WASHINGTON (AP) — Rep. Thomas Massie has always gone his own way in Congress, ever since he first ran for office inspired by a fellow libertarian-leaning Kentuckian, Rand Paul.
Now in his fourth term, the Republican from northern Kentucky has frequently voted no on issues large and small, even against the wishes of GOP leaders.
He did it again Friday by attempting to force a roll call vote on the sweeping $2.2 trillion coronavirus aid package — the only member of Congress willing to stall, if not block, the historic legislation.
While his effort failed, Massie’s action forced hundreds of lawmakers to return to the Capitol after a nearly two-week recess — potentially exposing them to the coronavirus and contradicting the wishes of public health experts who have urged Americans to keep a safe social distance from one another to avoid exacerbating the pandemic.
Not even pressure from GOP leaders — and tweets by President Donald Trump calling Massie a “third rate Grandstander” — were enough to stop the 49-year-old Massie from trying to hold up what he considered to be an unconstitutional vote for a wasteful bill.
Massie said his request for a recorded vote was “to make sure our republic doesn’t die by unanimous consent in an empty chamber.”
In a series of tweets Friday, Massie said he swore an oath to uphold the Constitution and takes it seriously. The Constitution requires that a quorum of members be present to conduct business in the House, he said, noting that millions of Americans are still required to go to work during the pandemic, including health care workers and those on manufacturing lines.
“Is it too much to ask that the House do its job, just like the Senate did?” he said, adding that the bill was “stuffed full” of pork added by Democrats. He pointed to $25 million for the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington and grants for the National Endowment for the Humanities and Arts.
Trump tore into Massie in a series of tweets Friday. “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. He just wants the publicity. He can’t stop it, only delay, which is both dangerous & costly,” Trump wrote.
Trump called Massie “a disaster for America, and for the Great State of Kentucky!” and urged GOP leaders to “throw Massie out of Republican Party!”
The move — and Trump’s rebuke — could hamper Massie’s reelection prospects. He is facing a spirited 2020 primary challenge from Todd McMurtry, an attorney who represented a Kentucky student who became embroiled in media lawsuits after a viral encounter with a Native American activist in Washington, D.C., in early 2019.
Frustrated and angry House lawmakers also lashed out at Massie.
”Because of one Member of Congress refusing to allow emergency action entire Congress must be called back to vote in House,” Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., tweeted early Friday. “Risk of infection and risk of legislation being delayed. Disgraceful. Irresponsible.”
Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., called Massie’s threats “an act of vanity and selfishness that goes beyond comprehension. … The fact that he would put people who are at risk .. in order to satisfy his vanity is a pretty pathetic reflection on his character.”
Massie, educated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, got his start in national politics putting up campaign signs for Paul’s renegade run a decade ago. He went on to seek office himself modeled after Paul and his small government, constitutional conservatism approach.
Soft-spoken yet stubborn, Massie has gained a reputation as a deficit hawk and staunch gun-rights supporter willing to go his own way in Congress, even if it means bucking his own party. Massie was among a handful of Republicans to vote for a Democratic-backed resolution asserting that Trump must seek congressional approval before engaging in further military action against Iran.
He stands so far to the right of his House colleagues that he declined to join the then-budding House Freedom Caucus, where tea party Republicans have pushed for smaller government and conservative ideals.
His office has been decorated with his patents as an inventor — he lives in a largely off-the-grid house he built himself — and also a digital clock of the nation’s debt load.
Like Trump, Massie uses Twitter to prod his colleagues along, sometimes signing off his tweets #SassyMassie. He took Trump’s jabs in stride Friday, joking that he was at least “second rate” as a grandstander.
House leaders brought up the aid package on a voice vote, meaning it would pass with members calling out either “aye” or “nay,” but the procedure allows for any one lawmaker to ask for a recorded vote. Massie did so but was unable win enough support among House members to force a recorded vote, as determined by the presiding officer at the time, Democratic Rep. Anthony Brown of Maryland.
Trump signed the bill on Friday.
Massie said after the House vote there was a “cover-up” by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Republican leader Kevin McCarthy and others who didn’t want a recorded vote, even though they knew they’d win. “The truth, if you’re willing to report it, is they don’t want a recorded vote,” he told reporters outside the Capitol. ”They don’t want to be on record of making the biggest mistake in history.”
Pelosi, who spoke with McCarthy and Massie before he took the floor, said she and other leaders told Massie: “Why don’t you just back off? Go to the floor, make the best speech that you can … on the process or the policy or whatever it is. But don’t make it take longer to get this done.”
Massie voted for the first coronavirus relief measure in early March, but missed the vote for a second measure on March 14. He told The Cincinnati Enquirer he would have voted no if he’d been in Washington because the bill could put small companies “out of business.”
Kentucky’s primary election, usually in late May, was pushed back to June 23 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Massie’s prospects could be affected by the scathing Twitter attack from Trump, who remains popular in Kentucky.
McMurtry, a staunch Trump supporter, has kept up steady attacks against Massie since entering the race, and he slammed Massie’s opposition to the $2 trillion-plus coronavirus-relief package as another sign that the incumbent is out of touch with his district.
“Thomas Massie is putting his own selfish agenda before the needs of our healthcare providers, small businesses and hard working Americans,” McMurtry said Friday, calling Massie “an embarrassment to Kentucky and the Republican Party.”
Trump’s social media diatribe against Massie could end up overshadowing the spring campaign, ramping up McMurtry’s primary threat, said Republican strategist Scott Jennings.
“Trump’s intervention has beaten other GOP incumbents, and it definitely could in this district, too,” Jennings said.
Massie’s actions also drew the wrath of former Secretary of State John Kerry, a Democrat who sparred with Massie last year. Seeking to undermine Kerry’s testimony on climate change, Massie questioned Kerry’s “science degree” from Yale. Kerry explained it was actually a Bachelor of Arts in political science. ”How do you get a Bachelor of Arts in a science?” Massie asked, adding: “I think it’s somewhat appropriate that someone with a pseudoscience degree is here pushing pseudoscience in front of our committee today.’ ‘
Kerry asked Massie if he was serious: “This is really happening here?”
Kerry got his revenge Friday, using a crude term to describe Massie on Twitter, adding that he and Trump finally agreed on something: their mutual disdain for Massie.
Trump returned the compliment, tweeting he “never knew John Kerry had such a good sense of humor! Very impressed!”
Associated Press writers Padmananda Rama and Laurie Kellman in Washington and Bruce Schreiner in Frankfort, Ky., contributed to this report.