Updated Jun 27, 2023, 8:47am EDT

Congress’s ‘Mr. No’ takes heat for finally saying yes

REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

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Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie has lately found himself facing down a new challenge: Defending his decision to vote yes on a bill.

For years, the Republican has been known as Capitol Hill’s Mr. No, thanks to his willingness to buck party leadership by opposing legislation. In March 2020, he drew an angry phone call from former President Trump for single-handedly delaying final passage of the first $2 trillion COVID-19 economic rescue package.

But this month, Massie disappointed many of his fellow conservatives by giving his thumbs up to the debt ceiling deal negotiated between House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the White House, providing a key vote on the Rules Committee that allowed the bill to reach the chamber’s floor. The move earned him blowback from the right — though he says it hasn’t been overwhelming.

“On the Richter scale with 10 being the Cares Act when the President was screaming at me, that was like six or seven,” Massie told Semafor. “And by the way: Two years later, those add to your credibility.”

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Chief among Massie’s Republican critics these days is Russell Vought, the former Office of Management and Budget director under Trump who has become an influential economic advisor to hardline conservatives. (He even enjoyed automatic approval for meetings with Massie himself).


“Your path to the dark side is now complete. You have become your enemy,” Vought tweeted at Massie last month. He later dubbed the deal the “McCarthy-Massie debt bomb.” When Massie shot back that Vought helped the Trump administration rack up $4.5 trillion in new debt, Vought suggested Massie should take a course in “Remedial American Government.”

“That was low-class I thought,” Massie said. “First time there was a hiccup, he’s decided everybody who’s not on his side is a sellout, which is completely ridiculous. I would never say that about anybody in here based on one vote, or even three votes.”

Massie was one of three hardline conservatives who received seats on the Rules panel as part of the deal that allowed McCarthy to become speaker. The concession gave right-wing members more hope they’d be able to control the House’s agenda, since the committee effectively decides what bills get an up or down vote.

But Massie says he doesn’t intend to use his position on the rules panel to “blow up” legislation he disagrees with. “When I got on the Rules Committee, I was resigned to voting for things that I might not vote for on the floor,” Massie said. “I’m just trying to fix the process, not imprint my ideology.”

House Freedom Caucus members vented their frustration over the debt ceiling deal earlier this month by shutting down business on the House floor. It was unclear to many what their specific demands were at the time, but there are already whispers of a potential repeat down the line.


Massie’s take, as a veteran protest vote? Find a clear ask next time.

“Their tactics were downright brutal,” he said. “I approve, but what’s the strategy?”

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Editor's note

Due to a production error, Semafor unintentionally published an early version of this post. We’ve updated it to the correct version, which also appeared in Tuesday’s Principals newsletter.