Coons, Corker tout importance of global leadership at Wilmington forum

U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat of Delaware talks with the Washington Post's Michael Gerson and Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee at the U.S. Global Leadership forum in Wilmington Friday. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat of Delaware talks with the Washington Post's Michael Gerson and Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee at the U.S. Global Leadership forum in Wilmington Friday. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

U.S. Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware has made a name for himself of late as someone who tries to coax his Republican colleagues out of marching in lock step with the White House.

Most recently, Democratic Coons and Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona took to the Senate floor to demand action on legislation for protecting Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s investigation into Russian tampering with U.S. elections. Those demands were denied by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, but Flake responded with a pledge to withhold support for any judicial nominee until that legislation gets a vote.

On Friday, Coons joined GOP Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee for a discussion about the future of U.S. leadership on the global stage. More than 300 political, business and community leaders attended the forum in Wilmington hosted by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.

Coons and Corker celebrated the bipartisan effort in October to pass the BUILD Act. That legislation will create a new federal agency to use $60 billion in private investment for projects in poorer countries. It’s something of an answer to infrastructure investments China is making in impoverished parts of the world.

Corker, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the BUILD Act will help overseas and here at home.

“We believe it’s good for America for countries to have governance, to have economic growth, and we think that makes our nation safer,” Corker said.

Calling it a major step in changing the way the U.S. helps improve development in other countries, Corker noted that when China invests, it often leads to poorer countries becoming indebted to China.

“China is doing things that I deem inappropriate around the world by causing countries to have huge amounts of debt that they can never repay,” Corker said. When the debt can’t be paid back, he said, China takes possession of whatever infrastructure the investment paid to build, whether it be ports, or railroad lines, or mines.

“We want to do just the opposite, we want to have relations, and we’d certainly love to have U.S. companies from Delaware and Tennessee and other places doing business there, but we want themselves to thrive.”

Corker said Coons “wore the phone lines out” in a successful effort to get support in Congress for the BUILD Act. Coons said the legislation was worth doing “just as a vehicle for deploying American private capital to help address the challenges of development in partnership with countries in the developing world.”

The measure also has a strategic benefit in answer to the hundreds of billions of dollars China is investing around the world.

“They are selectively going around and investing in, and then taking control over ports, railroads, mines, in critical countries on every continent,” Coons said.

He said the BUILD Act allows U.S. companies to invest in places like Africa in very different ways.

“We approach these things in different ways and with different values, and I think we are seeing that there are strategic and national security consequences to having vital airports, ports, railways and natural resources in control of a country that may become our greatest competitor, or may be one of our greatest partners,” Coons continued.

Without mentioning President Donald Trump by name, Coons used the forum to answer those who would criticize “globalism.”

“The recent ways in which political leaders have tried to go after globalism and globalists has pernicious echoes of some national and international movements in the past, and I am proud to push back hard against the idea that America will be safer when it’s America alone,” he said.

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