Calling himself a “defense hawk,” U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis Monday called for continued international engagement by the United States both militarily and economically.
The freshman Republican defended foreign assistance programs during remarks to The U.S. Global Leadership Coalition in uptown Charlotte. He framed it as part of an effort to preserve America’s international leadership.
“We’re in a period of retreat,” he told about 300 business and political leaders. “We’re in a period where Russia is back to their old ways … The world suffers. The world becomes a less safe place.”
That dovetails with the mission of the Washington-based Coalition, which, according to its Web site, supports “a smart power approach of elevating diplomacy and development alongside defense in order to build a better, safer world.”
Speakers emphasized the importance of trade and international engagement, including aid that boosts foreign markets and helps stabilize societies.
Introducing Tillis, Gov. Pat McCrory said foreign trade accounts for 22 percent of N.C. jobs and the presence of foreign-owned companies in the state. Tillis picked up the theme.
“There is no state, there is no single state that benefits from productive global engagement more than North Carolina,” he said.
Tillis, who has voted against proposed foreign aid cuts, said some resistance to such spending often comes from fellow Republicans.
“There are people in my party who think that at face value, this is a bad thing,” he said. “I think we have to go back and educate people on that return on investment.”
This summer, Tillis was among a minority of senators who voted against the re-authorization of the export-import bank. The bank is an agency that helps finance U.S. exports. It’s supported by GOP Sen. Richard Burr and many businesses.
Tillis spokesman Daniel Keylin said later that Tillis voted against re-authorization “because it crowds out private capital and doesn’t do enough to provide a fair playing field for small businesses.”
He said Tillis wants to see reforms in the bank’s lending practices.
The luncheon, Charlotte Chamber President Bob Morgan said, was on target in its message.
“I think we heard a very strong link between economic security issues with economic development,” he said. “Things like foreign aid are just one of the investments we can make.… Ultimately trade puts people to work.”