In his six-and-a-half years in Washington, 4th District Congressman Thomas Massie has developed a reputation as a maverick. He has bucked his Republican Party’s leadership, even when they controlled the U.S. House of Representatives. He started his own political action committee for candidates who share his views on personal liberty, small government, and fiscal responsibility. And he’s voted against federal disaster aid for other states, while lobbying for relief when Kentucky needs it.
The Lewis County engineer, entrepreneur, and cattle farmer-turned politician says the nation’s capitol is a bustling place, but he warns that you shouldn’t confuse all that activity with actual progress.
“It’s sort of chaos here,” says Massie. “You have to figure out what’s important and what’s not… and you need to really focus on the things that are most important to you.”
Massie appeared on KET’s Congressional Update to talk about bills he’s promoting as well as transportation issues, foreign policy, and election security.
A Bridge for Northern Kentucky
Massie is a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, as well as well as the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He is the only Kentuckian on the transportation panel, which he says is important for a centrally located state with many logistics companies. He also notes that the committee doesn’t just deal with roads and bridges, but also waterways and airports.
The Congressman says his district’s biggest airport, the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG), has instituted lower fares, which he says has contributed to a doubling of passengers going through the facility in the past five years. He says the amount of air cargo going through CVG has also doubled.
A longstanding transportation debate for the district is what to do about the aging Brent Spence Bridge that connects Covington to Cincinnati. The span is more than 50 years old and carries double the traffic capacity for which it was designed. Although people on both sides of the Ohio River have called for the bridge to be replaced, Massie says the span will remain in use for a long time to come.
“People shouldn’t confuse functional obsolesce with structural integrity because it is structurally sound,” he says. “The reality is, traffic is the problem.”
Any resolution to congestion along that corridor will have to include construction of a new bridge, according to Massie. He says one could be located beside the Brent Spence, or built farther out and connected to a new bypass for the Cincinnati metro area.
Allowing Guns Around Schools
Every year since coming to Congress, Massie has proposed legislation he calls the Safe Students Act, which would repeal the Gun Free School Zones Act of 1990. That law requires a 1,000-foot buffer zone around schools into which people cannot bring firearms.
Massie contends the ban is flawed in two ways: Legal gun owners may unwittingly commit a crime for carrying a weapon too close to a school. And law-abiding citizens can’t protect themselves in the event of a school shooting, which he argues makes students more vulnerable. To support his argument, Massie says 98 percent of mass public shootings since 1950 have occurred in gun-free zones.
“So I don’t think we should advertise our students as targets and put them in this situation,” he says.
The proposal only repeals the existing federal gun-free school zone law. Massie says states would still be able to set their own gun policies around schools. He says his bill also doesn’t require teachers or other school personnel to be armed.
“I don’t think that anybody should be forced to have to carry a weapon,” says Massie, “but there are a lot of teachers who are qualified in handling a firearm and want that ability.”
Massie says he doesn’t expect his bill to get a hearing in the Democratic-controlled House, but he says it’s important to raise the issue for public discussion.
Opportunities for Farmers
While Massie’s safe schools bill only has Republican co-sponsors, a farm-related measure he’s introduced is bipartisan. The Processing Revival and Intrastate Meat Exemption Act (or PRIME Act) would allow consumers to buy locally raised, custom-slaughtered meats within state lines.
The congressman says under current rules, farmers can only sell meat that was processed at a slaughterhouse that has a full-time U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector. But there are a limited number of those facilities, which means that farmers may have to transport their livestock hundreds of miles to be slaughtered.
“In the meantime, you will drive by a dozen processors, slaughterhouses, that can do the same job, but if you try to sell meat from there to a consumer, you’ll go to jail,” the congressman says.
The PRIME ACT would allow farmers to process their meats closer to home and sell that product to consumers as well as restaurants, groceries, and other businesses as long as the processing and sales all occur within the same state. The meats would still have to be processed at inspected facilities, just not those that have USDA employees.
“I’m not saying get rid of [health] inspections, I’m saying let’s let these small farmers sell directly to consumers as long as they are inside of their state boundaries,” Massie says.
The bill has 20 co-sponsors in the House, including Democrats from California, Connecticut, Maine, and Michigan. Massie says a companion bill in the Senate also has bipartisan support.
“I think we can work across the aisle and get new opportunities for farmers,” he says.
Responding to Iran
The Republican praises President Donald Trump for deciding not to use military force against Iran for recently downing an American surveillance drone. Massie says estimates that a U.S. airstrike could have killed 150 Iranians were probably low. The congressman says he does not want a war with Iran, and he credits Trump for rejecting the counsel of his more hawkish advisors.
“What President Trump did was a very defining moment in his presidency. I think it takes a very strong person to resist those advisors around him like [National Security Adviser John] Bolton who are advocating for violence in the Middle East,” says Massie. “The American people respect that kind of restraint and I hope we see more of it.”
If an attack against Iran does become necessary, Massie says the president would need Congressional approval before executing it. He contends the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) approved by Congress in 2001 for the war on terror does not cover action against Iran. In fact, he’s co-sponsoring legislation with Democrats to codify that interpretation.
“Only about 15 percent of the Congressmen who voted for those AUMFs are still Congress,” Massie says. “So 85 percent of us, me included, have never voted on this issue… The Constitution is clear on this: To start a war or to commit an act of war that’s not in response to an attack on our military requires congressional authorization.”
The president would still be able take defensive action or move troops and resources into the region as a show of strength, but Massie says an attack on the Iranian people would cross the line.
(Earlier today, Massie joined 26 other Republican representatives to vote for an amendment to the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act that would bar funding for military action against Iran unless Congress authorizes the action. The Senate rejected a similar amendment to the NDAA, so it’s uncertain whether the House amendment will survive negotiations in conference committee.)
Massie also has a unique perspective on America’s response to Russian interference in the 2016 elections. He claims the U.S. spends millions of dollars a year to influence the outcomes of elections in other countries through public means like Voice of America and Radio Free Europe broadcasts, and through covert means about which most Americans have no knowledge.
“What the Russians are doing is nothing that we aren’t doing,” says Massie. “So it’s hypocritical of us to condemn them and to say, ‘That’s an act of war, you tried to influence public perception of candidates here.’”
The congressman agrees that Russia did seek to sow discontent and distrust in the 2016 elections, but he says he believes that interference didn’t change a single vote. He contends it’s reasonable for other countries to have opinions about American elections, but he says it’s up the U.S. to prevent any foreign interference in the outcomes of our elections.
As for maintaining the integrity of the ballot, Massie says Kentucky is well positioned to protect the voting process. He says it’s good that the commonwealth doesn’t allow weeks of early voting, which he says enables special interests to drive voters to the polls and encourage them to vote for specific candidates. He argues that having 120 counties in the commonwealth also helps secure the vote.
“That means we have 120 county clerks looking over this election process,” says Massie. “Having that many clerks who are responsible for the integrity in that county of the election I think is a good thing.”
The congressman adds, though, that Kentucky elections would be even more secure if all precincts had paper ballot records as a backup to electronic voting machines.