NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — While former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen's Democratic bid for the U.S. Senate will focus on "fixing the mess" in Washington, he doesn't plan to talk about Republican President Donald Trump all that much.
Bredesen said Friday that he would deal with Trump the same way he did with former Democratic President Barack Obama: support him when he agrees with his proposals and oppose him when he doesn't. Senators shouldn't be "foot soldiers" for a president or for partisan reasons, he said.
"If they're doing something that you think is good for Tennessee and good for the country, you should be for it whether or not you're of the same party," Bredesen said in his first interview since declaring his candidacy on Thursday. "I was in the same party as Obama and made no bones about my feelings about the Affordable Care Act, which were not positive."
State Republicans have long been fond of quoting Bredesen's initial assessment of Obama's health care proposal as the "mother of all unfunded mandates." Bredesen's views on the law evolved after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Medicaid expansion would be voluntary for the states.
Bredesen, who made his fortune as a health care entrepreneur before being elected Nashville mayor in 1991 and governor in 2002, said he will lay out his ideas for tackling cost issues with the Affordable Care Act later in his campaign. But he criticized Democrats who have not been willing to entertain changes to the law.
"Democrats ought to step up and solve those problems or at least have some proposals on the table on how you solve them instead of just doubling down on the act," he said.
Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn's campaign has denounced Bredesen as being "out-of-touch" with Tennesseans who gave Trump a 26-point victory in the state last year. Blackburn has made much of her alliance with Trump, stressing her support for the president's agenda in her campaign announcement. The other major Republican in the race, former Rep. Stephen Fincher, also espouses strong support for Trump's policies.
But Bredesen said he will stress political independence and bipartisanship during his campaign.
"The last thing the founders intended the Senate to be was foot soldiers for any administration, any president," he said. "I think it's the exact opposite."
"You're supposed to have people in the Senate who think for themselves and act not as a permanent supporter or permanent enemy, but as a check and balance on what goes on in the executive branch," he said.
Bredesen said he is prepared for a campaign that could cost a total of more than $60 million. "It's out of hand, but that's what it is," he said.
But he noted that he has strong financial commitments from donors and national Democratic groups. He said he hopes not to have to spend his own money on his bid.
Bredesen said early criticism by Republican groups about his record on guns and immigration has followed the "standard Washington playbook" for how to attack Democratic candidates.
The hunting and shooting enthusiast noted that he had an A rating from the National Rifle Association until he vetoed a bill that allowed Tennesseans with handgun carry permits to be armed in bars and restaurants that serve alcohol.
"I still don't think guns and alcohol mix," Bredesen said.
He noted that he sent the Tennessee National Guard to assist in border patrol activities in Arizona when he was governor, and that he supports efforts to tighten border controls.
"That doesn't mean you have some un-Christian-like hate for anybody that doesn't look like you," he said.
Bredesen laughed off questions about whether he was up to embarking on a new political chapter at the age of 74.
"I actually think we need some grown-ups in Washington," he said.
Bredesen stopped short of agreeing to release medical records but said he would be willing to have his doctors certify his good health.
"I'm healthy, I go out and run, I work out, my mind is clear. I feel like I've got a lot of good years left in me," he said. "You know, 74 is the new 54."