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Nolan: Russia scandal worse than Watergate and GOP health care bill worse than it appears

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U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan exits a hunting stand manufactured by Rotomolding of Little Falls during a visit to their facility May 11. Zach Kayser/Forum News Service2 / 3
U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., talked Thursday to a town hall-style meeting at the Brainerd Public Library. Nolan discussed the GOP's Affordable Care Act repeal efforts, the recent firing of FBI Director James Comey, and Russian influence in the 2016 election for the crowd that gathered. Steve Kohls/Forum News Service3 / 3

BRAINERD, Minn.—U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., talked about the firing of FBI director James Comey as well as the Obamacare repeal bill Thursday in Brainerd as he continued a series of town hall meetings.

"We've had some pretty far-reaching events happen this past week in the Congress," he told a forum at the Brainerd Public Library, by way of introductory remarks.

The distinctly Nolan-friendly crowd of about 40, including a group of high school students, contrasted sharply with hostile crowds that have greeted Nolan's Republican counterparts at their official town halls over the past few months.

Holding up a copy of the GOP's American Health Care Act that he annotated himself, Nolan decried the bill, which aims to alter and repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act.

"You may be one of the few people with a congressman who's read the thing," he said.

The Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan analysis arm of the government, scored a previous AHCA bill that failed to get a vote. But Nolan said Republicans in the House of Representatives didn't wait for the new final version to be scored before they voted on it.

"I can tell you that those parts of it that people find most egregious, myself included ... it's perhaps even worse than what it appears," he said. "Since none of it takes effect until the end of this year, there was no need to rush through this thing. No need whatsoever. We needed to have given the CBO a chance to do the scoring and the analysis."

On the Russia affair, Nolan pointed out 17 of America's intelligence gathering agencies agreed Russia interfered in the 2016 election. That made fishy circumstances for FBI Director James Comey's firing, Nolan said. Nolan said he didn't buy the Trump administration's stated reasoning the firing was in response to Comey's actions during the Hillary Clinton email investigation.

"If you believe (Trump) fired him because (Comey) wasn't being nice to Hillary Clinton—holy mackerel, people have got some land in Florida they want to sell you," he joked.

Interviewed after a business tour of Rotomolding in Little Falls later on Thursday, Nolan said he introduced bipartisan legislation to establish an independent commission on the alleged connection between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Articles of impeachment against a president originate in the House of Representatives, before being tried in the Senate. Asked what the "red line" would be to prompt him to vote to impeach Trump, Nolan listed several possible criteria. First, if Trump violated the "emoluments clause" of the U.S. Constitution—that is, getting material benefit from a foreign entity—that could be grounds for Nolan to vote for impeachment. Trump could also be impeached if he actively colluded with the Russians or covered up collusion, Nolan said.

"If they have (Trump) saying, 'Don't worry about it—you go after Hillary Clinton and we'll give you relief from the sanctions,' that's criminal, that's a quid pro quo," Nolan said. "That should not be coming out of the president's mouth."

The Watergate scandal was in full swing just before Nolan was elected to his first stint in Congress beginning in 1975. Asked whether the current Russia scandal rose to the severity of Watergate, Nolan said it did.

"Maybe even worse," he added. "Because Russian interference with our democratic processes is a threat to our sovereignty, our independence, the integrity and good faith of the American people. Nixon was just guilty of some—obviously inappropriate—but low-grade criminal behavior: breaking into your oppositions' offices and stealing some stationary, covering it up. At one level, it's felonious, but pales in comparison to ... at least what the allegations are, in (the Russia case)."

On another topic, Nolan has been publicly wondering if he should run for governor to replace retiring Gov. Mark Dayton. Nolan previously said he would wait to decide until July, but he said Thursday the decision may come sooner. Asked what would push him over the edge to run, Nolan said he needed time to speak with people in his district—the general public and politicos alike.

"I do know I've still got some good energy, and skills and abilities that I can help the 8th District and help our country (with)," he said.

Asked whether he and gubernatorial competitor U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, another rural Democrat, have an overlapping appeal to voters, Nolan said he won by bigger margins and in a larger district. In addition, all candidates have a similar path of support demographics they have to pick up to win, he said, no matter if they were Democrats or Republicans.

"To win a gubernatorial election, you've got to have support from all segments of our society," he said.