Rep. Thomas Massie, a conservative libertarian Republican from Kentucky, attracted the ire Friday of his congressional colleagues and President Donald Trump, who urged his party to “throw Massie out” of the GOP.
Massie’s opposition to a $2 trillion economic relief package aimed at stabilizing the nation’s economy through the tumult of the coronavirus pandemic forced lawmakers to return to the Capitol Friday. Leaders of both parties had been hoping to pass the measure on a voice vote, but Massie tried to force a recorded vote.
“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.
By then, however, enough members had arrived in the House, with some sitting in the otherwise-closed visitors’ galleries to maintain appropriate social distancing, that a quorum was present. Massie’s request was rejected because he did not have enough people joining him, and the voice vote stood. The bill now goes to Trump for his signature.
As he left the Capitol, he called the process a “big cover-up,” with leaders from both sides of the aisle trying to protect their members from “political ramifications” of putting their votes on the record.
“These people need to do their jobs. If they are telling people to drive a truck, if they are telling people to bag groceries, and grow their food, then, by golly, they can be in a room and vote,” he said. “They don't want to be on record of making the biggest mistake in history.”
Earlier, Massie laid out his objection to the bill on Twitter.
“I am not delaying the bill like Nancy Pelosi did last week,” he wrote, referring to the House Speaker. “The bill that was worked on in the Senate late last week was much better before Speaker Pelosi showed up to destroy it and add days and days to the process.”
He added: “This stimulus should go straight to the people rather than being funneled through banks and corporations like this bill is doing.”
Condemnation of Massie was widespread, reaching the point where Trump sent out one tweet praising former Secretary of State John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, for a tweet that said Massie should be “quarantined to prevent the spread of his massive stupidity.”
Yet despite the rage from the president on down, it’s unclear whether Massie, who won his fourth term with 62 percent of the vote in 2018, could face serious electoral consequences.
In the deep red 4th District, any political pressure would come from a primary challenge instead of in the general election. Trump carried the district by 36 points in 2016 and Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Solid Republican.
Massie is facing one Republican opponent in the primary, which was recently postponed from May 19 to June 23. Attorney Todd McMurtry filed to run against Massie in January, telling the Louisville Courier Journal that he was jumping into the race to support Trump. McMurtry represented a Covington Catholic student who settled a defamation lawsuit against CNN after the student’s widely circulated confrontation with a Native American activist.
“Amongst all Republicans in Washington, Thomas Massie is considered the most anti-Trump Republican, the person that votes with the president the least,” McMurtry said.
Massie voted with members of his party 78 percent of the time on votes that divided Democrats and Democrats in 2018, according to CQ Vote Studies data. He voted for Trump’s preferred outcome on vote legislation 43 percent of the time, the data for 2018 show.
It’s not clear yet if McMurtry will have the resources to wage a competitive race. He filed to run after the start of the first fundraising quarter, which ends on March 31, so his first disclosures to the Federal Election Commission are not due until mid-April.
Scott Jennings, a veteran of several Kentucky political campaigns and a partner at Louisville-based RunSwitch Public Relations, called McMurtry a “legitimate contender.”
“I am not sure how much money he has in the bank or plans to spend, but given the president’s intervention this morning I would take every dollar I had and get that message up on TV and in people’s mailboxes,” Jennings said.
Jennings called Trump’s comments “a real wrinkle in this primary” and “the best chance McMurtry had.”
“He got his break, and now it will be interesting to see if he can ride it to an upset win,” Jennings said
Massie signaled earlier this year that he was taking McMurty’s challenge seriously. In January, Massie’s campaign launched a T.V. ad highlighting past Facebook comments from McMurtry that were critical of Trump, calling the president “the epitome of a weak male.”
The ad aired in Florida when Trump was at his Mar-a-Lago club, and Politico reported at the time that Massie’s campaign launched the ad to show Trump McMurtry’s old comments.
The Courier Journal reported last summer that “national Republicans” had approached state Rep. Kim Moser about challenging Massie in a primary. But she ultimately decided not to run.
The anti-tax Club for Growth, which endorsed Massie in February, issued a poll last summer amid reports that Republicans were trying to recruit Moser. Fifty percent of those surveyed said they would vote for Massie in the GOP primary regardless of his challenger, while 36 percent said they would consider another candidate.
The telephone survey, conducted by WPA Intelligence, surveyed 400 likely GOP primary voters. A mix of computer and live interviews were conducted using a combination of landlines and cell phones. The poll was conducted from July 8 to July 9 in 2019.
Massie had just under $220,000 cash on hand in his re-election committee, according to filings with the FEC covering 2019.
His top sources of funds, for his campaign and leadership political action committee combined, are retired people followed by the food processing industry, the air transportation sector and gun rights organizations, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign money.
Massie, who is 49 and married with four children, lists his occupations as farmer and technology executive. He earned two degrees, including a master’s in mechanical engineering, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Fought Boehner, Ryan
Massie, whose Kentucky district stretches for about 200 miles along the Ohio River, considers himself a libertarian and has been a thorn in House GOP leadership’s side for years. He is a member of the Oversight and Reform panel as well as the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee.
He has bragged that he helped create the pressure that led then-Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio to step down as Speaker in 2015, saying, “I think John Boehner would still be speaker if I weren’t here.”
Later, when Republican Paul D. Ryan had taken over Boehner’s role, Massie said: “It’s worse now.”
In a series of Tweets, Trump called him a “third rate Grandstander,” while Brendan Buck, a former spokesman for Boehner and Ryan, slammed Massie for forcing colleagues who are older and thereby considered more vulnerable to potentially fatal consequences from the virus, to travel to debate a measure that is a foregone conclusion.
“Thomas Massie is legitimately threatening the health of his colleagues, many in their 60s or 70s even 80s,” Buck tweeted. “I hope no one forgets what he’s done here.”
One Republican lobbyist who previously worked with House leaders on Capitol Hill also implied Massie was a hypocrite.
“It’s just grandstanding, his effort to delay the stimulus will not change the outcome,” said Sam Geduldig, co-CEO of the firm CGCN Group. “He also rails against the swamp, rails against lobbyists, and then sends emails to lobbyists to attend his fundraisers, which arrive in our in-boxes quarterly.”