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He faced fury from his colleagues, received death threats from voters and got a heated call from President Trump because he nearly derailed the $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill by demanding a formal vote last Friday.
Now, that Kentucky Republican congressman, Thomas Massie, tells Fox News how the day unfolded and what motivated him.
“I was just standing up for the Constitution, and I did it in a professional manner that did not delay the bill,” Massie said in a phone interview, adding, “This is the biggest transfer of wealth in human history.”
The Constitution requires that a majority of members be present on the floor of Congress in order to do business.
But other representatives, who had hoped to isolate themselves from the virus at home, weren’t amused by Massie being a stickler for the rules.
“Massie has now become the most hated person on Capitol Hill,” said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who left his home at 4:30 a.m. to drive to the Capitol to ensure the measure got passed Friday.
Massie said lawmakers criticizing his move should toughen up.
“Congress should show up to work if they’re telling truckers and grocery store baggers to show up to work. A congressman making $174,000 with health benefits should sure as hell show up,” Massie said.
Before the vote on Friday, Massie was pressured by congressional leaders to drop his objection.
“I was proffered several things in exchange for withdrawing my objection to the passage of this bill… I was also threatened,” he told Fox News.
“I feel like an endorsement was proffered and a committee assignment was proffered,” Massie said.
Trump also called Massie on the phone Friday morning and urged him not to object, for fear that would delay the bill.
“Out of respect for the president, I’m going to keep that conversation private,” Massie said.
But Trump clearly wasn’t happy after the call. “Throw Massie out of Republican Party!” he tweeted that morning.
“Workers & small businesses need money now in order to survive. Virus wasn’t their fault. It is ‘HELL’ dealing with the Dems, had to give up some stupid things in order to get the ‘big picture’ done. 90% GREAT!” he also tweeted.
Massie said he also received threats from the public that day, telling him he needed to be “taken out and shot” and “should go die” among other threats to him and his family. Capitol Hill police and Massie’s local sheriff agreed on providing extra security for his house in Kentucky while Massie was in D.C.
Undeterred by the threats and offers, Massie went to the floor of the House later that day and explained: “I came here to make sure our republic doesn’t die by unanimous consent in an empty chamber, and I request a recorded vote.”
The effort was ill-fated, as congressional leaders had already figured out how to get around his parliamentary objections — by filling the chamber with enough members to demonstrate a quorum.
So when his request for a recorded vote was denied, Massie’s objection “on the basis a quorum [majority] is not present” fell flat. The presiding member of Congress declared that enough members were present, and they passed the bill with a quick voice vote, in which individual votes were not recorded.
Massie said he left a voice message for Trump later in the day to try to patch things up. “The message I left was, ‘Look, the bill wasn’t delayed by what I insisted upon, and that’s because I didn’t surprise anybody. I told everybody at least 24 hours in advance what I was going to do.’”
That time actually gave a majority of representatives enough time to get to the floor of Congress, even though they still refused to hold a recorded vote once there.
“They were trying to avoid accountability,” Massie told Fox News, saying that some representatives were trying to hide from putting their name to such an expensive bill.
“The tragedy of this bill is it’s a massive wealth transfer from the middle class to the moneyed class [rich investors and lobbyists]. Just going by the numbers — the most that somebody qualifies for is $1,200 under this bill… where’s the rest of that money going?”
The rest of the money goes toward unemployment benefits, airlines, aid to states, hospitals, more than $800 billion in business loans, and also to some smaller programs that Massie and others consider not relevant to the virus.
What would Massie have put in the bill instead of the $2 trillion?
“We should be responding to the virus itself — and if there’s any relief, that should be given to the taxpayers, not to the moneyed class,” he said.
“Responding to the virus means giving a guarantee that any American – whether they’re a politician or a celebrity or a grocery bagger at Kroger – can get access to this [coronavirus] test,” he said.
“If it costs $100 to test each of 350 million people — that’s $35 billion, which is 1.5 percent of this bill,” Massie said.
Massie, who has a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from MIT and who lives “off the grid” in a solar-powered home he built himself, added that such testing would allow healthy people to work and get the economy humming again.
“The only way we can allow people to go back to work is to figure out who should be at home and who should be at work. If you know from testing that you’re not a carrier, or you know that you’re immune to it, you should be able to move about freely,” Massie said.
But Massie’s reasoning about the bill hasn’t persuaded everyone, and his primary challenger is looking to capitalize on the incident.
“I think what he did is unconscionable, and I think it’s disqualifying. I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody in the House gets sick and I wouldn’t be surprised if one of those people had a bad health outcome and that’s on Thomas Massie,” Todd McMurtry, Massie’s primary challenger this year, told Fox News on Saturday.
“I’ve seen his votes over the years and I realized that he’s totally ineffective and he’s purely … a libertarian ideologue,” McMurtry said of Massie, also accusing him of not voting with Trump enough.
Massie said he supports the president.
“I’ve only had praise for the president in the three-and-a-half years that he’d been president. Of course, I’ve had some policy disagreements, but I’ve never let it become personal,” he said.
Massie said he helped Trump with his actions on Friday, by setting a precedent that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi can’t pass bills with an empty chamber.
“What I did this week by forcing Nancy Pelosi to make people to come to work in order to pass the bill, gets him more negotiating leverage going forward.”
Fox News’ Marisa Schultz, Chad Pergram and Tyler Olson contributed to this report.