Tag Archives: Mac Thornberry

Military must face a ‘systemic’ problem

Congress is weighing in on an important issue that appears to have been a primary cause of the Sutherland Springs, Texas, massacre.

The monster who opened fire this past Sunday at First Baptist Church was able to purchase the weapon he used because of a failure by the U.S. Air Force to log his criminal background.

There’s this statement from House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, a Clarendon Republican: “News that the Air Force failed to notify the FBI of (the shooter’s) military criminal record is appalling. … Furthermore, I am concerned that the failure to properly report domestic violence convictions may be a systemic issue.”

And The Hill reports this: “The Senate Armed Services Committee will conduct rigorous oversight of the Department’s investigation into the circumstances that led to this failure,” committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., said in a statement. “It’s critical that each of the military services take the steps necessary to ensure that similar mistakes have not occurred and will not occur in the future.”

Read The Hill story here

The shooter was given a bad conduct discharge from the Air Force. His exit was due to his assault against his then-wife and her infant child. The Air Force failed to notify federal authorities of the charge, enabling this bastard to purchase the assault weapon he used to murder 26 parishioners at First Baptist Church.

It appears to be a long-standing failure by the military. The issue is drawing considerable attention by lawmakers.

It’s too early to tell whether they are doing enough, or certainly whether they will do enough to crack down on the carnage that is erupting across the land.

I hope Congress and the president will do more. At least, though, we have begun a discussion about one element of gun violence.

Let us revisit ‘term limits’

The calls for mandating term limits for members of the U.S. House and Senate have become a bit muted in recent years.

That’s fine with me. I’ve never quite understood the notion of requiring public servants to step aside after a certain set time established through federal statute or constitutional amendment.

The issue keeps recurring every so often. It well might again in the 2018 midterm election that will decide every one of 435 U.S. House seats and one-third of the seats in the 100-member U.S. Senate.

I dug up a 2013 article in USA Today that noted that the 113th Congress was the most “inexperienced” in nearly two decades.

As USA Today noted about that Congress: A confluence of factors — from a trio of wave elections, redistricting, divisive primaries to even death — kick off a 113th Congress populated by junior lawmakers in both chambers that challenges the conventional wisdom that Washington politics is dominated by entrenched incumbents.

Nearly two in five lawmakers in the U.S. House, 39%, have served for less than three years, according to data compiled by the non-partisan Cook Political Report. It’s the least experienced House since at least 1995, when an election wave swept the Republicans into power.

Read the rest of the USA Today article here.

That was just four years ago. The turnover on Capitol Hill has continued at about the same pace.

It brings to mind the Congress that took office in 1995. The election the previous year had swept out dozens of incumbents as the Republican insurgents took control of both legislative houses for the first time in 40 years. One of the upstart freshmen that year was a young self-described “recovering lawyer” named Mac Thornberry, who became the Texas Panhandle’s representative.

Thornberry, a Clarendon Republican, is still in the House. He campaigned as a champion of the Contract With America, the GOP platform that pledged a lot of radical changes. One of them was mandated term limits. Thornberry never imposed any such limit on himself; he has voted in favor of every failed attempt to amend the U.S. Constitution to require term limits for members of Congress.

Frankly, I’ve never faulted him for remaining in Congress all this time … even though I detest his general governing philosophy.

Indeed, any member of Congress who does a lousy job or who doesn’t represent his constituents’ interests will hear from them on Election Day. The voters have the power to impose their own brand of term limits on their elected representatives.

Moreover, is inexperience a good thing when it comes to running the federal government? Hmm. Let me think about that.

Oh, yeah. We’ve got a political novice in the White House at this very moment. The president took office after spending his entire professional life seeking to fatten his financial portfolio. He had zero public service experience before taking office. He is learning a hard lesson that governing isn’t nearly the same as running a business empire.

I believe, therefore, that government experience is vital.

The upcoming midterm election is going to turn on a lot of factors. Term limits might return as a top-drawer political issue. Fine. Let’s have that debate. I likely won’t budge from my long-held belief that we already have term limits. We call them “elections.”

***

Here’s what I wrote five years ago about this very issue:

Term limits? We already have them

 

Let’s banish partisan stereotypes

There’s a common stereotype kicked around about Republicans and Democrats.

Republicans are hard-hearted; Democrats are squishy do-gooders.

I want to take on the GOP stereotype briefly here by calling attention to something U.S. Rep. Mike McCaul of Texas said about four of his Republican colleagues who voted recently against a package that include $15 billion in aid to victims of Hurricane Harvey.

You’ve heard of Harvey, yes? It blew in twice over the Texas coast, ravaging communities from the Coastal Bend to the Golden Triangle. Four of McCaul’s GOP colleagues voted “no” on the aid package because it sought to raise the debt limit ceiling.

One of the four happens to be my congressman, Mac Thornberry of Clarendon.

Oh, Mac. I mean, really?

Here’s what McCaul said, according to Texas Monthly: “I don’t want to judge them,” McCaul said Monday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, according to the Austin American-Statesman. “I judge myself and my conscience, and when I have people dying and hurting in my home state, it was my duty and my moral obligation to help them, and I felt that that vote was a vote of conscience to help people in my state and also now in Florida. I think that’s what Americans do, and I think it’s unconscionable to vote against something like that.” 

Actually, he did “judge them.” But that’s all right with me. Judge away, Rep. McCaul.

More from Texas Monthly: “I think having to raise the debt ceiling was the issue, and the fact is that Mick Mulvaney is the director of [the Office of Management and Budget], and he was a Freedom Caucus guy when he served with us, and he told us point blank that you could not appropriate disaster relief if you didn’t raise the debt ceiling, so we were stuck with that choice,” McCaul said. “What do you with that choice? Just stand on principle and vote ‘no’? And I question that principle. Or do you vote to help people back in your home state who are hurting really badly?”

Well said, Rep. McCaul.

So, let’s end the stereotyping.

Texans play politics with hurricane relief

Congress managed to cobble together a bipartisan spending relief package that is going to send $15 billion to help victims of Hurricane Harvey.

It wasn’t unanimous, though. Indeed, of the 80 House members who voted against the package, four of them reside — get ready for this one — in Texas! Four members of Congress who live in the very state that suffered the grievous wind and flood damage voted “no” on the package.

Most disappointing of all for yours truly is that one of them is GOP Rep. Mac Thornberry of Clarendon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Thornberry’s no vote was because the Harvey relief was tied to increasing the debt ceiling — which the House and Senate had to do to avoid the government defaulting on its debt. Thornberry also said the bill would harm the U.S. military by freezing some funds. I mean, it’s not as if there are now plans to decommission aircraft carriers, or ground strategic bombers, or take weapons out of the hands of our fighting men and women.

Of course, as the Texas Tribune reported, none of the Texas House GOP members represent districts in the direct path of Harvey’s onslaught, which I suppose gives them some political cover for the votes they cast.

I used to believe that major disaster relief was a given in Congress. A region of the country gets clobbered, smashed, devastated by Mother Nature and the rest of the country rallied to its side. Americans stepped up to render assistance. That included members of the House and Senate.

No more. Now they attach qualifiers. They equivocate. They seek ways to offset the cost.

As the Tribune reported: “I am not against voting for relief programs to help hurricane victims, but I am against raising the public debt ceiling without a plan to reduce deficits in the short term, and eliminate them in the long term,” (Rep. Joe) Barton said in a statement. “The money we vote to spend today will have to be paid back by our children and grandchildren.”

Thornberry, chairman of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, cited an aversion to short-term funding measures that he said harmed the military.

Barton, with that statement, managed to parse his opposition to some weird level that no one who is trying to rebuild his or her life is going to understand, let alone support.

Nice.

Listen up, Congress: Americans hate the health care ‘reform’

Dear Members of Congress,

Y’all are going home for a couple of weeks. Some of y’all are going to conduct town hall meetings with your constituents, your “bosses,” the folks who decide whether to vote for you — and whose money pays your salary.

I just got word of a new poll. It says that just 17 percent of Americans favor the Republican Senate version of a health care insurance overhaul. That’s about the same level of (non)support that the House of Representatives version got when the GOP caucus decided to send the issue over to the Senate.

At least one of your House colleagues, by the way, is declining to meet face to face with his bosses. That would be Republican Mac Thornberry. He’s my congressman. He decided a while back that he didn’t need to hear from just plain folks. The last so-called “town hall meeting” he had was with local business leaders, tycoons, pillars of the community. He wanted to inform them of his desire to see Congress shed some of the Obama administration’s regulations. I reckon he got a friendly reception.

But back to the point here.

That poll doesn’t bode well for the future of the GOP plan to rewrite the Affordable Care Act — if House members and senators are going to heed its findings. If you truly are going to “represent” your constituents, then you need to rethink your approach. It cannot be a Republican-only effort. There appears to be a need to include Democrats in this process. Hey, I’ve heard some Democrats say in public that they want to work with their Republican “friends.” But the GOP leadership — so far — is having none of it.

The president calls the House health care plan “mean.” He said he could support a plan with “heart.” The Senate version appears to many of us to be as heartless as the House plan. It takes too much money from Medicaid and according to the Congressional Budget Office — I am sure you are now aware — the plan will cost 22 million Americans their health coverage over the next decade.

That’s not a plan with “heart,” you lawmakers.

Enjoy your time away from D.C. Have a good time over the Fourth of July. Celebrate this great nation’s birthday.

While you’re at home, though, listen carefully to what your constituents — your bosses — are telling you. You’ll learn something.

This contest could get interesting … maybe, possibly

I get uncomfortable when friends of mine become engaged in politics.

It’s about to happen again. The campaign for the 13th Congressional District has just welcomed a newcomer to politics. His name is Greg Sagan, who told local media that he only recently became a Democrat. What drove him to become a member of a political party? He said it was the election of Donald John Trump this past November as president of the United States.

So now he’s a politician. He is going to run against longtime Republican U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry for the seat Thornberry has occupied since January 1995.

Pass the Pepto, will ya? This one gives me heartburn.

You see, I happen to be fond of Sagan personally. My wife and I have socialized with him and his wife. We’re also former colleagues of a sort. You see, back when I was editing the Opinion pages of the Amarillo Globe-News, Sagan was a regular contributor to the newspaper. He wrote a weekly column for the G-N. It was then that our relationship took root and then blossomed. His contribution to the newspaper ended when I resigned in August 2012.

I know Sagan to be a patriot. He served in the U.S. Navy and saw duty in Vietnam during the war that defined our generation. He is an unapologetic political progressive. He’s also a hell of a good writer. The boy can turn a phrase.

The campaign for Congress will get pretty damn serious around the first of next year, if not a bit sooner. My quandary centers on a couple of key points. One is that my wife and I most likely will have moved on by the time the campaign kicks into gear. I’ll likely be ineligible to vote in that election.

Of course, this blog will be firing plenty of ammo at this and/or that political target, which won’t take me out of the game completely.

I do not yet know how Greg is going to craft his campaign or what specifically will constitute his platform. Knowing him as I do I am certain he’ll hammer out a theme that makes sense, is cogent and is well-crafted.

He’s got a steep — I dare say nearly impossible — barrier to clear. If he’s the only Democrat to run in the 2018 primary, he’ll have to face a well-funded, well-seasoned and well-established incumbent who represents one of the country’s most reliably Republican congressional districts. GOP and, yes, Democratic partisans in Texas are known to be fiercely loyal to their officeholder.

I’ve known Mac Thornberry even longer than I’ve known Greg Sagan. I like Thornberry personally and over the years we’ve had a solid professional relationship and a cordial personal one. However, he has disappointed me many times over that span of time.

Is this the time for a change in our congressional representation? I don’t yet know. I do sense, though, that local Democrats are coping with the palpitations they get whenever someone emerges who they think can upset the status quo.

You go, Greg!

No, Rep. Thornberry, it won’t go away easily

This is what U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry told a TV station about the upcoming selection of a new FBI director: “It needs to be somebody with impeccable credentials,” Thornberry told local affiliate KCIT about his ideal FBI replacement. “It needs to be somebody who has trust across the aisle, widespread trust who is a professional and with that I think largely this controversy will die down.”

Hmm. Well, I believe I’ll disagree with the Republican lawmaker, who happens also to represent yours truly in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The selection of an FBI director to succeed James Comey won’t by itself allow “this controversy” to wither away and die.

There needs to be a lot of investigating completed before we start to put this matter in our rearview mirror. The president cannot appoint a yes man, a lackey, a hack. He needs a tough prosecutor, someone who is independent and fearless.

Thornberry is right about the need for someone with “trust across the aisle.” How does an FBI director gain that trust? By demonstrating resistance against the White House and from the president.

Texans in Congress mostly silent

The FBI boss needs to continue the search for the whole truth into whether Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian hackers who every intelligence expert in American has concluded tried to influence the 2016 election.

If a vigorous and thorough search clears the president, only then will it “die down.”

Talk to us, Rep. Thornberry

The fellow who represents me in Congress has made his point pretty clear: He doesn’t intend to conduct “town hall meetings” with constituents during these lengthy congressional breaks.

I beg to differ with Rep. Mac Thornberry’s reluctance to speak to groups of his constituents.

The Clarendon Republican lawmaker has just voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act and to replace it with a Trumpcare version of health care overhaul.

Congress is taking some time off. Its House members and senators have fanned out across the land. Some of them are facing their critics, namely their constituents, who are questioning them about their votes in favor of Trumpcare. Rep. Thornberry, to my knowledge, hasn’t scheduled any such public events.

He ought to rethink his schedule.

Do I expect him to get a dressing down from angry 13th Congressional District constituents? Well, I don’t know. He is considered a lead-pipe cinch for re-election in 2018; his district is as reliably Republican as any in the country. Then again, other GOP House members who are equally safe and secure have been getting pounded by their constituents.

I actually want to applaud those Republicans who have voted for Trumpcare to stand before their “bosses” and explain themselves. I think much less of those who have chosen other pursuits while they are at home, ostensibly tending to “constituent business.”

Thornberry’s been in Congress for a long time now. He took office in 1995. He chairs the House Armed Services Committee. He’s got a big job. He once led a GOP effort to come up with ways to protect us against cyber-crime. I’m hoping whatever he came up with is being employed by our spooks to protect our national security secrets against hackers from, oh, Russia!

However, health care is on people’s minds these days. Even, perhaps, out here in the 13th Congressional District.

We’ve been represented in Congress by someone who has aligned himself with those who want to throw out the Affordable Care Act. The Trumpcare replacement well could cost a lot of Thornberry’s constituents their health insurance.

I believe he owes them a thorough explanation of why he cast one of the House’s “yes” votes.

Time for a town hall meeting, Rep. Thornberry? Hmmm?

Welcome home, Mac Thornberry.

I know you’re a big shot in the U.S. House of Representatives, chairing the House Armed Services Committee and all of that.

You and I have some shared history here in the Texas Panhandle. You took office the same week I reported for duty at the Amarillo Globe-News in January 1995. In a way, we kind of “grew up together.”

But you’ve disappointed me at times. We differ on public policy matters. That’s OK with me. We have maintained a friendly relationship, which I sincerely appreciate.

What I cannot yet fathom is why you are forgoing town hall meetings with your constituents during this Easter/Passover break Congress is taking. Surely you know about the unease among many Americans about what Congress might do with the Affordable Care Act, the law you GOP lawmakers and other critics blithely call “Obamacare.”

Y’all tried to scrap it and replace it with something else. It didn’t work. The effort failed.

But you aren’t planning any town hall meetings. You met with business leaders in Amarillo and, I presume, in Wichita Falls. I understand you talked about the government’s rules and regulations that affect business operations; I also am quite certain you heard a lot of agreement from those constituents over your own belief that the feds are too hard on private enterprise.

Others out there aren’t entirely in sync with what you want to do. They dislike efforts to repeal and replace the ACA. Indeed, many of your colleagues — including your fellow Republicans — have gotten a gutful of gripes from constituents. I applaud them for taking the heat.

I do not applaud members of Congress who decline to face their constituents and to answer their questions and deal with their anxiety.

You need not to be reminded, Mac, that you work for us. We are your bosses. Not the speaker. Not the House majority leader. Not the president. It’s us, sir.

Talk to us. Listen to us.

Time for Thornberry to step up on this Russia matter?

I’ve been scrolling through U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry’s website, looking for something topical and current about the “Russia story,” the one dealing with Russian attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Russians used cyber attacks to hack into Democratic Party files. They disseminated unflattering information about Hillary Rodham Clinton. They sought to swing the election in Donald J. Trump’s favor.

That’s what intelligence experts have said. Everyone believes the analysis, except for Trump. He’s dissing the intelligence community.

Thornberry, as near as I can tell, has been quiet on this issue.

Where does Thornberry fit into all of this? Well, the Clarendon Republican chairs the U.S. House Armed Services Committee. He also once chaired a Republican-led congressional task force that was supposed to make recommendations to protect our national computer systems against attacks such as the one mounted by the Russians.

His website has a lot of interesting tabs. One of them is marked “Issues.” I found this item:

http://thornberry.house.gov/issues/issue/?IssueID=44735

It’s a policy paper on cybersecurity. It’s all quite interesting … if you are fluent in cyberspeak. 

I looked at it carefully and didn’t see any mention of the current issue: Russian hacking and meddling in our electoral process.

For that matter, as I looked at Thornberry’s press releases I saw no mention there, either, of what has transpired with regard to the Russian-meddling-interference.

I go back a number of years with Rep. Thornberry. I have joked with him over the years that he and I started new careers in the Texas Panhandle at the same time. He took office in January 1995 — after being elected to the House in that historic 1994 election — just days before I arrived to become editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. I have watched him carefully for most of the past 22 years.

I am waiting to hear from him, though, on this Russia hacking matter. He once was the Republicans’ go-to guy on cybersecurity. Is he no longer that guy?

I know Thornberry is aware of the seriousness of this still-developing story. My hope is that my congressman will contribute significantly — and soon — to the growing public discussion about the integrity of our electoral process.