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Government & Politics

Will Handling Of The Russia Investigation Harm Nunes' Political Future?

Jeffrey Hess/KVPR
Protestors at a Nunes event

Valley congressman Devin Nunes is at the center of a political storm in Washington D.C. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have asked him to step aside from the investigation into potential connections between President Donald Trump and Russia. Some are worried that Nunes is too close to the president. But will the scandal will harm Nunes’ popularity?

For most of his seven terms in office, a public appearance by Congressman Devin Nunes would not be big news.

That is not the case anymore.

More than 250 people showed up last Friday on Blackstone Ave. in Fresno to chant and wave anti-Nunes signs calling on him to resign or step down from the investigation into the connections between Trump and Russia.

Among the crowd was 83-year-old Kay Pitts who is part of a group called The Raging Grannies. 

"Is he going to be the defender of the Trump Administration in the House of Representatives? Or is he going to be the independent investigator that is going to lead the kind of investigation that is going to clear up a lot of the fog?" Thomas Holyoke

“He obviously pays more attention to Trump than the voters. He has no idea that the rest of the world is out here. So we are hoping to raise his consciousness but I doubt we will,” Pitts says.

Valley Public Radio requested to attend a convention focused on water, where Nunes spoke last week and was denied entry.

We also placed a request with the Congressman’s office to have time to speak with him. A request that was also denied.

Nunes did appear last Friday on the local conservative talk radio station KMJ and said he would not have done anything differently.

“Well, I think it is easy to play Monday morning quarterback. But I think the big question is, whether or not I should have went to the White House and briefed the president. And I would say, ‘absolutely yes. That had to be done.’” Nunes said.

But what are people in his district, where he routinely wins by massive margins, saying?

Dairyman Tom Barcellos has known Nunes since the congressman was a child.

He has worked closely with him during his time in office primarily on water issues.

He thinks right now Nunes is in a tough spot and that his statements are getting taken out of context, but in the end, he believes Nunes will be vindicated.

Credit Jeffrey Hess/KVPR
Tom Barcellos

“You know, I think when the dust settles I think the facts will bear out that Devin did what was perceived to be right. And people will probably agree. Even though there will always be somebody who will view it differently. But ultimately, there is knowledge that he has that I know he cannot share.” Barcellos says.

At last week’s Annual United Western Dairymen Conference in Modesto, Justin Dabadie , who works for a feed company, spoke glowingly of Nunes.

He thinks Nunes has been a tenacious fighter, especially on agriculture issues, during his tenure.

“I think he has definitely fought the tough battles. You are going to win some. You are going to lose some. That is just kind of part of politics. But he is going to keep fighting for common sense and conservative values,” Dabadie says.

Even people in Tulare County who aren’t political allies have found a friend in Nunes.

Dennis Borges is the honorary Portuguese consul in Tulare.

He says his experience with the congressman has always been pleasant and that Nunes is polite and curious and has always worked with the Portuguese community in the area, even though he considers himself a political polar opposite.

“I disagree with him politically on about 99 percent of the stuff. But we are friends. So that kind of tells you a little bit about him, you know.” Borges says.

Fresno State political science professor Thomas Holyoke says Nunes is currently walking a tightrope.

On the one hand, the Congress is supposed to be independent of the executive branch.

But on the other, Nunes served on the Trump transition team and has worked to develop a close relationship with the president.

“That means he has what looks like a conflict of interest. And he really needs to decide which side he is going to be on. Is he going to be the defender of the Trump Administration in the House of Representatives? Or is he going to be the independent investigator that is going to lead the kind of investigation that is going to clear up a lot of the fog?” Holyoke says.

For now, Nunes remains firm in his intention to continue to lead the Intelligence Committee and the Republican leadership has expressed their support.

But as the story plays out it is unclear if he will be able to weather the storm or not and what impact that will have if he runs for re-election in 2018.

Democrats could sense an opening and for the first time in a long time mount a serious challenger.

Although, it would still be a difficult to unseat Nunes since Republicans hold a ten point registration advantage in the district.