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Comey firing and its impact draws debate among Republicans

May 11, 2017 at 6:30 PM EDT
How does the fallout from the firing of FBI Director James Comey affect the functioning and the stability of the Trump presidency? Judy Woodruff gets two views from David Avella of GOPAC and Steve Deace of The Steve Deace Show on their sense of hypocrisy among Democrats about Comey, whether the way he was fired hurts the president’s cause and if it will matter to voters in 2018.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now we try to explore how President Trump’s firing of Comey has divided Republicans with Steve Deace. He’s a popular conservative radio talk show host in Iowa. And David Avella, he’s chairman of GOPAC. It’s a Republican political action committee devoted to both national and state races for office.

And welcome to both of you to the program.

DAVID AVELLA, GOPAC: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David Avella, I’m going to start with you.

What’s your assessment of the president’s decision to fire James Comey and how he handled it?

DAVID AVELLA: The president didn’t have a choice. There is a term in the military called combat ineffective. And James Comey had become combat ineffective, that the — he had become a political punching bag.

And, gosh, for most Americans, it was causing whiplash. One day, Republicans were for him, and one day, they were against him. One day, Democrats were for him, one day, Democrats were against him based off what he was saying in any given press account that he did.

Secondly — and there were plenty of media stories about this last fall — about how FBI agents and the bureaucracy at the FBI didn’t trust him any longer about the way he was handling the investigations. And so he had become ineffective inside the building, and he was a political punching bag outside the building. The president didn’t have a choice.

He had to get rid of him. And let’s keep in mind the FBI director serves at the will and pleasure of the president. When you don’t have the president’s confidence anymore, you’re gone.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Steve Deace, how do you see — what’s your assessment of the president’s move?

STEVE DEACE, The Steve Deace Show: Well, I agree with David’s analysis of why this had to be done.

It was hilarious watching John Podesta at 5:00 on Tuesday talk about what a terrible person — I’m sorry — at 11:00 on Tuesday talk about what a terrible person Comey was, and then, at 5:00, suddenly, this was Watergate and Comey shouldn’t be fired.

So, I agree with David’s analysis of the hypocrisy here, but the execution and how this was done undermines the White House’s own cause, Judy.

And even if you buy into what — to wild conspiracy theories, and even if you agree that most of the media is liberal — and I do — and would like the see Trump fail, he can’t play into that. And he does this systematically.

You can’t have Sarah Huckabee on day two of her tryout essentially to replace Sean Spicer contradicting everything she said on day one. You can’t have the vice president seven times yesterday say that they got rid of Comey on a recommendation from the deputy A.G., and then have the president go off and do his own interview with Lester Holt where he said, I was going to get rid of him irregardless.

I mean, they have to understand, even if they believe everyone is against them, that you have to understand the environment you are in, and you have to plan accordingly. They often don’t. And they often help to feed these narratives that work against them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David Avella, what about Steve Deace’s point that the way the White House has handled this is what is hurting them?

DAVID AVELLA: It may not be the way human resource manuals 101 suggest handling things.

But the best way a president can see how he’s doing is based off midterm election. And next year, voters are not going to the polls to cast their votes based on James Comey getting fired or not fired. They’re going to base their vote on, are there more jobs, have we been kept safe, the two reasons why President Trump was elected in the first place?

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about this Russia investigation, though, David Avella?

DAVID AVELLA: Judy, I defy any member of the media or any Democrat to find 10 voters who were influenced and impacted by the alleged information about — from Russia that they received last year during the election, and the first nine can be liars and say they did.

You’re not going to find 10 people who were influenced by what they heard last year about Hillary Clinton. She was mid-40s in her approval rating in January before the election. That’s where she was on Election Day. Voters’ opinions of Hillary Clinton didn’t change through the election.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Be that as it may, Steve Deace, what about the credibility of that investigation? How much does that matter to this president?

STEVE DEACE: Well, I think the last election proved really that I don’t know how much Trump’s credibility really matters to most voters that would even consider voting for him, especially last year, Judy, when the proxy for the other side was maybe the most dishonest politician of her era.

And for Trump, I think it comes down to this. Everything David said there is right. But you get to a point where the lack of execution gets in the way of you actually delivering on your promises. And right now, they’re trying to ram through a health care fix that doesn’t repeal Obamacare, that 26 percent of Americans like.

We’re not sure what the tax reform proposal is going to look like. They have got to actually get to doing the things they promised the American people they would do. If they do those things, then, as the people showed in the 1990s, when we went after Bill Clinton, if the economy is great, I have got jobs, and my wages are doing well, then I really don’t care what your character is.

But if things aren’t going well, then suddenly I care, and I care a lot. And this White House needs to actually start governing.

And, Judy, I will just give you one quick example before we went on the air, Trump trolling Rudy — or trolling Rosie on Twitter. That’s funny when the economy is growing at 4 and 5 percent. It’s petulant and immature when it’s not.

They have got to govern, and just stop the consistent trolling and reality show and actually govern the country, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Talking about Rosie O’Donnell.

David Avella, respond to what he said. And, also, I want to ask both of you, as we wrap this up, what’s going to determine whether the White House gets back on an even keel in the short-term or whether things just continue to — seem to be in turmoil?

DAVID AVELLA: In this environment, it’s hard to define what even keel will mean.

And there will always be — there’s very strong feelings about this president on both sides. But what are they going to judge his legacy on or his presidency on? Are we getting results? Are there going to be more jobs? And, look, there is much discussion even amongst — and Steve mentioned it — even amongst conservatives, oh, we’re not doing enough.

We’re a few months into this administration. And there are plenty of examples, particularly at the state level, where GOPAC focuses, where maybe a Republican governor and a legislature, when they first enact something, it starts out unpopular, but then when people start seeing the actual positive results, those governors, those legislatures are reelected overwhelmingly.

And if President Trump delivers on the positive things that he talked about, more jobs saved for Americans, he’s going to be reelected.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you’re saying it doesn’t matter about the Comey — the Comey incident won’t matter in the end.

DAVID AVELLA: It doesn’t.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Steve Deace, what’s going to determine whether things stabilize, seem to get back on track, or remain — I would use the same word — in turmoil?

STEVE DEACE: Judy, when I used to do sports talk radio, what I would find is that if the team’s quarterback ran afoul of the law, but he had played well in his last game, most fans didn’t care, but if he had played poorly in his last game, suddenly, they wanted him disciplined and the program needs to stand for something bigger.

I think that also applies here. If he governs well, if they get results, then I think most people will say, that’s just Trump being Trump, and, frankly, he — a lot of the same that people don’t like him, I don’t like either.

But if this is the substitute for governing, if this is what they do instead of getting results, if they have nothing else other than this reality show, then I think, in November of 2018, you will see that rubber band snap back, and it will do so with extreme prejudice.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Steve Deace, talk show host joining us from Iowa, David Avella from GOPAC here in Washington, gentlemen, thank you very much.

DAVID AVELLA: Thank you.

STEVE DEACE: Thank you, Judy.

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