a television interview with BBC concerning protesters in Charlotte who were angered over the fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, a black man.
“The grievance in their mind is the animus, the anger,” he said. “They hate white people because white people are successful and they’re not. I mean, yes, it is, it is a welfare state. We have spent trillions of dollars on welfare, and we’ve put people in bondage so they can’t be all that they are capable of being.”
He later apologized.
Pittenger said that comment was taken out of context, and that he was quoting a protester and making a point about the state of the economy for minorities.
“I had seven interviews that day, and what I shared was, I was asked the pointed question by BBC, ‘Why were these people so angry?’” Pittenger said. “I said, ‘Look at their eyes. There’s no hope. They’re angry.’ What I did was quote one of the protesters. He said, ‘I hate all white people.’ That was a protester. That was what he said. So I repeated what he said. Well, the media chose to take that out of context like I said it. It’s nonsense. I said, ‘They want what we have. And they don’t have it.’
“Look at their education system. I mean, they’re in poorer schools,” he added. “They have no choices. Look at the economy. It hasn’t grown, it hasn’t given them the opportunity. And that’s the real dilemma. Let’s look at what’s happening in their lives and in these policies, and they’ve failed them. That was my point. It was very clear in the other six interviews; it’s just that BBC was shrewd and took it and twisted it.”
He pointed out that African-American pastors and lawmakers defended him.
Pittenger believes that the Trump administration will help improve the economy for all and use a “carrot and stick” to bring industry back to the U.S.
“I saw the reality back in the ’80s,” he said. “I was in Washington then. I saw the impact of reducing regulatory burden, reducing tax burden. If we had the highest tax rate of any country in the world for corporations, if you had the highest regulatory burden, the impact of Obamacare, the cost — that’s why they’re trying to leave this country. That’s why we can’t encourage other companies to come over. That’s why businesses can’t expand. It’s because of the weight that’s been put on them.”
The congressman said he also supports Trump’s controversial pick of Betsy DeVos to be secretary of education, despite concerns about her lack of experience.
“Let me ask you this. President Obama was a community organizer. Was he prepared to be president of the United States?” Pittenger said. “She’s a very capable, intelligent woman.”
DeVos wants to offer children school choices, he said, while the teachers’ union — which Pittenger says prevents health competeition — puts pressure of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who has questioned DeVos’ qualifications.
He said he hopes to see the power to make decisions about education go back to a local level, giving funding back to the individual states.
“I’m a Constitutionalist and a Federalist,” Pittenger said. “The best government is local. We need to allow legislators to determine policy.”
Local school boards and superintendents are more accountable to the public they serve than the federal government, he said.
National security, long a concern of Pittenger’s, will also be improved under Trump, despite Trump’s lack of military experience, he said.
“Number one, I believe this president, Trump, will have a very clear view of the adversaries facing this country,” he said. “Whether it’s nation-states like China, Russia, Iran and North Korea, or terrorist groups. Think about ISIS. ISIS is the most formidable adversary in terms of terrorists we’ve ever confronted. This is not a backyard gang of hoodlums. They’re very high-tech, very sophisticated. So I think he, unlike President Obama, who is unwilling even to call them Islamic terrorists, he understands who they are and what their focal point is. So I think we will have someone committed to destroy ISIS in a real way, not just verbally, who will be able to engage our allies, our friends in the gulf states, particularly, to work with us.”
Trump’s lack of military experience also reminded the congressman of Reagan, who, despite a military background, aided in the collapse of the Soviet Union, he said. He added that Trump has also surrounded himself with people who will be able to help.
Pittenger said he didn’t support the sexist comments Trump has been quoted making, but that they pale in comparison to Trump’s biggest opponent, Hilary Clinton, and that the comments weren’t enough of a reason for Democrats to refuse their support.
He believes that Trump will also make more of an effort to vet refugees and secure the border, one of Trump’s prominent campaign claims.
“Would they have felt the same about Hilary Clinton if she’d been elected, knowing what she had done in transferring information and accessing data through her private sources against the law?” he asked. “Truly, was that okay? Is that okay, but maybe what one man said wasn’t good but what she did was okay? I find that very disingenuous for people that believe that way.
“I’m much more concerned with what people do than what they say,” he continued. “When I look at Benghazi, when I look at what she did in the State Department, I have real concerns over that. I’m much more concerned with what people do than what they said. Yeah, he said some things, but please, let’s put it in context. Are they just as incensed as with what Mrs. Clinton did?”
Although he supports Trump, he said he would’ve gone to the inauguration had Clinton defeated the new president, and that it’s “childish and it’s demagoguery” to boycott it.
“This is an American privilege, to see the peaceful transfer of power,” he said. “I was there when President Obama was inaugurated this last time. I wouldn’t miss that. I can’t imagine any member of Congress missing that moment. It’s a sad political statement made at a very inappropriate time.”
Reach reporter Imari Scarbrough at 704-994-5471 and follow her on Twitter @ImariScarbrough.