ST. PETERSBURG — U.S. Rep. David Jolly addressed the Veterans Affairs scandal and said intervention in Iraq should be "on the table" at a Suncoast Tiger Bay political club luncheon Monday, his first appearance since winning office.
Jolly, who won Florida's 13th congressional district over Democrat Alex Sink in a March special election, focused on concerns over care and facilities for veterans in the wake of VA secretary Eric Shinseki's resignation in May. The event was held at Orange Blossom Catering in downtown St. Petersburg.
Jolly has called for an inquiry into procedures at the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center after dozens of veterans died while waiting for care in Phoenix. He said he supported exploring whether private hospitals might be able to help with the waiting list for care at VA facilities.
"When it comes to the future of the VA health care system, it's about getting it right," he said. "And that requires a conversation with veteran service organizations, with the budget team and with the VA itself."
The congressman has invited local veterans to his Seminole office today to discuss any concerns or problems they've had in obtaining care.
During the question-and-answer portion of the event, an attendee asked if Jolly would work to close loopholes in gun legislation to put stricter control on gun buyers with mental health problems. Jolly responded that he already had, voting for an amendment to increase funding for background checks.
Jolly said requiring people to report medical information in order to purchase firearms is a moral quandary that must be properly addressed, but a constitutionally sound solution must be reached.
"I do believe the Second Amendment is a fundamental right, but I don't believe it's beyond the reach of regulation, and I believe it's appropriate to look at regulations that ultimately keep the guns out of the hands of criminals," he said.
Moving to the Middle East, Jolly told a questioner he thought Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl should have been retrieved, but that the White House had botched procedures in order to secure the prisoner of war. He also said the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad should be protected at all costs as Islamic militants take over vast swaths of Iraq.
"Intervention, whether air strikes or not, should be a consideration on the table for the purpose of protecting American lives," he said.
The winner of the Tiger Bay Club's Fang and Claw Award for toughest question was former club president Thomas Churchill Dunn, who asked Jolly if he agreed with Jeb Bush's characterization that the GOP was perceived as being against women, gays, minorities and science. Jolly said the concern was valid, but drawn from broad suppositions about the party that should be tempered with the knowledge that politicians should push to find workable solutions.
He used his own stance on gay marriage as an example. A preacher's son, his faith defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, but he said those are his own beliefs.
"Constitutionally, I believe if Republicans are going to be a less-government party, that also means on issues of everybody's faith," Jolly said. "And so if a state chooses to embrace same-sex marriage, then that's a constitutional privilege that reflects the tenets of a less-government party."