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VOL. 128 | NO. 167 | Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Talking Points

Corker talks Syria, housing during Memphis stop

By Andy Meek

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Not long after appearing on two morning news shows to assert that U.S. military action in Syria is imminent, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker started his week with a list of Memphis appearances that included speaking to a lunchtime crowd on a range of subjects – everything from Middle East policy to the housing market’s incremental recovery.

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., was in Memphis Monday to discuss everything from Middle East policy to the housing market. He appeared at an event hosted by the Memphis Area Home Builders Association.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

The midday appearance Monday, Aug. 26, by the Tennessee Republican was at an event hosted by the Memphis Area Home Builders Association and was billed as a discussion of legislation he’s put forward dealing with the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But the talk also turned to other pressing national challenges – some so pressing that the senator had to take a private call in a hotel kitchen before the event, and at least one national political figure was trying to reach him during the event.

To an audience that included bankers, real estate agents and industry professionals – as well as political figures such as Shelby County Trustee David Lenoir – the senator noted a lighter mood compared to his last visit with the group. A reference, of course, to the dark days after the housing bust, when the first priority among national leaders like Corker was dealing with the aftermath of the Great Recession.

Housing industry professionals at some tables at the MAHBA event talked among themselves about the recession’s aftermath while waiting for Corker, some pointing out how they’d survived by outliving bankrupt competitors. Today, Corker even has a daughter now in the real estate business. She’s a real estate agent in Nashville, and he said she has several homes under contract.

“When I first came (to Memphis), I told you I was going to be a pragmatic person who tries to solve problems facing our country,” Corker told the crowd, a theme he tried to use to connect each of the disparate topics he mentioned.

He turned, for example, to the new outbreak of violence in the Middle East and to Syria, the government of which has recently been criticized for using chemical weapons on civilians.

“I understand – especially after the recession we went through – why someone might say, ‘Why do we care about what’s happening in other parts of the world,’” Corker said. “I can understand why people want to feel that way.”

Corker leans more toward an interventionist stance, though, because he says what happens around the world sends ripples even down to the local level. There are companies in the Memphis area, for example, that he noted employ people around the globe and have a presence internationally.

In Egypt, which has been particularly volatile lately, Corker pointed out something he thought some in the crowd might not know: that U.S. ships move through the Suez Canal on a priority basis. And how instability in the Middle East affects energy prices, which influence housing activity.

Thus came his point that economic stability around the world is important to the U.S.

“And we need to play an appropriate role,” he said.

The legislation he came to address was his bill to replace Fannie and Freddie with a privately capitalized system. But mostly, he spoke in broader terms about financial policy, bemoaning, for example, the presence of “few real business people in the Senate.”

Corker was the subject of numerous headlines as he walked into the MAHBA event, because of his Syria remarks earlier in the day. “I do think action is going to occur,” he said on NBC’s “Today Show” Monday.

In Memphis that same day, Corker also was due to speak at The University of Memphis’ new student convocation, as well as to sit for at least one local TV interview.

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