Americans could be forgiven if they’re feeling a bit whiplashed by recent events in the nation’s capital. Less than a week after House Republicans voted to dismantle Barack Obama’s health care law, President Donald Trump abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey — only the second time in history that an FBI chief has been removed from office.
Then, on Wednesday, Trump met with Russia’s top diplomat amid ongoing FBI and congressional probes of Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election and possible contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.
As voters processed the latest batch of news out of Washington, their opinions on Comey’s dramatic sacking seemed to divide along familiar partisan lines: Republicans and Trump supporters saw it as necessary, while Democrats viewed it with suspicion.
Pennsylvania resident Tom Stump took a different tack, urging people to slow down and let the facts on Comey develop. “I’d say the jury’s still out,” he said.
‘I CAN SEE RIGHT THROUGH HIM’
As a Democrat who voted for Hillary Clinton, Loretta Shollenberger is no fan of Comey. She believes he helped decide the November election for Trump when he reopened the investigation into Clinton’s email practices in the waning days of the campaign.
But Shollenberger believes Trump’s firing of Comey had nothing to do with his handling of the probe.
“It’s bogus,” said Shollenberger, 69, from Mohrsville, Pennsylvania. “I think they’re getting a little too close with his ties to Russia.”
Trump hoodwinked his supporters, she said, but “he doesn’t have me buffaloed. I can see right through him.”
Shollenberger said she’s concerned about the direction of the country and places blame squarely at the feet of the president.
“I would like to see him impeached and locked up,” she said.
‘KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT’
Tom Hier, 54, a Navy veteran and disabled security officer from Valrico, Florida, fully supports Trump’s decision on Comey.
“As the FBI director, you’ve got to know when to say stuff and know when to keep your mouth shut,” he said.
Hier was in downtown Bartow, Florida, on Wednesday for the campaign kickoff of Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam. Other Republicans at the event, including 77-year-old retiree Bill Ockington of The Villages, expressed similar views.
“But I’m surprised it happened,” he said, “because everything is still up in the air.”
By “everything,” he meant the Russia probe.
“I think that should continue,” he said.
Patricia Brooks, 65, of Lakeland, said she’s looking forward to learning more about Trump’s rationale.
“I still have confidence right now,” she said. “I’m hoping he’s doing the right things for the right reasons and for the good of the country.”
Oklahoma City bookstore owner Charles Martin supported Hillary Clinton in November, but he’s tried to remain hopeful during the Trump presidency.
But Trump’s latest move has him worried.
Firing the FBI director amid an ongoing investigation into possible contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia is un-American and something expected in a “strong-arm regime,” said Martin, 40.
“What is unsettling about this is it looks like we might be getting to the end of what’s been a national embarrassment and starting to approach the cusp of a national tragedy,” Martin said. “Ten years down the road, are we going to be looking back at this as, ‘I can’t believe that this was a thing that we did — how funny?’ Or is this going to be, ‘Wow this is where it all started falling apart?'”
COMEY FIRING ‘NECESSARY’
Harding Aslinger, a 70-year-old retiree who was visiting St. Louis’s Gateway Arch from Chattanooga, Tennessee, called Comey’s firing “necessary for the betterment of the government” and said he has “total confidence” in the president and his administration.
Nearby, Robin Pickens, a 53-year-old St. Louis bank worker, took a lunchtime walk around the Arch. She said she believes Trump fired Comey because he was concerned about what Comey was learning during his Russia probe.
“I don’t trust them,” Pickens said of Trump’s inner circle.
‘WE NEED TO KNOW’
Like other Clinton supporters, Cheri Zettel found the timing of Comey’s firing suspicious because of the Russia probe. She wants a special prosecutor to take over the investigation.
“They may find nothing, and that’s fine too. But we need to know,” she said.
Zettel, 57, of Dallas, said the U.S. “can’t have constant influence in our elections, or we’ve lost our democracy.”
She added: “I’m not thrilled that Comey had so much influence on our election … but nobody was looking at firing him when it was all about Hillary Clinton.”
‘IT SEEMS AT SUCH A VULNERABLE TIME’
Mary Smith, a registered independent who voted for Hillary Clinton, said she is still trying to make sense of it all.
“I don’t understand it,” said Smith, 71, of Schenectady, New York, as she waited at the Albany airport. “It seems at such a vulnerable time when he’s trying to investigate the Russian connection to Flynn, that this action would be taken.”
Smith said she believes there should be an investigation, but not by Congress.
“It should be by an impartial panel of sorts and not a congressional endeavor.”
‘SOMETHING TO HIDE’
Mark Collier, a 43-year-old project manager at a financial services company in Los Angeles, said his office was buzzing with the news of Comey’s firing Wednesday morning.
He said a Trump supporter didn’t think it was a big deal. Collier begged to differ.
“Trump has something to hide. I’m not buying his rationale that he mishandled the Clinton emails. I think that’s a smoke screen, and he’s trying to hide collusion with Russia,” said Collier, who voted for Clinton.
“I have no problem with him being publicly fired because I agree he did a poor job of handling the email situation, and I do believe his actions did lead to Trump’s win,” Collier said.
Collier thinks Democrats need to win the House in order to obtain an objective investigation.
“I don’t trust the Republicans whatsoever to conduct an objective investigation,” he said. “I think we need to start raising hell to pressure them and in 2018 we need to double down on winning back the House so Nancy Pelosi can look into this.”
‘I DON’T LET THINGS UPSET ME TOO MUCH’
When it comes to Donald Trump, Tom Stump is taking the long view.
Stump, 70, who works at a car dealership in Hamburg, Pennsylvania, said he’s not yet formed an opinion about Trump’s firing of Comey, preferring to let the story develop.
“I keep an eye on it but at this stage in my life, nothing’s really shocking. It’s a change in politics, a new president with new ideas.”
Stump did not vote in the November election but called himself a Trump supporter.
A Civil War buff and Vietnam veteran, he said, “America’s very flexible and she’s always been very flexible, so I think she can tolerate just about anything. I really believe that. … Sometimes adversity is a good thing in American life.”
Rubinkam reported from Hamburg, Pennsylania. Tamara Lush in Bartow, Florida, Jim Salter in St. Louis, Jamie Stengle in Dallas, Adam Kealoha Causey in Oklahoma City, and Amanda Myers in Los Angeles contributed to this report.