In a wide-ranging interview with The Florida Roundup, U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, a Republican from Jacksonville and former sheriff, talked about avoiding a government shutdown, the chaotic House Speaker race and his longtime efforts to ban oil and gas drilling of Florida’s coast.
Rutherford, whose district includes parts of Jacksonville and St. Augustine, also weighed in on the 2024 presidential contest. He is serving his fourth term in the House and is a member of the influential House Appropriations Committee.
A staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump, Rutherford said he remains unmoved by the 91 felony counts Trump is facing in four criminal cases in Washington, New York, Florida and Georgia. He has said Trump is being “systematically targeted” by state and federal prosecutors.
“All of these cases revolve around political speech, political actions,” Rutherford said Friday.
He argued that Democratic New York Attorney General Letitia James, the prosecutor in the civil fraud case against Trump, ran her campaign in singling out Trump and that there were no victims in her case against him. James alleges Trump and other defendants duped banks, insurers and others by inflating his wealth on financial statements.
“The banks were all paid. My understanding is nobody lost any money,” said Rutherford.
The New York judge overseeing the civil fraud case has already ruled that Trump and other defendants committed fraud by exaggerating Trump’s net worth and the value of assets on his financial statements. The judge must now decide on more than $300 million in penalties and a ban on Trump doing business in New York sought by prosecutors.
He said two key issues are of utmost importance to his constituents in North Florida and the nation: the economy and security, both domestic and international.
“I honestly believe that had President Trump been really elected [in 2020], we wouldn’t be in the Ukraine right now. Hamas would not have attacked Israel. And I don’t think China would be looking to Taiwan,” he told The Florida Roundup host Tom Hudson
President Biden’s handling of the economy, he said, has been “horrible.”
“I did endorse President Trump very early on because I know looking at the economy that we had put together in 2018 and 2019, growing at 3.5% GDP growth, it was significant,” said Rutherford.
Trump is polling far ahead in the race to win the Republican presidential primary over his rivals, including Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Avoiding government shutdown
Congress can avoid a government shutdown later this month, said Rutherford, who said that he’s been encouraged by some fellow House GOP colleagues no longer saying a shutdown is “a good thing.”
“I thought that was the most foolish thing I’d ever heard back then, but you don’t hear that now,” he said. “They don’t want to shut down.”
New House Speaker Mike Johnson, he said, is moving legislation forward through the chamber, including crucial spending bills to avoid a shutdown. He stressed, however, that his House colleagues may need to approve a “stopgap” spending bill to give them enough time to negotiate the passage of all the spending bills to fund the government.
“We don’t have a long enough runway now to get all these bills in before Nov. 17,” he said, noting the next deadline for approving the spending bills without passing another extension.
He said, however, any stopgap bill would have to fund government spending into January and include cuts.
Rutherford said he also wants to see included the creation of a bipartisan debt commission to deal with the nation’s massive $33 trillion debt.
On the chaotic House speaker race
Rutherford was critical of U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, the hard-charging House Judiciary Committee chairman backed by Trump, for refusing to accept the first round voting when GOP members selected House Majority Leader Steve Scalise as a replacement for McCarthy as speaker. Jordan’s wing rejected Scalise.
“Steve Scalise won the majority, and Jim Jordan refused to follow the majority in that election,” he said.
“Jim later apologized for the way he acted and what he said and did that evening, but the damage was already done,” Rutherford said.
He noted that the eight Republicans who joined Democrats to oust then House Speaker Kevin McCarthy pushed a false narrative that the previous spending bills didn’t contain significant cuts.
“That was another falsehood that was perpetrated by the eight that really wanted to shut the government down at that time,” Rutherford said.
He said the new House Speaker, Mike Johnson, is an ideal choice.
“We came together solidly behind Mike Johnson because everybody trusts him … and they recognize that he’s very smart, very intelligent, great communicator,” he said. “And one of the things that I love about him is he lives his faith in the marketplace, which is why I think he’s got such broad appeal.”
Protecting Florida coasts from oil and gas drilling
Rutherford wants to extend moratoriums in place to prohibit the exploration and drilling of oil and gas reserves off the Florida coasts of the Atlantic, the Florida Straits and the Gulf of Mexico.
He said such a ban would not hurt U.S. efforts for energy independence and that Congress can revisit the issue when the moratoriums expire in 2032.
“Our No. 1 economy in Florida is tourism,” said Rutherford. “And they come for our pristine beaches. And so we wanted to protect that. But also wanted to protect it not only from drilling but from seismic testing because of the harm that it does to our mammal population in the oceans.”
“It’s been proven that those seismic guns with those blasts have detrimental effect on all sorts of mammals out in the ocean,” he added.
Rutherford said his legislation would extend the moratorium on drilling on federal waters to 200 miles. The urgency to protect Florida’s coastal waters stems is rooted in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. It was America’s biggest oil spill, with more than 130 million gallons, marring miles of coastline from Texas to Florida.
In 2018, the Trump administration had proposed an offshore drilling plan that included the Florida coast. Under pressure from then Republican Gov. Rick Scott, the administration reversed its decision and imposed a ban on oil drilling off the state’s coasts.