Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., is fiercely independent. He likes to remind us how he was the only Republican in the House of Representatives who did not vote for Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., for speaker of the House. When most of the GOP conference was pushing an Obamacare replacement bill that did not fully repeal Obamacare, Massie changed his vote to “Hell No.” A constitutional conservative with a libertarian disposition, he refuses to join the House Freedom Caucus because after their two-hour meeting, they’ll end up voting the right way right along with him. And if they don’t vote with him? Well, he’s not afraid to tell fellow conservatives when he thinks they’re dead wrong.
Massie believes passing last week’s $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill was dead wrong. On Saturday, March 24, Massie delivered the keynote address at a Young Americans for Liberty summit in Charlotte, N.C. Before he gave his speech, Massie spoke with Conservative Review, describing the process leading up to the 2,232-page bill’s passage as reminiscent of a “banana republic.”
Speaking with Massie, it is clear that he is morally outraged by what he calls a “complete betrayal” of the American electorate. He blames Republican leadership for breaking Republican promises to voters. But he also blames his rank-and-file colleagues, whom he says “succumbed to the swamp” by voting for procedural rules that surrender their power as lawmakers to leadership.
Massie says leadership has “one rule” in Congress: “Never vote against the rule that comes out of the Rules Committee.” He was one of 25 Republicans to break this rule by voting against the procedural rule to advance the omnibus. In this interview, he explains why other conservatives need to buck the rules before Congress can change.
You can listen to the full, unabridged interview here:
Congressman Massie, how are you doing?
How am I doing … Well, I’ve had better days. You know, the president signed the omnibus yesterday. Not the best day for our country. In fact, I think I tweeted “a more complete betrayal of the American electorate I have not witnessed.”
Okay. And over your terms in Congress, you’ve seen quite a few of these betrayals, haven’t you?
Yes. In fact, I thought we were improving things when we got rid of [Speaker] John Boehner; he was pretty good at turning things around on the base. But things have gotten progressively worse. And I’m dissatisfied with the outcome, I’m dissatisfied with the policies. But what I’m really dissatisfied with is the process. If I believed we had followed some kind of orderly process that represents a republic that our Founding Fathers envisioned, and then had come to this outcome, I would be more accepting of it. But the fact that it more resembles a Banana Republic than a real republic deeply saddens me.
You say, “It represents a Banana Republic.” … In what ways does this process not reflect how this republic is supposed to work?
Well, there are 435 members of Congress. I joked last week that the membership of the mushroom caucus had swelled to 420 members, maybe 425. I call it the “mushroom caucus,” because most of Congress wasn’t just not involved in the drafting of this omnibus, they had no clue what was in this omnibus until just hours before they had to vote for it.
You were tweeting about how you yourself didn’t know what was in it. You were actually Googling for leaks from reporters.
Yes, I was trying to follow the tweets of reporters who were scouring the halls for any leaky staffers who might know something. And honestly, I get more information that way than I did from our GOP conference. At one point at the beginning of the week, [Rep.] Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, stood up and asked Paul Ryan six questions, “Is ‘Fix NICS’ in this, is the internet tax in this, is the tunnel in this?” And he got not a single answer for any of the six questions.
Whose fault is that, that [members of] Congress [were] not informed of what was in the bill?
Well, it’s our leadership’s fault, most definitely. But it’s Congress’ fault for accepting this leadership, and for voting for these leaders, and then letting them betray their promise to us so blatantly. In fact, before we vote on every bill in the House, there’s an early procedural vote that precedes the vote on the bill. It’s called “the rule vote.” Now it’s ironic they call it “the rule vote.” What the rule vote does is it suspends our rights as members that are preserved in the rule book that we have — Jefferson’s manual, if you will.
The rule vote says, “We’re going to limit debate, we’re going to limit amendments, we’re going to do this to you, we’re going to do that to you, we’re going to suspend all points of order that you could otherwise make.” And it just shocks me that most of my Republican colleagues will vote to subvert their own power by voting for that rule vote.
Just to be clear, voting for this procedural rule prevented members from offering amendments to the bill to try and improve it?
That’s correct. So the bill was introduced at 8:00 p.m. roughly on Wednesday. By 10:00 p.m. we had to have our amendments. If we wanted to amend this bill, we had to have our amendments offered, and 30 copies delivered to the Rules Committee, within two hours. Imagine that, Chris. Okay, a 2,232-page bill. You’ve got to read it, digest it, and offer and craft your amendments in a form that is germane and legal and have them all done within two hours of seeing the bill for the first time.
So, I offered an amendment, for instance, that I pre-wrote, but I had a bunch of blanks in it that I had to fill in by hand. There wasn’t even time to put it back in the word processor. I assumed there would be the “Fix NICS” gun control language in this bill; I heard a rumor from one of those tweets from a reporter who got a leak from a staffer that it was going to be in there.
So I wrote an amendment. I couldn’t possibly know what page or line it would show up on, so I left those blank. As soon as the bill came out, I did a word search, I found it on page 1,982, the Fix NICS language, filled in the blanks, I got 30 copies, ran into the Rules Committee, by 10:00 p.m. About a half a dozen other members had managed to submit amendments, for instance, to defund sanctuary cities or to defund Planned Parenthood, these things we promised our electorate, which were not in the bill. And mind you, I was trying to take something out of the bill that we promised our electorate we wouldn’t do, which is gun control. Okay, the Rules Committee met, they came up with their rule, their resolution, that said that not just one of our amendments would be disallowed, but all amendments would be disallowed.
They didn’t allow a single member of either party to even get a vote on an amendment. And that was contained in that rule package that they put on the floor a couple hours before the omnibus. So this is just the thing that’s hard for me to wrap my head around, most Republican members voted to let the leadership cram us down, voted to subvert our voice in Congress.
And given that members of Congress represent the American people, is what you’re saying that these representatives who voted for this rule surrendered the power of representation?
Yeah, absolutely. They succumbed to the Swamp by voting for the rule. Now don’t get me wrong, there are punishments if you don’t vote for the rule. You know, as soon as you’re sworn in to Congress, they take you over to the corner and say, “Listen. There’s one rule here. Never vote against the rule that comes out of the Rules Committee.”
And of course, they will try to take away NRCC funding for your race, if you have a close race. In fact, after this rule vote happened, you could see our leadership with a print-out of the 25 Republican members who dared to vote to have some say in this bill. And they were scouring it, they were sitting over there at the leadership table just going through the list. I’m sure they have lots of nasty stuff planned for us.
Now, you mentioned earlier that the amendments that you were going to offer were going to keep promises the Republicans had made to the American people, not just on the campaign trail but in the Republican party platform. What message is the Republican party sending to voters leading up to the 2018 midterms about how they treat their platform?
Well, you know what’s interesting about the timing of this omnibus. There are some primaries out there, some primary races, but a lot of the filing dates have already passed for people to file to primary the sitting Republican. As you well know, most of these districts are either red or blue. And most of the betrayal came not from the purple districts, but from the Republican congressmen who are in safe red districts, districts that Donald Trump won by 10, 20, maybe 50 points.
Okay, that’s where the betrayal came from, that’s where the primaries could originate, but you see the Texas primaries have already happened, okay? That’s the largest Republican delegation. And you’re going to see a lot of betrayal when you look through the roll call from a lot of red districts there in Texas. Well, they were comfortable in betraying the electorate, because not only had the filing date closed, but also the primaries had happened.
And in a lot of other states, for instance, my state of Kentucky, the filing date has already passed. So if a credible challenger wanted to get in the race on the basis of this betrayal, it’s too late. And it’s a very similar situation in many other states.
In a lot of these special elections we’ve seen recently, we’re witnessing 20-point swings from deep red districts going over to the Democratic candidates winning. Lots of pundits are saying that the momentum is on the Democratic side, is on the leftist base side. They’re the ones animated to vote. Do you think that Congress’ behavior, the behavior of the Republican majority, is demoralizing to the base?
Without a doubt, without a doubt. I mean, I can see it in my Twitter responses, I can see it on my Facebook page, I’m very active on social media. So, I see these things happen within hours of it starting to develop. I’ve talked to other congressmen. One congressman whose name I will protect jokingly said that “we should rename this the GOP voter suppression act of 2018, the omnibus bill, that is.” Because that’s what it does, it’s going to depress enthusiasm.
And frankly, my enthusiasm is diminished for supporting my colleagues who come back and vote for this kind of crap.
Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah, came out with a Facebook post, and there’s a pledge he linked to that’s on his campaign website. It’s a pledge asking voters … It’s, first of all, he promises voters that he will stop, he will never vote for a bill that is written this large that congressmen have no input on that they can’t offer amendments for, that’s introduced 48 hours before a deadline, and it’s seen as must-pass.
And he’s calling on voters to make a commitment and a pledge to stop supporting politicians with their votes who vote for this kind of legislation. Do you think that you could support Senator Mike Lee’s call?
I’ve already shared his call on my personal Facebook page to enlist others in that effort. I think it needs to go maybe just one step deeper. I think the people need to quit voting for congressmen who vote for these rules that subvert our republic. I think the people need to quit voting for congressmen who put people like [Speaker] Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., in charge. By the way, I think we had three elections for John Boehner? Well, two … three counting his departure as a result of the motion to vacate [the chair] that I co-wrote with Mark Meadows.
But I never once voted for John Boehner, and I am the only Republican in Congress who did not vote for Paul Ryan to be the speaker, because I saw this coming. What people need to do is start paying attention to how their congressmen voted on these procedural votes. I forget who it was back in history who said, “You control what’s in the bill, and you let me control the process for the bill, and I’ll win,” and that’s always true. I’m paraphrasing there, but it’s really the process and it’s the rules, and it’s when you hand your voting card, when you willingly come to Congress and say, “Here, Mr. Speaker, you can have my voting card, I’m going vote for this rule that gives you all the power.”
Now, there’s some rumors speculating that Paul Ryan is actually not going to run for re-election, that he’s going to step down from power. And there was [an article in The Hill] written a couple weeks ago about how the next battle for leadership is looking like either majority leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is poised to become the next speaker if Republicans maintain control of the House, or is poised to become the number one Republican if Paul Ryan vacates, and you guys lose in the midterms, and you’re put in a minority position.
And there’s also discussion that Steve Scalise may be assuming that role, [and] kind of a conflict there. But do you think that anyone on the current leadership team should be in that top position? Do you think [Republicans] should keep the same leadership if [they] lose in 2018?
No, there are no suitable candidates there waiting in the wings to do this job, because they fundamentally don’t understand what the job description is. They think, because they’ve witnessed John Boehner and Paul Ryan do the job, that they understand what the job is. i.e., go talk to the lobbyists, go talk to special interests, figure out what the bill’s got to look like. And then go convince 434 other members of Congress that they are somehow involved when they’re not, after you’ve already written the bill. That’s not the job description.
Is there a member of Congress, any member of the Republican Conference, that you have in mind who could do the majority leader job?
Well, the last time I voted for Daniel Webster, R-Fla., he was the … It’s interesting, by the way, you say “majority leader” and not “speaker.” Daniel Webster, I think, has already announced he’s running for minority leader. That’s a joke, insinuating that we’re going to lose, or may lose the majority.
No, you’re right. I misspoke. It should be minority leader, if you do lose the majority.
Okay. Well, I voted for Daniel Webster, he was speaker of the House in the state. That’s not an inconsequential state, it was the state of Florida. As far as I could tell, he did a good job there. He’s qualified, he understands that the process is broken. You know, what’s funny is when Paul Ryan came in, if you go back and listen to his speech, when he accepted the gavel, he talks about fixing the process and how we should never have to vote on a bill that we don’t understand that we’ve not had time to read.
He’s broken those promises, it seems?
Well, he’s broken those promises, but shame on anybody that believed him when he said that. I mean really, just shame on anybody that believed that. Most of the people who voted for him did not believe that. They were worried about the consequences of voting for somebody else, should Paul Ryan prevail in his run for speaker.
And so, typically what my colleagues do is try to figure out who’s going to win, get behind that person, and start jockeying for committee positions, subcommittee, chairmanships, and committee chairmanships.
Now, I wanted to ask you about something you tweeted a couple days ago. You’ve recently watched “The Push” on Netflix, is that right?
Yes. It’s a show, a very disturbing show, I might add, on Netflix where there’s 70 actors involved, and some people who come on the show, they don’t realize it’s all fake. And using social pressure, the 70 actors gradually get the person, the person who doesn’t know it’s all fake, to do slightly immoral things.
They start out with changing the labels on a vegetarian dish that’s not a vegetarian dish, for instance. When there’s not enough vegetarian meals to go around. And eventually leading up to convincing somebody, I don’t want to ruin the show for your listeners. But the goal is to see if they can convince somebody to push another human being off the roof of a building.
It’s just like Congress.
Well, the social pressure. I have people back home — conservatives, hardcore conservatives — who work really hard and then get their members elected, and then their members sell out on them. And they come and ask me, “What’d he sell out for? What did he get? Did he get a chairmanship, did he get a bridge somewhere? What did he get?”
And I have to break it to them that their member of Congress sold out for absolutely nothing. It was social pressure. It was, “I won’t be your friend if you don’t vote for this” kind of pressure. Junior high, kindergarten-type pressure. But social pressure is real, and these are soft, pliable, pink animals that are in Congress —some of them are different colors — that have chemical reactions going on in their brains.
I mean, they are not logical thinker beings, and they are subject to all the social pressure that everybody else is subject to from kindergarten on up. And I would say that kindergarten and junior high are the best models for how social pressure works in Congress. But I mean, I don’t want to increase revenues, or act like I’m hucking a show for somebody, but you really should watch “The Push” if you want to know how Congress works.
Now, in your tweet you quoted kind of a description of what they were doing. And the quote is, the show is, “An audacious social experiment demonstrating how manipulation can lead an ordinary person to commit an appalling act.” So I’ve got a question for you. … Who in Congress has committed appalling acts?
Anybody that voted for the omnibus committed an appalling act. I would go further and say, “Anybody who voted for the rule that dictated how the omnibus passed in Congress, those people committed … ” what’s the act?
“Appalling act,” it’s more than appalling. It’s a subversion of our republic.
And who’s doing the manipulating?
Well, okay, again, who do you want to blame? We’d like to blame the speaker of the House and the majority leader in the Senate, right? But who elected those people, okay? The members of Congress elected those people. And then, who elected the members of Congress that elected those people, that do the manipulation? The public at large, the electorate. Okay.
My purpose in Congress, I believe now, is to pull back the curtain and make sure this feedback loop works the way it’s supposed to work. That people back home in all 435 Congressional districts and 50 states understand how they’re getting rooked every time.
Now, I wanted to ask you something about that’s near and dear to you, how you’re a very strong supporter of the Second Amendment.
Yes. When you get the NRA robocalling against you in your district because you’re too pro-gun, and they’re for a little bit of gun control, then you may be a very strong supporter of the Second Amendment.
President Trump tweeted earlier this week that he’s having his administration look at a ban on bump stocks. And specifically, in his tweet he says, “We will ban all devices that turn legal weapons into illegal machine guns.” And so my question for you, Representative Massie, does such a device exist that can turn a semi-automatic rifle into a machine gun?
At least 10 of them exist at Home Depot. Like I could go to Home Depot, you could turn me loose in just about any aisle there, and I could find something that would turn a semi-automatic weapon into a full automatic weapon. And I have done this at home to prove a point. I’m not going to tell you which things you can buy at Home Depot, I’m not going to show you the video. Well, I will show you the video, but you’ve got to promise not to put it on this podcast.
[Author’s note: Answering a follow-up question after the interview, Massie clarified that he has not broken any laws.
“I took a registered machine gun receiver, placed it in semi-auto mode (thus simulating a semi-auto receiver), and used two things from Home Depot (both were already in my basement) to make it fire as though it was full auto. Attaching the commonly available items took less than two minutes. My experiment was successful and proved the futility of the president’s proposal to ban everything that can be used to make a semi-auto fire like a full auto.
Disclaimer: Legally I did not manufacture an unregistered machine gun, because I started with a registered machine gun receiver (these are heavily regulated). I highly suggest that no one [do] the same thing with a semi-auto receiver, as they would be running afoul of the law. A bump stock on a semi-auto receiver does not meet the legal definition of a machine gun, but this type of conversion would.]
And then, so it’s somewhat of a ridiculous task to go down. But it’s also … It’s not within his power to do what he’s doing. Again, this is a subversion of the country as established by our Founding Fathers. In his tweet, he said that Obama legalized bump stocks. Obama did not legalize bump stocks. The thing is, there is no law that makes them illegal.
And all Obama’s ATF did was acknowledge that there is no statute that makes them illegal. The definition — they don’t meet the definition of a machine gun as defined in Congressional law. It’s hard to defend bump stocks. Look, no other firearm accessory has done more to waste ammunition and ruin the accuracy of your gun than the plastic bump stock, okay, and cause your firearm to jam.
So I wouldn’t have one if you gave it to me, okay? But the president doesn’t have the legal authority to ban them.
So, now that we’ve gotten past this omnibus spending bill, what are we looking at in terms of what is next for Congress for the rest of the year?
Absolutely nothing good will happen between now and the election. And the most that you can hope for is that nothing will happen. All the conservatives are terrified of their own shadow; they will not put a conservative bill on the floor that has a chance of getting a vote in the Senate. Don’t get me wrong, we’re going to have a lot of great pretend votes.
In fact, our leadership told us in the conference, “Well, once we get this behind us, this is the only piece of must-pass legislation, then we can do all those things you all want to do.” Now, there’s some cognitive dissonance in that statement, that this is the only piece of must-pass legislation; now we can do all the stuff you want to do.
I took that to mean, “Now we’re going to pass a whole pile of pretend bills, and you all can put your name on it if you’ve been a good little soldier and never voted against one of these rules. We’ll get you a bill on the floor with your name on it, and it’s going to pass, we know it’s not going anywhere in the Senate, and you can go home with that bill and say, ‘I got this passed in our chamber.'”
Right. Now I’ll play leadership advocate just briefly. They’re going to tell you that “look, we don’t have 60 votes in the United States Senate. We can’t pass the bills that conservatives want to pass. We need to maintain our majority, so we don’t want to vote on risky legislation this cycle; otherwise the Democrats can win. If the Democrats win, you know they’re going to waste all of our time trying to impeach president Donald Trump.”
And so, my question to you is if Republicans can’t get anything passed for that 60 votes in the United States Senate, then what is the point of having Republicans in control at all? Because if we need 60 votes to get [bills] passed, then what are we doing with our majorities?
The biggest lie that conservatives who aren’t in the Senate like to tell is that the 60-vote rule in the Senate is the problem. It is not the problem. Look, it took 60 votes to pass an omnibus, right? What kind of crapfest do you think you would get if you only needed 51 votes to pass an omnibus? Okay, what kind of crap do you think would litter our statutes if it only took 51 votes? How much bigger do you think the debt would be if it were easier to run up the debt with only 51 votes?
It is not a conservative principle to make it easier to pass regulations and taxes in the Senate by lowering the threshold to 51 from 60. Even in the short term. Look, if yesterday, if the signing of that omnibus didn’t teach us this, then it didn’t teach us anything. And what is that? That conservatives are in the minority! Why would you want to get rid of a rule that protects the minority, right? If you’ve got … I mean, it would be a stretch to say there are 40 conservatives in this Senate. It would be a real stretch to say that.
But if you’ve got 40 who wake up on the right side of the bed, maybe you’ve got 40 conservatives in the Senate. And maybe they can stop some really bad stuff because of the 60-vote rule. So, we do not want to get rid of the 60-vote rule. There’s … Hey, go ask a conservative senator what they think about this. It’s what you’re hearing on the 60-vote rules coming from the House.
Well, you know, Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is someone who’s pretty conservative. And recently he said that, although he’s been against eliminating the filibuster for years, he’s in favor of getting rid of it. Because he thinks the next time the Democrats are going to be in power, they’re the ones who are going to pull the trigger, and they’re going to get rid of it first.
And what he’s thinking is, “If they’re going to do it anyway, why don’t we just get it over with and get things passed while we have a Republican president? Because if we wait on this, they’re going to wait for the Democrats to get a democratic president, they’re going to pass a bunch of junk, and we’re not going to be able to come back from that.” Because as we’ve seen, we —
What fantasy land does he live in? He voted for Senator McConnell to be the majority leader in the Senate, and they couldn’t get 51 votes on the weakest form of Obamacare repeal and replace you could imagine. What kind of fantasy land do you live in? I wouldn’t want to lower the 60-vote threshold with the members of the Senate we have now! Right? You’re going to get worse stuff, not better stuff. The omnibus gets worse, not better!
And by the way, we shouldn’t be doing an omnibus, that’s an anathema. We should be doing 12 separate appropriations bills, so that nobody can take all of the discretionary spending hostage with one fell swoop. Not the Freedom Caucus, not Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., not Dick Durbin, D-Ill., not Ted Cruz, not Thomas Massie. Nobody should be able to take all of government funding hostage on one vote.
There should be 12 separate votes. That’s how you get responsible government done.
So, what are the priorities for conservative members of Congress going forward, closing out the year, leading up to the election, and then finishing the Trump presidency, whether it be in four years or eight? … What’s next for conservatives, and what should members of Congress be telling voters?
Well, you know, it … I hate to tell you this, what conservatives need to do is to stop more bad things from happening. Nothing comes to the floor of the House or the Senate unless the speaker of the House wants it to come to the floor, or the majority leader wants it to come to the floor. Okay.
So, if you live in some fantasy world, where you think they’re going to want to put the entire conference on the record right before an election, where, as I said before, a third of these guys are scared of their own shadow right now, because of the upcoming election, then you can live in that fantasy world, but it ain’t going to happen. You’re not going to get conservative stuff on the floor in both chambers for a vote. It’d be great if you could, and then try to persuade some Democrats to come over.
By the way, if you think lowering the threshold to 51 is a good idea, why did we give up reconciliation this year, right? Why did we just say, “Oh, well, we’re not going to do that?” It’s not … That’s the biggest myth in the world is if we could just get to 51 votes, we could fix everything. If you go to 51 votes, you get worse stuff. You should never make it easier to grow government.
So, what could you hope for? Well, I hope we can stop additional forms of gun control; “Fix NICS” was bad enough. The … “Stop School Violence Act” was bad enough for nationalizing defense of our schools. There is money in that bill that is going to go to gun control groups. It literally says in there you can give it to the 501-C3s, and then it also says in there it can’t go to train anybody on gun safety. It’s got to go for all the liberal sort of agendas.
It says it explicitly.
Yes. I mean, it doesn’t take much reading through the lines to see who’s going to get that money in that Stop School Violence Act bill. It’s going to go to liberal gun control groups. So, we’ve got to stop any further gun control; we should … I mean, the omnibus is passed, we should really, frankly, right now be debating the budget, not for 2018, look, we’re six months late here.
This should be fiscal year 2019 budget. We should have the appropriations bills on the floor of the House. We should be debating and amending those in daylight, not in some smoke-filled room, because guess what? Before the November election is the October 1st expiration of this omnibus, right? So, what conservatives should push for is for Paul Ryan and the House — I’m going to leave the Senate to their own devices — to bring these bills up one at a time, the appropriations bills, allow rank and file members to have time in the debate, allow rank and file members to offer amendments.
It sounds like, though, in the long term, conservatives aren’t going to see their priorities passed into law until we have new leadership. Would you agree with that statement?
It’s not just new leadership. I mean, I want to be clear here. The speaker of the House does what he does, not just because people allow him to do it, the rank and file members, they literally vote every week to be abused by the rules. It’s like Stockholm syndrome. So, you could change the speaker, and he may not run again. But until you have congressmen who don’t just blindly hand the leadership their voting card on every rule vote, you’re not going to get any changes. It doesn’t matter who the speaker is.
Editor’s note: This interview transcript has been edited for clarity.
Chris Pandolfo is a staff writer and type-shouter for Conservative Review. He holds a B.A. in politics and economics from Hillsdale College. His interests are conservative political philosophy, the American founding, and progressive rock. Follow him on Twitter for doom-saying and great album recommendations @ChrisCPandolfo.
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