Former Congressman David Jolly on President Trump: “It Breaks My Heart What He’s Doing to This Country”

David Jolly, from Twitter

Radioactivity with Rob Lorei

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Select 08/16/19 from the drop down menu


Good morning- welcome to Radioactivity. I’m Rob Lorei. Coming up—in the wake of recent mass shootings in Gilroy, California, El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio– what are the chances that any sort of legislation to limit military style weapons will pass in Washington? And why is there so little public dissent from President Trump inside the Republican Party?

We’re going to talk about these issues with former Republican Congressman David Jolly who from 2014-2017 represented the 13th District Florida Congressional District (parts of Pinellas County) in Congress. He has left the party over his differences with President Trump, he’s now and independent and he’s a frequent commentator on MSNBC.

We’re going to discuss Israel’s decision to not let two US members of Congress tour portions of the occupied territories. We’ll also get his thoughts on the prospects for gun legislation passing Congress. And we’ll talk about the continued GOP Party loyalty to President Trump.


Here’s the transcript of the interview:

RL: David Jolly, welcome back to WMNF. Nice to have you here.

DJ: Great to be with you, Rob, thank you.

RL: I want to ask you about the two members of Congress who Prime Minister Netanyahu  barred from going to Israel yesterday (8/15/19). And, today, there was an offer to let one of the members of Congress in. She said, she’s not going to go under the circumstances. What’s your take on that controversy, first of all?

DJ: I think that Netanyahu is being short-sighted. I suppose he is enforcing the law that is on the books in Israel, as of 2017, that allows the government to reject entry to proponents of the BDS movement. I think the greater scourge, if you will, is on the President of the United States for not standing up, even diplomatically and politely to one of our greatest allies in Israel, and Netanyahu. And, what I mean by that is, this is the perfect moment where an American president could speak to the values of the freedom, if you will, of dissent and expression that we hold dear, here in the United States, even if it runs contrary to the majority opinion, when it comes to foreign policy.

And, the Reps Omar and Tlaib, their foreign policy view is contrary, even within the Democratic party. But, it is exactly that freedom of dissent that makes the United States so special. And, I’m not sure Trump even understands that. And, certainly if he did, he has failed to stand up to Netanyahu on this matter. The two members of Congress should be let in. The accommodation that’s made for the one today, was apparently under a humanitarian, not visa, but visit, if you will, to visit her ailing grandmother. But it came with restrictions and, she decided, personally, to reject that offer. And, I don’t blame her.

RL: Do you ever remember a time when you were in Congress, or any other time, where a member of congress couldn’t go where they wanted to go to investigate or look at the situation in a foreign country?

DJ: Not among allies. I did a lot of visiting into refugee camps. When I was in office, the flow of Syrian refugees, as well as fighters, coming out of Syria, was a significant national security topic. And, there were restrictions, of course, on our travel and our ability to visit those with foreign policies that were averse to the United States. That’s understandable.

In this case, we have an ally that is rejecting sitting members of Congress, a congress that annually funds this ally to the tune of, now pushing, five billion dollars a year. And, our allies, they know, we’re not letting you in. There is a law in Israel that allows them to do this. It is absolutely contrary to our ideals as a nation. We don’t have a president that understands that. And, we don’t have a president willing to stand up to Netanyahu. It’s a bad decision by Israel, but a worse reaction by Donald Trump.

RL: Our guest is former Congressman David Jolly. He was, while he was in office, a Republican. Now, he’s an Independent. And, you’re listening to WMNF in Tampa.

So, David, the fall-out from these mass shootings in recent weeks, a lot of people are hoping that something will be done about guns and gun violence both in Tallahassee and in Washington DC. What’s your take on whether or not Congress will ultimately pass some sort of legislation to roll back gun violence in the US?

DJ: I think the real test will be whether the two parties, and really Democrats who have a more comprehensive agenda, are ready to accept even an incremental change from Republicans. And, Republicans will reject a gun control agenda. They will reject the things that actually could address this issue. But they will propose ideas like red-flag laws, which when we saw it implemented in Florida after Parkland, has had a modest amount of success. But, it doesn’t address easy access to guns, easy access to weapons of war, where the democrats really want to take the debate.

I made the comment recently, if gun control is the issue that informs your vote, informs your ideology, then you need to vote for Democrats, because they will do more than Republicans well on this issue.

I will say, Rob, and this is critically important. This is an issue that moves you. There should be urgency at the Capital. Mitch McConnell should pass the two background check bills that are currently sitting in the Senate. But understand, we need urgency in the House as well. I personally think both the Senate and the House should have come back, because the House has yet to pass legislation to ban assault weapons, to restrict high-capacity magazines, to begin to approach how we incorporate mental health records into a background check.

And, we often get lost in the nomenclature. What is sitting in the Senate is only a universal background check bill, which would say that the background checks that we currently have, would extend to unlicensed transactions at gun shows and on the internet. That’s important. But that would have done nothing to stop the 3 shooters in the most recent shootings.  We need to address, with more urgency, easy access to firearms and the weapons of war. That legislation has not gone through the house yet.

If you feel urgency, we need it on both sides of the Capital right now.

RL: It would seem that since Democrats control the House, that they would pass something pretty quickly to reduce the number of weapons of war out on the streets.

DJ: And, they may in September. And, look, I’m in a weird spot as a former Republican who will first acknowledge Republicans have failed on this issue. They have failed on this issue. But I’m also harder on Nancy Pelosi on the urgency issue than many Democrats. On the issue of impeachment, I think she is dragging her feet. She should have impeached the President by now. On the issue of guns, I think she should have called the House back in session, whether or not Mitch McConnell was going to call the Senate back in session. Show the American that you mean business on gun control, because we have to address easy access. That is the dispositive element.

It’s not simply that there are violent video games. It’s not that there are people who visit hate platforms online. It’s not that there are people challenged with mental health conditions. It’s the people who play those video games, go in those chat rooms, and suffer from those mental health conditions, still in the United States have easy access to firearms. Until they crush that nexus, that dispositive element of easy access to firearms, we’re never going to stop the mass shootings.

We have yet to see legislation move through Congress to do that. I’m optimistic, I’m hopeful the Democrats will do that in the house in September. But, Rob, they’re on a seven week vacation right now. And, when the American people are heartbroken and feel the urgency, it’s hard to look at the Congress and suggest that simply begging Mitch McConnell to come back on universal background checks satisfies the urgency of the American people on this. I’m not sure it does.

RL: We’re talking with former Congressman David Jolly. So David, tell us about the power of the NRA.It is one of the most successful lobbying groups in Washington DC and in Tallahassee. You’ve been a critic of big money in politics. Is their success due to their campaign conributions, or is their success due to something else?

DJ: The campaign contributions have a lot to do with it. It truly does. But, there are two elements that run even deeper, and are more systemic, if you will. Their power of mobilizing voters. They have millions of single-issue voters who only vote on that issue. And whether or not money is spent on TV or not, those voters are told this member of Congress is good and this one’s bad.

And, they’re a Republican organization. They spent against my first opponent because she was a Democrat, and I was a Republican. When I started voting against them, they never supported me again. But, they wouldn’t come out against me, because I was a Republican. So they gave my next to opponent an F rating, and they gave me no rating. Instead of giving me an F, they gave me no rating because I was a republican.

But, here’s the even deeper issue than mobilizing. And, this is where you really, I believe, this is your issue you just got to work to defeat Republicans at the ballot box. They have successfully indoctrinated a generation of elected Republicans and Republican leaders with absolutist ideology. You can almost point the finger to when Bush 41 resigned from the NRA in the 90’s as a point at which the NRA went absolutism in their ideology. And so, you have Republicans, to whether a dime was spent for them or not, they do believe, not just that the Second Amendment is a fundamental right. They believe it is an absolute right. And so, that is an ideological conviction that the only way to counter is to defeat them and remove them from office. It is money, but the entrenched ideology is systemic within the Republican party right now.

RL: I think it is fair to say that a lot of people who take the NRA position believe that their guns are the way to defend themselves against an overarching federal government. That if the federal government gets out of control, that gun will keep them safe or at least give them a fighting chance. I’m sure you’ve heard that along the way. Tell me what would you say back to that person who holds that belief?

DJ: It was an eyeopener for me. There’s a constituency that believes the answer to more gun violence is more guns. I think it’s less guns. And it wasn’t until I was elected when I really started to hear from from the NRA another gun lobby advocates, voters, neighbors, people you sit with at church or local restaurant, who told me the entire premise of the Second Amendment is so that you can be armed when your government comes to get you. That is part of the mentality of the NRA group.  And, I am an attorney, a recovering attorney, I say. I don’t practice. I do know the Constitution and the Second Amendment fairly well. It is not an absolute right. It is a fundamental right.

But just like the first amendment, we have restrictions on speech, expression, and religion when it comes to issues of public safety. The famous Supreme Court saying you can’t falsely yell “fire” in a movie theater. There are restrictions on our most fundamental rights. So too, there are restrictions on the Second Amendment. And so, we have to move the debate in that direction.

And unfortunately, it requires a value judgement by our political leaders to simply say, even within the second Amendment, we can restrict firearms. The perfect example, if we can’t ban weapons of war, we should make them at least as difficult as it is to get a top secret security clearance in this White House. Think about how long it takes to clear somebody in this White House to know that they are safe and will promote the security of the nation. And we’re doing that because they have information that can hurt the nation.

Well, if we’re about to hand somebody a weapon that can kill 30 people in 60 seconds, maybe we should make sure that they’re also somebody that’s not going to bring harm to their community, and to our country. We can do that within the Second Amendment. Personally, as one voter, I’d take it further and say, just ban the weapons of war, all together.

RL: Ultimately, do you think that Senator McConnell will take any steps towards limiting these weapons of war, or will the heat of the moment pass, and the country will move on once Congress gets back in session?

DJ: The smartest thing they can do is pass the universal background checks, because Republicans already support background checks. They’ve already voted in favor of background checks for a licensed transaction. So why not extend it to unlicensed transactions? And the arguments Republicans make is that it unduly burdens private citizens. Well, too bad. You’re engaged in the transaction of a legal weapon that can kill somebody.

I’m not sure they’ll move on universal background checks. Where I do think that McConnell may move, and we may see Florida’s two Senators try to lead on this, is with Red Flag laws. That is where the police can petition a due process proceeding to have guns removed, initially for one week, and secondly, for one year if a judge approves it. That was implemented at the state level, after Parkland, and there’s been about 2,500 cases where guns have been removed from Floridians based on concerns of law enforcement. It can be an effective tool.

At the end of the day, I think that Republicans in the Senate will pass something like that. They will take a victory lap as though that’s the final solution, though it’s not. And it will be a hard question for Democrats, whether to accept the incrementalism, or whether they reject incrementalism, and try to draw a contrast between the parties, and say Republican simply continue to fail on gun control. We have to do more. We have to win in 2020.

RL: With the country so divided, are you of the opinion that incrementalism is the only thing you can get right now?

DJ: I am. If you extract the politics and partisanship from it, we should do it. We should accept incrementalism because it is better than nothing. A half a loaf is better than no loaf. That’s why laws have some impact. Universal background checks have some impact. We should accept it. And if this is an issue that you’re passionate about, continue to fight for more aggressive gun control in the country.

RL: Our guest is David Jolly, who used to represent portions of Pinellas County in Congress. He was a Republican when he was in Congress. He’s now an Independent, and he is a frequent commentator on MSNBC. This is 88.5FM, WMNF in Tampa.

I got to ask you about the President. The Democrats who call in to this show say, “Why do Republicans stick so closely to President Trump?” There’s so few Republicans within the Party speaking out against the President, against some of the things he’s done, the lies, the way he treats women, the contradictions. That’s what Democrats say. Why do you think that there is so much loyalty? He still has somewhere between 35 and 45% loyalty, I think, in the Country. And, those are largely Republicans. Why is that?

DJ: For their own political survival. Because, they are answering to the same constituency  that continue to support Donald Trump. Lindsey Graham’s a perfect example. He said Donald Trump would be a blight on the Country, and should go to hell. He’s now in ??? in South Carolina and so, he has embraced the President.

And so, look, they’re doing it for their own success politically, if you will. But, Rob, we’re three years into this, and I’ve lost all patience and tolerance with my former Republican colleagues who refuse to ???. And I would say to your listeners this: It is fair to now judge the character and integrity, and the moral fitness of those Republicans, who stay silent and don’t confront the President. Because, this is about them.

What has normalized Trumpism in the United States, is singularly the silence of Republican leaders. Understand, if they had spoken out against the President for the past three years, his failings, his foibles, his shortcomings, his injection of greater insecurity domestically and internationally, if they had spoken out against that, even though the President was elected and can say he won, we would never have normalized this as appropriate in American politics.

But, it is because Republicans have remained silent, that it appears normal now that one of the two major parties stands for the things that Donald Trump stands for. It is why I left. And I assign this fully on the Republicans that have remained silent in the last three years. And the anger, that you may hear brewing in my voice, is this: I have talked to Republicans and their plan is, when Trump is gone, to pretend like it never happened. To keep going.

You are already seeing people, like Nikki Haley, position herself as if she had nothing to do with Trumpism, when in fact, after destroying him on the campaign trail, on behalf of Marco Rubio, destroying Trump’s character, she fell silent and went to work for him, and enabled and empowered him. And now, when she leaves, she’s pretending like it never happened, and she’s become a Trump critic again. Should be some hard family conversations among Republicans about those who fell silent and now are pretending like nothing ever happened, because that’s the next chapter in this tragedy.

RL: Can the Party ever go back to the days where people like John McCain are leaders of the Party? Can it ever go back to those days, or has President Trump changed the Party fundamentally?

DJ: I don’t think we can go back to a McCain wing of the Party, or a Jolly wing of the Party.  The question is, does it return to traditional conservatism? And, I don’t know the answer to that. I have a hard time envisioning a Mike Pence following the angry populist of Donald Trump. The real question for the future, is there’s not another Donald Trump. There truly isn’t. There’s not another Donald Trump out there that can replicate what he’s done.

And so, the Republicans are they able to fall quietly back into the traditional conservative Party? I don’t know. And what does Donald Trump to the Party once he has left office? Combine that with the fact that the demographics and politics of the nation continue to move further towards the Democrats and away from the Republicans. The only way Republicans can hang on as a major party over the next couple of decades, is to continually rigging the system to insulate them from greater accountability from voters.

RL: Last question. The President has denied that he’s racist. Yet, I think there’s no doubt that David Duke, and other people in the country who embrace nationalism and racism, are supporting this president. Richard Spencer, and others. Is he truly not a racist? Or is he sending out a dog whistle, does he not know what he’s doing? Or, is he doing this deliberately in that he does embrace some form of white nationalism?

DJ: I think a man who strokes the flames of racism for his own political benefit, it’s safe to call him a racist. And, if not, it’s probably even worse. Because, it’s somebody who knows that what they’re stoking is anger and violence and division for their own selfish gain. I have very little good that I can say about the President on this matter. And, it is one of the reasons that informed my leaving the Party. Rob, I do not trust the people that remain in the Party who have embraced this. I think, fundamentally, whatever his policies accomplish or don’t, he has torn at the fabric of who we are as a nation.

And, my hope, as a first time father with a 5 month old at home, is that we get to the end of a one term presidency of Donald Trump before my daughter is exposed to this type of leadership in the United States, because it breaks my heart what he is doing to the country. I don’t care about policy at this point. This is bigger than that. And I do think in 2020, Donald Trump is going to come up against the wave we saw in ’18. Whether you agree with his policies or not, the nation, by a majority, is simply going to say: “We’ve got to go in a different direction”.

RL: David Jolly, thank you, as always, for coming on WMNF. Do you have a web site David? Can people follow you on Twitter?

DJ: My web site is, and twitter is davidjolly.fl. But, watch out. I get pretty aggressive on Twitter, so you may not want to follow me.

RL: David Jolly, thanks a lot. I hope you will come back to WMNF sometime soon.

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