Lehigh Valley

Congressmen join Tony Iannelli for special "Business Matters"

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Five members of the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania and New Jersey joined a panel Friday, hosted by the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce President Tony Iannelli for a taping of his WFMZ show “Business Matters.” The event was held at St. Luke's University Health Network in Allentown, across from Coca-Cola Park.

The panel quickly focused on President Trump's controversial firing of FBI Director James Comey. “I was upset,” said Republican Brian Fitzpatrick from Pennsylvania's 8th District, who formerly worked for the FBI. “I know him (Comey), he's a good man. A decent, honorable man.” He also said the dust is still settling, and that he wanted to avoid knee-jerk reactions to the story. “Let's figure the situation out,” he said. “Let's figure out what the facts are. But we need to be very, very suspect of what's going on.” Republican Congressman Charlie Dent from the 15th District of Pennsylvania struck a similar tone, calling Comey a “good man in a bad spot” who he thinks did his best under difficult circumstances. Dent then expressed concern about how Comey's firing could affect the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Iannelli also asked the Democrats about Comey, specifically if it was hypocritical to attack the firing when many people speculate that Hillary Clinton also would have dismissed the embattled FBI Director if she had won the election. “No, I don't particularly think that,” said Congressman Dwight Evans from Pennsylvania's 2nd District, elaborating that he didn't want to get into hypothetical questions. The Philadelphia Democrat then pivoted to criticizing President Trump, accusing him of acting more like a candidate for office than someone interested in governing. Congressman Matt Cartwright, a Democrat from Pennsylvania's 17th District, said he “by and large” liked Comey and that he believed he was committed to justice in America. “On the other hand, he is a bit of a grandstander”, said Cartwright, adopting the same language Trump used to attack Comey this week. “It's not what FBI Directors are supposed to do,” said Cartwright. He also suggested Comey's actions influenced the electoral process, presumably referring to the FBI Director's public statements during the election about the investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server.

More than once, Iannelli zeroed in on the Republicans to give their opinion of Trump, asking whether it's difficult supporting his agenda given the unpredictable nature of the president's personality. Congressman Leonard Lance from New Jersey's 7th District said he supports Trump when he feels the president is right, but always votes his conscience. Charlie Dent concurred. “When the president is on the right track, I think we should support him,” he said, noting his approval of Trump's position on regulatory reform and the president's moving “in the right direction” on tax policy. He also, however, said GOP congressmen need to check Trump's power at times.

Not surprisingly, the conversation turned to health care reform. Cartwright specially noted to the audience that all five congressmen on the panel, regardless of party, had voted against the recent GOP health care bill in the house. Republicans Dent and Lance, who voted against the majority of their party, both predicted the bill would die in its current form in the Senate. While they both expressed a desire to reform the Affordable Care Act, they remained steadfast in their opposition to the recent bill, with Dent citing concerns over Medicaid provisions and Lance expressing a commitment to covering all people with pre-existing conditions. Lance also shared a story about visiting the White House during health care negotiations, and informing Trump that he would not be voting for the bill. “I've not been invited back,” Lance dryly stated.

Shifting to foreign policy, Dent weighed in on Russia. “I'm very concerned. Russia's a threat,” he said. He also said the United States should “put up a much stiffer front” to Russian President Putin. Congressman Evans went a step further, suggesting the United States should want to determine what Russia's relationship is with the White House, alluding to accusations that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to swing the 2016 election. Evans' Democratic colleague Cartwright concurred, saying the issue should not be partisan and that American sovereignty was under attack. “We can't let foreigners meddle in our elections,” he said.

On the subject of defense spending, Dent applauded President Trump's calls for increases, citing his support of the additional $25 billion in military funds contained in a recent omnibus spending bill voted on by the House. “Hey, the threats are greater,” said Dent. Lance agreed, and praised Congress for passing the bill, but Evans struck a more cautious tone than his Republican counterparts. “The United States cannot by itself address and deal with these issues,” he said, encouraging a more cooperative foreign policy.

When Iannelli brought up North Korea, and asked Fitzpatrick whether he would support eventual military action against the regime, the congressman took a measured tone. “Military action is a very, very high standard,” he stated. The Republican said he would support a strike, “if the national security interests of the United States are imminently at risk.” Dent, meanwhile, praised the Trump administration for leveraging China to help the United States handle the situation on the Korean peninsula.

The two-part “Business Matters” with the five congressmen will air on May 22 and May 29 at 7:30 p.m. on WFMZ.

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