Donald Trump’s dismissal of reports from the CIA and FBI about Russian cyber threats is a serious concern, U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., said.

Donnelly, who becomes the state’s senior senator next month when the next Congress is seated, said he was recently in eastern Europe working with U.S. allies to coordinate efforts to prevent enriched uranium from being smuggled into the wrong hands.

“You have folks like ISIS trying to get their hands on the most dangerous materials in the world,” Donnelly said Tuesday in Columbus during an interview with The Republic. “You have countries like Russia who are aggressively and brazenly attacking our country with their cyber efforts to try and cause damage to our nation. So we work nonstop in those areas to make sure we’re protected.”

Stopping Russian cyber attacks is about protecting the U.S. and ensuring that its democracy is safe, Donnelly said.

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The senator has an important role in national security as a member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee and three related subcommittees: Airland; Emerging Threats and Capabilities; and Strategic Forces, of which he is the ranking member.

The subcommittees have specific purposes:

  • Airland focuses on Army programs, except for special operations forces; Air Force programs, except for strategic forces, space and special operations programs; and the National Guard and Reserve equipment.
  • Emerging Threats deals issues such as the Islamic State, North Korea and cyber attacks.
  • Strategic Forces deals with nuclear issues such as defense systems and the ability to launch missiles by air, land and sea.

“We are also responsible for what (former) Senator (Richard) Lugar (R-Ind.) began some years ago, which is making sure that we’re protecting against smuggling of nuclear materials,” Donnelly said of the Strategic Forces subcommittee.

The senator said the U.S. needs to be aggressive in protecting the nation from emerging threats so that attackers are sent a clear message.

“We need to be forward leaning. Some of the sources of these emerging threats are going to find out in the coming days that we give as good as we get,” Donnelly said.

Upcoming legislation

With Republicans having a 52-48 advantage in the Senate next year, Donnelly said he expects to see legislation that he considers Hoosier-like — reflecting common sense, making people’s lives better, adding up financially and making the U.S. stronger. He expects legislation to focus on creating job opportunities in the U.S., take steps in the battle against opioid abuse and improving skills training to aid current and future generations of workers.

During the presidential campaign, President-elect Trump talked about the need for reductions in regulations to aid businesses. Donnelly, a member of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, said he has some concerns about changes that could be made, but also sees opportunities to make beneficial ones.

“We want to make sure our system is still safe so that we never go through what we did in 2008 and 2009,” Donnelly said, referencing the country’s financial meltdown and recession. “But we’re also in a place where some of our community banks and credit unions have two and three levels of regulation of the same things. So there is a significant chance to reduce some of the regulations while still keeping our system safe.”

A goal would be to reduce the paperwork burden and regulatory costs so that community banks and credit unions would use the extra money to make more loans, Donnelly said.

Hoosier connection

Donnelly, who becomes the state’s senior senator with the retirement of Republican Dan Coats, will have a friend in the White House as Indiana Gov. Mike Pence becomes vice president. The careers of Donnelly and Pence, a Columbus native, overlapped when both served in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Donnelly said he spoke with Pence within a few days of the election to offer congratulations.

“I told him my job is to make the lives of Hoosiers better, to make the lives of Americans better. Any way I can help achieve those goals, you can count on me,” Donnelly said.

The senator said he and Pence always have had a good, friendly relationship. He added that they share some common ground: a desire to create job opportunities, increase labor force skills and ensure the safety of Americans.

“There’s no reason we can’t work together in those areas,” Donnelly said.

Coats’ replacement in the U.S. Senate will be U.S. Rep. Todd Young, the Republican who defeated former Indiana governor and senator Evan Bayh in the general election.

Young and Donnelly worked together in the U.S. House, and Donnelly said he is also looking forward to working with Young again.

“We’re partners and teammates for Indiana,” Donnelly said. “A couple days ago, we spoke and he said after he’s sworn in he wants to sit down and figure out all things can do for our state.”

Donnelly said he will be reaching out to many people to encourage them to work together in the best interests of Americans and Hoosiers.

Sen. Joe Donnelly

Age: 61

Hometown: South Bend

Education: 1977 graduate University of Notre Dame, Bachelor’s degree in government; earned law degree in 1981 at Notre Dame

Pre-political career:

  • Indiana State Board of Elections, 1988-89
  • Practiced law at the Nemeth, Feeney and Masters law firm until 1996
  • 1996, opened Marking Solutions, a printing and rubber-stamp company

Political background:

  • Lost bid for Indiana Attorney General, 1988
  • U.S. House of Representatives, 2nd District — lost general election 2004; elected 2006, 2008, 2010
  • United States Senate — elected 2012, service 2013 to present
  • Senate committee assignments — Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry; Armed Services; Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs; Aging.
  • Senate subcommittees — Airland; Emerging Threats and Capabilities; Strategic Forces (ranking member); Commodities, Markets, Trade and Risk management (ranking member); Jobs, Rural Economic Growth and Energy Innovation; Livestock, Dairy, Poultry, Marketing and Agriculture Security; Housing, Transportation and Community Development; Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection; Securities, Insurance and Investment.

Family: Wife, Jill; children, Molly and Joe Jr.

Author photo
Kirk Johannesen is assistant managing editor of The Republic. He can be reached at johannesen@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5639.