Massie, long an outlier, is a House pariah after forcing members to gather, against public-health advice, to pass virus-relief bill

Rep. Thomas Massie spoke Friday. (Associated Press photo)

By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

Thomas Massie, the congressman from Kentucky’s Fourth District, has long been at the limits of elective politics at the national level. He is more Libertarian than Republican, but his strong stands against the tax-and-spend mentality of the federal government harken back to Republicans of old, such as the late Sen. Robert Taft of Cincinnati, just across the Ohio River from the most populous part of his district.

Now that the Republican Party has been taken over by Donald Trump and seems not to care about the nearly $24 trillion national debt and the budget deficits that build it, Massie is even more an outlier. And he made that even more so Friday, by demanding a roll-call vote on the $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill, forcing his colleagues to attend against public-health advice. Then Trump said he should be thrown out of the party.

Trump said on Twitter, “Looks like a third rate Grandstander named @RepThomasMassie, a Congressman from, unfortunately, a truly GREAT state, Kentucky, wants to vote against the new Save Our Workers Bill in Congress.” Trump tweeted early Friday. “Workers [and] small businesses need money now in order to survive. Virus wasn’t their fault. It is ‘HELL’ dealing with the Dems, had to give up some stupid things in order to get the ‘big picture’ done. 90% GREAT! WIN BACK HOUSE, but throw Massie out of Republican Party!”

House members were in their districts, and many didn’t want to return to Washington to vote, to avoid the risks of travel and gatherings; most are “older or with a pre-existing health condition,” The New York Times noted. “Many were privately terrified of the health risks of traveling.” So, House leaders planned to pass the bill without a roll-call vote. But Massie, 49, drove his Tesla seven hours from Lewis County to Washington to object.

“Mister Speaker, I came here to make sure our republic doesn’t die by unanimous consent in an empty chamber, and I request a recorded vote,” he said on the floor. “I object on the basis that a quorum is not present and make a point of order that a quorum is present.”

House staff had counted the members, the presiding officer ruled that a quorum of 216 was present, Massie’s request for a roll call didn’t get a required second, and the bill passed by an unrecorded voice vote, with many members in the House gallery to keep from sitting close to each other. Trump signed it later in the day.
But Massie had an impact, because he had refused to say that he would not object, and that caused many of his colleagues to make unwanted trips to the Capitol, enough for a quorum, the Times reported. They were “infuriated and terrified as they put their health on the line amid a rapidly spreading pandemic to grudgingly board empty flights or drive back to the Capitol,” the Times said.

That didn’t seem to bother Massie. “The Constitution requires that a quorum of members be present to conduct business in the House. Right now, millions of essential, working-class Americans are still required to go to work during this pandemic,” he said in a long statement before his request. “Is it too much to ask that the House do its job, just like the Senate did?”

The Times reported, “Massie has never been one of the more beloved members of the House, but on Friday, he became in short order its most reviled representative, bringing together Democrats and Republicans — who had spent days fighting bitterly over the economic aid bill — around shared contempt for one man.”

Massie even put Trump on the same page with former Secretary of State John Kerry, who was a U.S. senator when he was the Democratic nominee for president in 2004 and was a target of Massie last year. He quipped that “Massie “has tested positive for being an asshole,” and should “be quarantined to prevent the spread of his massive stupidity.” Trump retweeted, “Never knew John Kerry had such a good sense of humor!” Very impressed!”
But Massie has been re-elected three times, and has his admirers. “His unwillingness to bend on even the smallest issue has charmed a slew of powerful conservative groups, including the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks,” the Times notes. “His closest friends on Capitol Hill are Representative Justin Amash, the Republican turned independent from Michigan who is also a frequent invoker of constitutional principle, and Sen. Rand Paul.”

The Washington Post interviewed Massie and reported that he “disclaimed responsibility for forcing members back to Washington,” arguing that House leaders, including top Republican Kevin McCarthy, “should have adhered to the letter of the Constitution and chamber rules.” He told the paper, “I am wholly rejecting the notion that I am the culpable one because I am insisting on the rules. Why aren’t you indicting Kevin McCarthy for conspiracy to circumvent the Constitution?”

“Only a few fellow lawmakers expressed support for Massie afterward,” the Post reports.

Massie has a June 23 primary foe, Northern Kentucky lawyer Todd McMurtry, who says the incumbent hasn’t voted with Trump enough. He issued a statement accusing Massie of “putting his own selfish agenda before the needs of our healthcare providers, small businesses, and hard working Americans” and called him “an embarrassment to Kentucky and the Republican Party.” The Post reported, “One influential group, the Republican Jewish Coalition, announced Friday it would endorse McMurtry.”

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