Pinellas County Congressman David Jolly says he doesn't think there's any appetite to send U.S. ground troops to Iraq despite the escalating crisis there, but does believe that air strikes or some other form of military intervention would be appropriate to save Americans currently stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
"I am not somebody who is looking for intervention whatsoever," Jolly said in his first appearance before the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club since succeeding his former mentor Bill Young in the March special election. "I wish we lived in a world where we didn't have to [intervene]. The fact is we live in a world with an incredible asymmetric threat against our national security interests. We live in a world where five people can cause significant harm to the U.S and the interests of the U.S. We live in a world where five people can probably take the lives of everybody in the embassy in Iraq right now," he said, adding that President Obama needs to show those U.S. citizens the same loyalty, protection and consideration in protecting them as he did in negotiating with the Taliban to release American P.O.W. Bowe Bergdahl two weeks ago (CNN reported today
that additional embassy security personnel are being added in Iraq, including U.S. Marines who specialize in embassy protection during high-threat conditions).
And speaking of Bergdahl, Representative Jolly has some serious
issues with how President Obama and his national security team handled his transfer, which involved the controversial trading of five Taliban prisoners who had been ensconced in Guantanamo Bay for years in exchange for the soldier. He prefaced his criticisms, however, by saying he was glad that Bergdahl was home and that no one in Congress should judge how he fell into the hands of the Taliban, saying that would be the job of the Army to deal with. But in every other way Jolly believes the president bungled the effort.
"He did in fact negotiate with terrorists, and I believe that has put American lives in greater danger," he began in laying out his criticisms. Jolly says Obama broke the law by ignoring a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act that calls for him to notify Congress 30 days before directing the US military during wartime. He also says that he put members of Special Operations in direct contact with the Taliban. "I don't think it was the right way to do it," he said, stating that U.S. Intelligence could have worked on a way to find and extract Beghdahl, and said his friends who work in Special Ops at MacDill have essentially said the same thing to him.
Orange Blossom Catering on 4th Street was the site of Monday's Tiger Bay event, and Jolly, the newest member of Congress, spoke for approximately 15 minutes to start the session before entertaining questions from the audience.
He took the opportunity to speak at length about his concerns about the ongoing problems with the Veterans Administration. On Tuesday, Jolly will host a "VA intake" day at his his Seminole district office, where from 9:00 a.m. — 1:00 p.m. he and his staff are offering local veterans who have had issues with VA hospitals an opportunity to voice their issues and/or complaints.
Saying his concern is that the political establishment "is always too late to identify a crisis, but also too quick to call it resolved," the Pinellas Representative vowed to stay on top of the issue for however long it takes to see if there can in fact be a way to allow veterans a quicker path to healthcare. He repeated an idea he expressed when the issue first broke last month: that there needs to be ways for veterans to easily access health care in the private sector if they can't see a doctor within a reasonable amount of time.
A former board member of Tiger Bay (he has joked that he was invited to join the board because they needed a token Republican), Jolly seemed in his element, answering questions and vowing that he is about getting results for his district, not in staking out his own ideological ideas on issues. One early vote that demonstrated that perspective was his "no" vote on the latest House Budget plan prepared by Wisconsin's Paul Ryan, a hot potato in recent years for its harsh attack on entitlement programs, in particular by transforming Medicare into a voucher system. He was one of just 12 people
in the House GOP caucus to oppose it, and though he joked it wasn't a comfortable position to be in, surely House leaders know in the evenly divided district, the Ryan budget is not a winner.
Playing political analyst, Jolly said President Obama should sign the deal to allow the XL Keystone Pipeline to go through now, and take the political hit he would get from the left now, vs. in 2016. But regarding the Florida Legislature's refusal to accept the federal government's deal to expand Medicaid, he begged off a response, saying that it was a state issue (though he did say he saw both sides to the argument).
Regarding House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's surprising loss to Tea Party candidate David Brat last week in Virginia, Jolly said though he might be a "Pollyanna," he actually welcomes an intense debate within his own party about how to go forward. And he earned applause when he said that he learned at the feet of Bill Young a tone of "reasonableness and civility," and said that is how he intends to govern.
And it appears to be working. At the end of his appearance a woman at a nearby table to this reporter could be overheard telling her companion that she was pleasantly surprised by what she had just heard. Although he'll ultimately be judged on his record, his demeanor seemed to fit in just fine with the Tiger Bay group which has seemed to skew a little more to the left in recent years.