Augusta, Ga. (WJBF) — From the overhaul of Obamacare to the firing of FBI Director James Comey, there are plenty of headlines coming out of our nation’s capital. Some of those headlines have caused concern for citizens; that is why we were pleased to sit down with Congressman Jody Hice of Georgia’s 10th District to talk about what is happening in DC and across America.
On May 4 the House of Representatives passed the American Heath Care Act (AHCA), which would replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) known as Obamacare. Congressman Hice admits that the AHCA is not perfect, but believes that it is a good first step in repairing what some consider damage from the ACA. The congressman feels strongly about lowering costs for the American people while also protecting those that have pre-existing conditions – things that he feels are critical to the future of the country.
Congressman Hice is also candid in his initial reaction to learning about James Comey’s firing, telling us, “Honestly I found out about it totally in a casual conversation like this. Someone just said, ‘What do you think about Comey?’ And I said, ‘What about Comey?’ And they said, ‘He was just fired.’ So I pulled out my phone and looked, and sure enough… You know my immediate thoughts, to be quite honest, were question marks. Like what’s behind this? What has come up that I was not aware of?”
We also spoke with Congressman Hice about the Religious Liberty Executive Order signed by President Trump, cyber security, and how he feels the president has done in his first 100 days in office.
We hope you enjoy the interview and find it informative. We also encourage you to submit your ideas to us for future editions of the show.
– Let’s get things started with Georgia’s tenth district congressman Jody Hice. Congressman thank you so much for coming back.
– Brad always an honor to be here with you. Thanks for having me.
– Listen it has been quite a busy past few days, few weeks hasn’t it?
– It has been. It’s been a whirlwind. But things are getting done, and we’re thankful for that.
– Let’s just lead off with FBI Director Comey, now former FBI Director Comey. Your thoughts on his firing.
– Well first of all I would commend him on his job. He’s got a very difficult job particularly during very contentious times. I mean let’s face it. This has been an extraordinary time for him as well. Timing, obviously, is a concern and all that sort of thing but, you know, at the end of the day you’ve got a controversial individual who’s been involved in some controversial decisions. I think it probably needed to happen, and I’m comfortable that the president is going to find a replacement that’s going to keep the FBI in the place of honor that it’s always been and doing the job that they need to do. It’s unfortunate that this has happen to Comey, but I think it’s, given the circumstances, it’s about all that could have happened.
– Do you wish that you would have had more notice or that people might have come to you and given you just a bit of a heads up before this happened? It seemed sudden.
– Yeah, that kind of thing doesn’t bother me personally. That’s not a decision that I’m responsible for in the first place. Of course we’ve had hearings with Comey and oversight and government reform committees and multiple hearings. I’m pretty familiar with all has taken place, but at the end of the day the President has to make the decision he believes is in the best interest of the department and the country. He did so, and I trust him. And we’ll move forward from here, and we’ll get a good replacement.
– Well once that replacement is named, any feeling at this early stage as to whether this will impact negatively the investigations that Comey was leading both into potential Russian interference with our elections and potential people connected to Trump being involved as well?
– I don’t think it’ll impact that whatsoever. Those investigations are underway with or without Comey, and they will continue. So I think all that will continue right on path as it has been, and we’ll get the results of those investigations when they conclude.
– You know if you stay on the internet long enough, and read enough articles, you start to have wild thoughts, and I just ask you this question with that in mind. Do you think President Trump will make it through this term?
– Oh, sure.
– You 100 percent do?
– I absolutely do.
– Do you have to believe that though because of your wish to be reelected? Do you have to link yourself to the President and kind of keep your fingers crossed at the same time?
– No, that has nothing to… I hold that position because the majority of Americans elected him to be President. He’s doing what he said he would do, and I believe we’re going to get a lot over the finish line and you’ve got, you know, frankly you’ve got a Democrat party that’s trying to obstruct and stop and shut him down at every angle. That’s what’s going on, but I think he’s proving to be committed to what he ran on. He’s going to get those things done, and, at the end of the day, I think he’ll not only make it, but he’ll be there a second term.
– Let’s talk about health care reform. You all, the House, just advanced the Republican version of healthcare to the Senate where who knows what will happen to it, but let’s first talk about the efforts in the House. Are you pleased with the package that got sent to the Senate?
– It’s as good as we could get it. Initially, I was opposed to the first bill that came down the pipe because it actually would raise premiums, and that, to me, was a non-negotiable. It was unthinkable to me that, as a Republican Party, we would replace Obamacare with something that actually was going to raise premiums. And so many of us stood opposed to that, and fortunately they pulled that particular bill from the floor, and from that time, there’s been multiple negotiations from the White House to different groups within the conference and so forth. And everyone’s come to the table and put their ideas forward. We’ve been able to accept a few amendments. All of which will absolutely, definitely lower premiums, and that was the big issue. You never get the bill that you want, but I think this bill was as close as we could get to accomplishing what needed to happen. I still wish we’d have a full repeal. We’ll keep pushing in that direction, but, apart from that, this is a good, decent, strong bill that the Senate has, and hopefully they’ll make some positive changes, if any, and we’ll get this thing done.
– Any idea on a timetable for that, and will it look anything like its current form?
– I have an answer to no to either one… I have no idea.
– Sure. It’s early. Yeah.
– It’s early. The Senate never does anything quickly, and who knows if they will… Hopefully they will at least take the House bill as a foundation and build upon that. But you never know with the Senate, So I anticipate it will be at least a couple of weeks, and this thing will go to conference and duke it out there, and hopefully we’ll get it all completed in such a way that it will be very good for the American people.
– [Brad] What are you hearing in the tenth? What do people think about what you’re doing with healthcare? That’ll be my first question along those lines. What do they think about it?
– [Jody] You know, we’ve had extremely positive reactions from people throughout the tenth district, first of all, from the perspective. And there was some angst to begin with.
– [Brad] Right, I mean, you hear about lawmakers getting shouted down when they go back home.
– [Jody] Yeah.
– [Brad] Have you been shouted down yet?
– No, I have not at this point. I mean, it’s all, knock on wood here, but, no, at this point the vast majority of people have been appreciative that we stood opposed to a bill that would have increased their premiums, and they appreciate the fact that we stood in there and fought for lowering premiums. And at this point, the overwhelming majority are very appreciative of the bill that has moved on to the Senate. Again, that’s not everyone, but, overwhelmingly, that’s been our response.
– Well, sticking with constituent response, what do they think about the President in general this first 100 plus days?
– Well, there again, the tenth district was strongly in favor of Trump, and they still are.
– [Brad] That hasn’t changed.
– That has not changed one bit. Personally, I give the President strong marks coming out of his first 100 days. In the midst of tremendous opposition, in the midst of having obstruction even getting his cabinet in place. I mean, he’s had one obstacle after another. Look, we’ve gotten Keystone passed. We have a Supreme Court justice. We have Congressional Review Acts that have dealt with multiple regulations from the White House. We have our military that’s back in tact. We’ve got the economy happy. We’ve got immigration, crossing the border, 70% down. I mean, one thing after another, there’s some great victories in spite of tremendous opposition, and I give him high marks for doing what he said he would do.
– Real quickly, going back to the Comey firing, just please take me to the moment that you found out about it, and just tell us what you said or thought right when someone said, “Hey Congressman, they fired Comey.”
– Yeah, actually I found out about it totally just like in a casual conversation like this. Someone just said, “What did you think about Comey?” And I said, “What about Comey?” And they said he was just fired, so I pulled out my phone and looked and sure enough. My immediate thoughts, to be quite honest, were question marks. Like, what’s behind this? What has come up that I was not aware of? I’m not surprised that it came to this point. I was a little bit surprised with the suddenness with which it happened, but I don’t know that any of us were overwhelmingly surprised that it came to this point.
– Congressman Jody Hice is our special guest on The Means Report today. When we come back, we’re going to talk religious freedom. The President just signing an Executive Order along those lines. We’re also going to talk about the cyber threats that this country is constantly facing, and you know, we’re fighting that battle right here at home in our cyber district. So we’ll cover those hot topics with Jody Hice when our conversations with him continues. Welcome back to The Means Report. We appreciate you staying with us as our conversation with tenth district Congressman from Georgia, Jody Hice, continues, and Congressman Hice, let’s talk about the efforts to extend religious liberty that the President just signed by way of an Executive Order, giving people the freedom to have more freedom of religion, less government interference. Your thoughts on that.
– I’m extremely grateful for the President for taking the lead on this. I think most people in America are not aware just how serious a problem we have with the infringement upon religious liberties, and for the President to recognize that, and to come out with an Executive Order stating the First Amendment means what it says, I think is extremely important. Basically, it’s a two step Executive Order. First is the Order itself, and the second will be when the Department of Justice actually begins defining what are the boundaries of religious liberties, and when that comes out, we’re actually going to see some teeth to what the Executive Order holds. So it’s kind of a two step process, and I’m very pleased to see this happening right now.
– Where would you like to see more freedom to practice your faith? What areas of society are we lacking?
– We’re seeing it all over the place. We’re seeing everything from bakers who are being sued because they didn’t want to participate in a same-sex wedding. When does the government have the right to force people to participate in ceremonies that they don’t want to participate in? We have examples of fire chiefs. We have pastors from sermons who are being subpoenaed by government to check what was in it. I mean, there are multiple, multiple ways in which this has occurred. One that personally I have experienced with is regarding the Johnson Amendment with which the President has been very vocal needs to be repealed, and I have a bill to do that. Whip Steve Scalise and myself have the Free Speech Fairness Act. It restricts what can be said in churches. It literally allows the government to police sermons, and if it’s deemed too political, the church could potentially be sued or lose their tax exempt status. If there is any place where religious liberties apply, it ought to be in a church.
– Have you ever been either delivering a sermon or just preparing one and had to hold back because you were fearful of violating some sort of law or ordinance?
– I see that all the time. Of course, I was a pastor for 25 years. Every election cycle I used to receive threatening letters that I cannot address certain issues or I could be sued, our church could be sued. We could lose tax exempt status. They always referred to the Johnson Amendment and all this kind of stuff as though we’re breaking the law if we address political issues from a biblical perspective. All this stuff starts getting very muddied. It’s an extremely vague portion of the IRS code, and it has become a fear tactic to silence people from addressing issues that the First Amendment protects. So, to answer your question, there are multiple ways where religious liberties are being infringed upon, and this applies not only to a believer or a non-believer or someone of a different faith or a Muslim or whatever it is. This is religious liberties. Whether you have a particular faith or not, you have the right to live according to the dictates of your conscience and to live out loud those dictates to the extent that it is within the boundaries of the law.
– You led the effort in Barrow County Georgia a few years back, as a lot of our viewers will remember, to have the Ten Commandments displayed in the courthouse there in Barrow County. The ACLU came after you. You lost that court battle, but what struck me during that whole time was that you said that your efforts were perhaps less about displaying the actual Ten Commandments and more about restoring a common moral code. Has American’s moral code been restored?
– Oh no. I think that it doesn’t take much to look around and say we’re losing our soul in this country. Part of it, the whole thing to me, Brad, is our country was based upon the understanding of limited government, and our founders gave us within that constitutionally limited government, a concept, the understanding the only way you can have limited government is when you have people who are self-governing their own lives with a genuine understanding of right and wrong. And within that understanding, they recognized the role of religion. They recognized the role of personal morality, and so they encouraged religious expression. And out of that, the First Amendment sings loudly and clearly that government’s not going to interfere with religious belief or the ability to express those beliefs in the public square because it’s a part of our whole system, and it’s extremely important.
– I think sometimes especially after an election, people watch you all in DC, and they say this is it. This is the time when things are going to change. This is the time when the moral code will be restored, when the ship will be righted, and it doesn’t happen. And when you say something like we’ve lost our soul, I mean, that’s powerful. And my question to you is when will we stop spinning our wheels? When can the voters back home say, “There it is. “Now we’re moving forward.” Republicans have the majority in both Houses. You have the White House. Why isn’t anything happening?
– Yeah, and those are great questions. You know, I’ve asked myself those questions many times–
– [Brad] What’s it like up there? Are you banging your head against the wall?
– It’s a very slow process. It’s very difficult to move the needle in Washington. It’s a lot bigger and deeper and wider and thicker and all that kind of stuff than I ever imagined, but there are some awesome people up there. But, understand, you’ve got not only two parties, but you have… Washington is a microcosm of our entire nation. Every one of those people up there are representing a district that voted them because that person adheres to the beliefs and values of that district more than anyone else who was running. And then you have the same thing in the Senate. And so you have 535 people all of whom are representing different groups in our country, and it’s a diverse country. And within that, there’s two primary Parties that are diverse, and within that context, it’s very slow to move the needle, as well it should be. You don’t want a particular Party coming and just cleaning the slate and making everything different. It is designed to be a slow process to protect everyone, but within that it is very much frustrating at times because it is so slow.
– I imagine. It’s not what you pictured is it?
– Not entirely. I had somewhat of an understanding. I think we all get a little bit of an understanding, but being there, it’s a bit messier than what I had imagined.
– Congressman Rick Allen, right after he was elected, sat in that same chair and pretty much said the same thing. A lot of the things more as he expected, but the slowness certainly kind of slaps you in the face when you get up there. Let me ask you about cyber security. I attended a meeting not too long ago where I was overwhelmed by the level of cyber threats that we face every day. Tons. How do you feel America is doing when it comes to thwarting those threats?
– Well the beginning point I think we’re doing good and coming to the realization that this is a massive, major threat. One that we must be equipped and ready to handle, and that’s why we are so blessed at Fort Gordon here and the job they’re doing is just remarkable in the cyber security and the… This is, I think, probably one of the, certainly one of the top three areas that our national security has got to stay focused on.
– You know, it’s really mind blowing when you think about the people who are out there trying to get into our bank accounts, who are trying to shut off our electrical systems. Why don’t they just do it? I’ve been told they have the capability. What’s keeping those people? Is it fear of World War Three? Why don’t they just do it, and then we retaliate?
– I don’t have the answer to that. We have some very high technical defense systems and some great people that are involved in preventing a lot of that from happening. But it still happens. We’ve all seen the breeches of data that’s very frightening. I just hope they don’t succeed, and that we continue having the caliber of what’s happening here in our own cyber security right here at Fort Gordon.
– Yeah, you’re right. We are working hard to stop it, and a lot of that work is happening right here. It’s a great point. Probably my last question. You go back to the Hill in a few days to resume your work. Can you give us a feel for the possibility of the Republican Party uniting any time soon? You all seem very split to say the least right now, fractured. When can y’all all get together and start acting as one? Or do we need to go back to what you just said? It’s not going to happen.
– The process is designed for people to come up and lay their ideas on the table. You duke it out, and the one whose ideas gets the most support rises to the top. It’s not designed to where we all come to the table and say we’ll do what so and so wants done. In that regard, it is a bit messy. The Party is not fragmented like the media would have you believe, but it is filled with ideas. And within that, there are different groups who believe we need to go this way or this way or whatever, but at the end of the day, we all want to go to the same point. For example, with healthcare. We all want to repeal and replace Obamacare with something that’s going to be good for the American people. Now, within that goal, there’s some believe we ought to do it this way, others this way. And so there’s difference of opinion, but we’re moving in the same direction. The fragmented part is not the issue. We’re going to get there. We’re going to get there with tax reform. We’re going to get there with rebuilding our military. We’re going to get there with all these issues, but along the way, there will be lots of discussion.
– Well, we are going to look forward to you keeping us posted hopefully in the months and years to come about what’s going on on Capitol Hill, and we thank you for your service for sure.
– Well, thank you very much. Always an honor to be with you.
– Absolutely. Us too. Congressman Jody Hice of Georgia’s tenth district. e entire Means Report family, you take care.