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Meet the congressman who tried to derail the $2 trillion coronavirus bill

Kentucky Republican Thomas Massie — nicknamed "Mr. No" — created chaos on Capitol Hill on Friday as the House rushed to pass the emergency measure.
Image: Thomas Massie
Rep. Massie's move drew rare bipartisan ire Friday.J. Scott Applewhite / AP file

WASHINGTON — Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., incited Washington on Friday when he tried to derail the smooth passage of the emergency coronavirus relief bill, forcing dozens of lawmakers to scramble back to the nation’s capitol for the vote.

A Congress engulfed in crisis and plagued with partisan divisions found a moment of unity in elevating Massie to the most hated man in Washington, an unsurprising title for a lawmaker who has perfected the art of opposition and frequently is the sole dissenter in the House.

President Donald Trump tweeted Friday morning that Massie was a "third rate Grandstander" and called for Kentuckians to "throw Massie out of Republican Party!"

In a rare moment of bipartisanship, Trump found agreement with former Secretary of State John Kerry, who took to Twitter to fire off an expletive at the congressman.

“He must be quarantined to prevent the spread of his massive stupidity," Kerry, who was the Democratic nominee for president in 2004, wrote on Twitter. “He's given new meaning to the term #Masshole.”

Massie’s transgression was trying to force a roll call vote on the coronavirus bill in the House. Republican and Democratic leadership had agreed to avoid a vote — a move designed to expedite the process and prevent hundreds of lawmakers from returning to Washington. Two House members announced last week they had tested positive for coronavirus, and a third went public with a positive diagnosis on Friday.

But Massie refused to go along, arguing transparency was needed given the size and scope of the legislation.

"Is it too much to ask that the House do its job, just like the Senate did?" Massie tweeted.

Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., called Massie's move “disgraceful” and “irresponsible.”

“Heading to Washington to vote on pandemic legislation. Because of one Member of Congress refusing to allow emergency action entire Congress must be called back to vote in House,” King wrote on Twitter. “Risk of infection and risk of legislation being delayed.”

Massie’s efforts — while succeeding in bringing lawmakers to Washington — failed to produce a roll call vote and the bill passed in an overwhelming voice vote.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called Massie a "dangerous nuisance" in an interview on MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show" Friday night. Pelosi had talked to Massie before he raised his objection.

"I did tell him that it wasn't going to work, that we will have a voice vote," Pelosi said. "... That we had a plan, that we always knew we would pass this bill and we would pass it today, and that [we] would not let any nuisance stand in the way."

"And that's really what he was — a dangerous nuisance," Pelosi said.

The attention isn’t new for Massie, who has a long history of being a contrarian on Capitol Hill, earning himself the nickname “Mr. No.”

In 2014, Massie objected to a voice vote to award the golfer Jack Nicklaus a Congressional Gold Medal and demanded a roll call vote. “I came to Congress because there’s a $17 trillion debt, not because a golf pro was in need of a gold medal,” Massie wrote on Facebook at the time.

He has opposed multiple bipartisan bills, including naming Israel as a U.S. strategic partner, extending sanctions against Iran, imposing sanctions on North Korea and a 2019 Hong Kong human rights bill. He recently was the only member of the House to oppose a ban on plastic guns.

That was not Massie's first time butting heads with Kerry, either.

At a House committee hearing on the dangers of climate change last year, Massie questioned Kerry’s political science degree from Yale, calling it a "pseudoscience degree" and arguing he therefore was unqualified to discuss climate change.

“Are you serious?” Kerry fired back. “Is this really serious? This is really happening here?”

Massie was born in Huntington, West Virginia, and grew up on the Ohio River in northeastern Kentucky. He has two engineering degrees from MIT, multiple patents to his name, and was considered a “whiz kid” after he developed technology that enabled people to “interact with computers using their sense of touch.”

With the support of Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Massie was elected to Congress in 2012 and quickly made a name for himself as a strong tea party voice by calling for the abolishment of governmental agencies such as the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Massie, who won re-election in 2018 with 62 percent of the vote, is facing a primary challenge from Todd McMurtry, a lawyer who represented a Covington Catholic student in a defamation lawsuit against CNN after a confrontation with a Native American activist on the National Mall went viral.

Massie and McMurtry have been trying to prove their loyalty to Trump as their primary heats up, making Massie's move on Friday all the more politically perilous as the president had made it abundantly clear he wanted the coronavirus bill on his desk as quickly as possible.

Massie criticized both parties' leaders, saying their refusal to allow a vote was to prevent members from losing re-election.

"Well, they're trying to cover up their votes. They had enough people there to pass the bill but they still refused to have a recorded vote,” Massie said outside the House chamber after the vote. "They're trying to protect the members who are there from political ramifications."