WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - The summer break away from Washington, DC is not all relaxation for Congressman Walter B. Jones. The Republican serving his tenth term representing North Carolina's Third Congressional District has some homework to do.
Jones has not fully delved into the recent deal forged by Secretary of State John Kerry over Iran's nuclear program, but it on his immediate "to-do" list. With a likely Congressional vote on the deal coming sometime in September, the veteran Republican from Farmville says he does not want to make the same policy mistake again.
"I regret, and will till the day I die, that I did not do all the reading I should have done prior to President (George W.) Bush making the commitment to send our troops to Iraq," Jones said during a fundraising stop in Wilmington. "I don't blame President Bush for that, I blame myself. Obviously I think and I still believe the intelligence was manipulated by the Bush administration to sell the American people and Congress on the justification to go into Iraq. So, I'm taking this month to read this (Iran nuclear) agreement very carefully. I have also reached out to the former National Security Advisor to two presidents, Brent Scowcroft, to ask his advice on how he sees this. He's already come out in favor of it. I'm not there yet."
Jones said he has already received security briefings from Secretary Kerry on the issue, and he has some concerns and questions he wants answered. "Primarily the biggest concern I have is to make sure we have full access to the sites, and we have the ability through the proper agencies to do what is necessary to make sure Iran isn't cheating," Jones said. "That might not be possible, but that's what I've got to find out."
Jones brought Rep. Tim Massie, a Republican from Kentucky, to Wilmington for the fundraiser. Massie and Jones both supported Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC 11) recent motion to "vacate the chair" of House Speaker, aimed at relieving Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) of his duties as Speaker. Jones believes that will fuel more intense opposition within the party when he runs for re-election in 2016. Jones defeated challenger Taylor Griffin by a 51-45 percent margin in the 2014 GOP primary. According to reports, Griffin and at least one other candidate have announced plans to run against Jones in 2016.
"I think I'll have three or four (challengers in 2016) in the primary," Jones said when asked about seeking an eleventh term. "There will be people who will challenge me because the establishment in Washington, (House Speaker Rep. John) Boehner wants me out of office. That's pretty well known. So one of these men, the same one that ran last year, is chosen by the leadership to come down here, and they'll make sure that person has enough money to run a very competitive campaign, probably with more money than I'll have."
Jones has a history, and reputation, for going against his party's leadership on high-profile issues. He says that is driven by a desire to do what is best for his constituents, even if it means drawing the ire of those in power inside the halls of Congress.
"I see how the citizens are being cheated by the system in Washington," he says. "There are a few of us who believe the American people, and the people of the Third District have a right to have a man or woman of integrity to represent their interests. I hope and pray that I am a man of integrity, I am a man of very strong faith, and I intend not to let the people of the third district be cheated by people who become puppets of the leadership."
Jones says the distrust of politicians is what is driving the popularity of current presidential candidates Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders. He believes they are tapping into the anti-establishment feeling of many voters.
"Deep, deep frustration," Jones says when asked why Trump is enjoying a healthy lead in the polls among the GOP candidates for the White House. "I see it here in Eastern North Carolina. I think people see the influence of money in Washington. I say many times that too many times, the policies on the floor (of the U.S House of Representatives) are driven by money and not by the people."