U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie was a lonely man in Washington, D.C., last week.
As the U.S. House was set to pass a $2 trillion coronavirus response package, the Kentucky Republican led a unilateral effort to force a recorded vote, instead of the unanimous consent process legislative leaders planned to use to avoid calling members into the chamber.
Massie’s plan was foiled by legislative maneuvering, and the bill was promptly approved without a vote, but not before Massie drew sharp attacks from every political corner, including the White House.
The kerfuffle over the pandemic stimulus offers a lesson for President Donald Trump’s accessories and enablers, of which there are many in the Republican Party of Iowa: The president doesn’t care about you, and he will turn on you faster than he starts kissing beautiful women.
Massie is a libertarian-leaning legislator, but confoundingly also a frequent defender of our authoritarian president. Whatever goodwill Massie built up by appeasing Trump in the past, it quickly evaporated when the lawmaker threatened to force a roll-call vote.
Trump thrashed Massie on Twitter, calling him a “third rate Grandstander” and calling for his removal from the Republican Party. Trump even shared mutual retweets with an unlikely ally — former Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry — who said Massie should be “quarantined to prevent the spread of his massive stupidity.”
Massie, for his part, said on the House floor, “I came here to make sure our republic doesn’t die by unanimous consent in an empty chamber, and I request a recorded vote.”
It was a foreseeable, avoidable and very stupid crisis. Of course, members of Congress should have been on the record as “yes” or “no” on the biggest one-time spending package in U.S. history. And just as surely, in the current year, we should have a mechanism for representatives to vote without physically congregating in the Capitol.
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Telecommuting can’t altogether replace the legislative process (for starters, smoke-filled Zoom meetings don’t have the same allure), but at least since Sept. 11, 2001, we have known an emergency voting system might be necessary and we have had the technology to do it.
Massie’s stunt could have delayed passage of critical legislation, we were warned, even though the bill had already been held up for days by the usual bipartisan poppycock, and it was packed full of unaccountable spending with no direct connection to the public health crisis it’s supposed to address.
Trump did not seem to care about any of that. His judgment was swift and feckless, as usual.
Many Republicans in elected office have serious misgivings about Trump’s conduct and policy agenda. But as Trump’s grip on Republican voters became evident in 2016, most GOP elites made the calculated decision to get on the bandwagon. In doing so, they hoped, they would shield themselves from Trump’s wrath and make inroads for their own policy priorities.
The strategy has repeatedly failed, but Republican politicians keep at it.
As Trump told us in that infamous tape, “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
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