U.S. Rep. Nugent weighs in on Syria, other issues during town hall meeting

U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent addresses constituents Wednesday during a town hall meeting at PHCC’s Spring Hill campus.
U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent addresses constituents Wednesday during a town hall meeting at PHCC’s Spring Hill campus.
Published Aug. 29, 2013

SPRING HILL — Brian Moore and U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent don't agree on much.

Moore, a Spring Hill resident, ran for president on the Socialist ticket in 2008 and spends his free time protesting wars and drone strikes at Hernando County's busiest intersections. Nugent, a Spring Hill Republican, rarely deviates from his party's line.

But on Wednesday, as Moore stood in the quad of Pasco-Hernando Community College's Spring Hill campus holding signs bearing slogans such as "U.S. Congress: Block Attack on Syria," Nugent was inside the nearby conference center drawing applause during a town hall meeting by saying he is "absolutely, unequivocally opposed" to military intervention in the war-torn country.

"Tell me why this is in America's best interest to get involved," Nugent said. "Why should we spend a nickel? Why would we put any of our airmen, sailors, Marines and soldiers at risk?"

As member of the House Armed Services Committee, Nugent told the crowd of about 100 that he has access to classified briefings on the conflict.

"We don't even know who the good guys are," he said.

The comments came as the Obama administration pondered a military strike in response to what the United States and its allies say was a deadly chemical weapons attack perpetrated by the Syrian government.

Nugent said he felt sorry for the Syrian people caught in the middle of the conflict, including 1 million or so refugees in Jordan. But he said aid should come from Americans' "own personal pockets."

Constance Scavetta, a 73-year-old Spring Hill resident, told Nugent she agreed.

"I do not feel we should have our troops shed one more drop of blood for countries that hate us," Scavetta said.

Though the hourlong meeting took place on a college campus, audience members under the age of 30 were conspicuously absent.

Nugent used the first half-hour to update the crowd on some key issues and his stances. The former Hernando County sheriff noted his support for an ultimately unsuccessful amendment that would have limited the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance and data collection to Americans who are under investigation.

"The metadata collection across everyone in this room is just plain wrong," he said.

Nugent drew applause and a few boos when he touted his votes to repeal some or all of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. But he stopped short of agreeing with a man in the crowd who urged him to "shut down the frickin' government" in order to defund President Barack Obama's signature achievement.

Calling the Senate's sweeping immigration bill flawed, Nugent reiterated his call for a piecemeal approach to reform, starting with border security and help for people already here on visas.

A woman in the crowd asked why Republican House Speaker John Boehner hasn't called for outside investigations into the U.S. embassy attack in Libya and the NSA program, among other issues. Nugent's response drew more applause:

"I try not to ever criticize anyone in public," he said. "But at the end of the day, I don't think we're getting the leadership we need to get from the speaker of the House."

Toting his signs to his car after the meeting, Moore said he wasn't aware of Nugent's stance on Syria until Wednesday.

"Hallelujah," he said.