Tuesday, September 16, 2014


U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, in the foreground, works on the headlight assembly of a Thor Motor Coach recreational vehicle at the company's Elkhart plant. The Democratic senator visited Aug. 4, 2014, as part of a series of planned stops at Indiana companies during the August Senate recess. Thor employees Andy Hygema, behind Donnelly, and Dominic Fultz, standing by the RV further back, offered assistance to the senator. (Tim Vandenack/The Elkhart Truth) (Buy this photo)

U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, left, works on the grill assembly of a Thor Motor Coach recreational vehicle with Andy Hygema, a Thor employee. He visited a Thor plant in Elkhart on Aug. 4, 2014, as part of a planned series of stops at Indiana companies during the August recess. (Tim Vandenack/The Elkhart Truth)
U.S. Sen. Donnelly visits Thor in Elkhart, lauds economic turnaround, touches on immigration, Gaza
Posted on Aug. 4, 2014 at 5:43 p.m.

ELKHART — The Great Recession brought the recreational vehicle industry to its knees.

But it’s roared back, with jumps in production and hiring as the economy has rebounded, and U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly visited Elkhart, the heart of the industry, as an homage of sorts to the workers in the sector.

“The purpose is to honor the workers of Indiana, to honor the companies of Indiana, because they’re what grow our economy, what makes opportunity possible,” he said Monday, Aug. 4, at a stop at Thor Motor Coach, an RV manufacturer.

The senator, a Democrat from nearby Granger, helped a Thor crew in the finishing assembly work on a Vegas brand RV. He planned to make a stop later Monday at a paint company in Peru, and with the Senate in recess for August, he planned to visit other Indiana companies later in the month, part of what he’s dubbed his “Donnelly Days” tour.

Donnelly, clad in a blue Thor T-shirt, offered an upbeat message, keeping the focus on the growing economy of recent years, a sharp contrast to the recession of 2007-2009 and the unemployment it brought. Similarly, he said, the Thor workers he worked with offered a positive assessment.

"They said keep the orders coming. To a person, they indicated how happy they are to be at work, to be working overtime, to have the chance to work at a place with such great products and such great people,” Donnelly said.

IMMIGRATION REFORM, HAMAS

Donnelly took questions from reporters, touching briefly on other subjects as well:

Immigration reform: Moves to fix the immigration system should come from Congress, not the president, Donnelly said when asked about speculation that President Obama is mulling executive action to deal with the issue.

"I think that the people of this country elect their House members for a reason and their senators for a reason, and it’s to make legislation,” Donnelly said. “And I think the president ought to let us do our jobs and take care of that legislation.”

Senate and House lawmakers have not been able to find middle ground on immigration reform or on how to deal with an influx of unaccompanied undocumented minors from Central America. Donnelly voted for a measure last week, which ultimately failed on procedural grounds, to increase funding to deal with the Central American surge.

Veterans and suicide: He’s championed moves to combat suicide among active U.S. service members. Now he thinks the push needs to be expanded to include military veterans.

"They stepped up and served our country, they took care of us, and we have an obligation to make sure we’re there for them as well,“ Donnelly said. He said a bill he pushed to fight suicide among active members of the service is “about to be passed.”

Donnelly voted for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reform measure approved overwhelmingly last week and said the legislation will ”certainly continue to move the ball forward.”

Israel-Hamas: Among the top issues when the Senate goes back into session after the month-long recess ends will be pursuing a “sustainable cease-fire” agreement between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Other issues will be helping make sure the U.S. economy continues to grow and working on behalf of military veterans.

Follow reporter Tim Vandenack on Twitter at @timvandenack or visit him on Facebook.