Not even the idea that anti-Semitism is bad can bring Washington together in unanimity.
The House voted 420-to-1 on Wednesday on a symbolic, seven-page resolution that calls on the government to do all it can protect Jewish individuals and organizations, to combat denials and distortions about the Holocaust, and to defend the rights of all Americans to practice their faith without fear of violence. Even The Squad, often criticized for votes that are seen as insufficiently supportive of Israel if not anti-Semetic, voted for the resolution.
As a practical matter, who doesn’t believe that the systemic discrimination of individuals—Jewish or not—is worthy of condemnation?
Well, as is the case so often in Congress, at least one person does. And, on Wednesday evening, Rep. Thomas Massie exercised his prerogative to stand apart from his colleagues by voting nay. It was, in the smart words of one MSNBC producer, “performative contrarianism.” (Eight other Republicans didn’t vote on the resolution at all.)
Massie is something of a fly in the House’s ointment, a modern-day Dr. No, the moniker previously given to former Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. Massie, a self-described libertarian, has a lot of similarities with both Paul, as well as Paul’s son and a fellow Kentuckian, Sen. Rand Paul, who is just as prone to irk his chamber’s leadership team as Massie is in the House. (In fact, Rand Paul was the reason the Senate took until Thursday to approve spending $40 billion on Ukraine; the move took a week longer than needed because Paul stepped in with his procedural objections that denied the spending fast-track status.)
Massie’s most infamous moment came in March 2020, during those first chaotic weeks of the pandemic, when he refused to allow members to pass a COVID-19 relief spending bill that had broad support without first pushing for a recorded vote on where every member stood. His move failed as a procedural matter, but it forced many members to return to the Capitol to prove there was a quorum for a legitimate vote. The unnecessary move so angered Trump that he tweeted the GOP should kick him out of the party. (Still, Trump loves a guaranteed winner; on May 10, when it was clear Massie was going to win his primary in a strongly Republican district, Trump endorsed him for re-election, a move that helped Massie this week to claim the nomination with 75% support from fellow Republicans.)
During another vote, this one to oppose a proposed boycott of Israel over its treatment of Palestinians, Massie gave many reasons to explain his opposition, including that he didn’t think the United States should be dictating conduct to other nations. He was the lone Republican not supporting the effort. Elsewhere, he didn’t support affirmations for NATO or for Ukraine.
Massie’s team on Thursday pointed to this tweet to explain the Congressman’s thinking:
Massie’s rigid libertarianism often puts him far afield from his party and sometimes in the headlines. But it’s also something of a gimmick, allowing him to take these bold, solitary stances on measures that often don’t even make policy. A lone dissent cannot change an outcome.
It’s not entirely clear Massie has much value for any government action, often questioning why Congress is even debating some of its topics. He issued a vague tweet in the early morning hours on Thursday that perhaps hinted at his thinking: “If we just voted based on the names of the bills, I’d vote for almost all of them.”
That’s not to say Massie is a proud member of the Burn-It-Down caucus. He’s an MIT-educated engineer who can run his entire 1,200-acre farm on solar energy and cashes royalty checks on the regular for the 24 patents he holds. Still, he’s not sure the scientific evidence for climate change is entirely there and questions if federal dollars should be supporting any university research at all.
The House took up the bipartisan anti-Semitism resolution in short order this week, in the wake of the mass shooting in Buffalo. The accused gunman espoused rhetoric popular in so-called Replacement Theory, which includes many ideas that are anti-Semitic. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat who is Jewish, introduced the measure with a handful of allies from the other side of the aisle.
As is the case after every mass shooting, concrete action from elected officials seldom follows. The further removed from the first news cycle Washington inches, the less urgency anyone can muster on the Hill. And, as has been the case time and time again, nothing gets done.
The anti-Semetism resolution, at least, took a symbolic step at condemning a strain of ideology that, for most of America, is widely unacceptable. Still, Massie shows that belief and action don’t always align, especially when a longtime libertarian looks around and sees any part of the government reaching beyond the most limited of mandates; here, policing hatred and, to his mind, thinking.
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