Underscore this date: December 18, 2019. It could be a watershed moment for Tennessee Republicans.
In Washington, House Republicans voted as a unit against articles of impeachment for Donald J. Trump. I doubt we will see such solidarity in the Senate.
In Nashville, Gov. Bill Lee announced his consent to refugee resettlement in Tennessee, pursuant to Executive Order 13888 issued by Trump in September. This order requires consent from both local and state governments to allow refugee resettlement.
Gov. Lee said, “The United States and Tennessee have always been, since the very founding of our nation, a shining beacon of freedom and opportunity for the persecuted and oppressed, particularly those suffering religious persecution.”
And in Knox County, Mayor Glenn Jacobs agreed.
Jacobs referenced the Bridge Refugee program which has resettled people in Knoxville since 1982, including 99 refugees in fiscal year 2018.
In a statement, Jacobs said, “I have found, overwhelmingly, the people in this program come here to be contributors to society, to breathe the air of the greatest nation on the planet as free men and women. Some of them have already been in service to our nation by working with our military in places like Iraq and Syria.”
Jacobs cited Yassin Terou, who relocated to Knoxville from Syria in 2011 but spoke no English and could find no work.
“He began selling homemade falafel sandwiches and juices at the local mosque. He would sell out every week, making no money, but happy to be working,” Jacobs said. “With the help of Nadeem Saddiqi, an imam at the mosque and a Knoxville native, he found a restaurant space downtown and Yassin’s Falafel House was born.
“Yassin’s gained national recognition being named Reader’s Digest’s Nicest Place in America in October 2018.
“We could all learn something from Yassin’s motto: welcome all sizes, all colors, all ages, all sexes, all cultures, all religions, all types, all beliefs, all people.
“Yassin is a perfect example of how communities like ours can benefit from supporting refugee resettlement and serving as a beacon for the American dream. I strongly agree with Governor Lee’s decision and thank him for his leadership on this issue,” Jacobs added.
In the coming days, we’ll see pushback from state and local politicians who hope to score political points by attacking Gov. Lee and Mayor Jacobs on this issue. Arguably, more seasoned (cynical) Republican leaders would have withheld their consent.
You’ve got to figure President Trump punted this need to consent to local leaders to serve as a wedge issue – another effort to divide rather than unite us.
But Lee and Jacobs instinctively did the right thing. Hopefully, they represent the way forward for the Republican Party.