Tag Archives: Mac Thornberry

Dear Mac: Step up on gun violence

Congressman Mac Thornberry:

I’m not one to write “open letters” to public officials, but I’m making an exception with this note. A lot of your supporters read this blog regularly and my sincere hope is that one or more of them will forward it to you.

Congressman, I want to join millions of other Americans who are calling for some action from you and your congressional colleagues on this sickening, maddening and tragic issue of gun violence.

I won’t belabor what you already know about the latest spasm of violence that erupted on Valentine’s Day in Parkland, Fla.

But you’re a big hitter in the U.S. House of Representatives these days. You no longer are a back-bencher. Your high profile as chairman of the Armed Services Committee gives you a louder voice than some chump who’s been in Congress for far less time than you.

Hey, we go back a ways together … you and I. I started my job at the Amarillo Globe-News the same week you took office after your stunning election in 1994. I’ve supported you while working for the Globe-News. I also have opposed you on occasion.

I am acutely aware of the constituency you represent. You are elected to one of the nation’s most reliably Republican congressional districts, even though it’s been redrawn considerably since you took office. Your constituents by and large are big Second Amendment proponents. They don’t much like any idea that monkeys around with the gun amendment.

Surely, though, you must understand that slaughtering school children and their educators is not normal. This is not how a civilized society should behave. Civilized societies should tolerate this carnage. Not for an instant! But, for God’s sake, we do!

Tougher background checks? Yes. End of those “bump stocks” that turn semi-automatic rifles into fully auto killing machines? By all means. How about a ban on assault rifles? Yes, I know many of your constituents are hunters, but who needs an assault rifle to shoot deer, turkeys or feral hogs in the Texas Panhandle?

Just for the record, though, I oppose arming teachers. My thought is this: More guns do not create a safer environment.

Given that you are now a member of the congressional leadership team, I want you to speak out clearly about what you think should be done to prevent recurrences of these tragedy.

I am tired of the canard that “no legislation would prevent” a madman from shooting someone. I will not tolerate a lame notion that there is nothing to be done that doesn’t tear the guts out of the Second Amendment. You can find a solution and you must communicate your ideas to those you represent in the halls of power.

Silence won’t do it for me, congressman. It shouldn’t do it for your other constituents, either.

Seize the moment, Rep. Thornberry.

Cyber security remains a (pipe) dream

CIA Director Mike Pompeo has issued a dire warning, which is that it is a near certainty that Russia is going to try meddling in our 2018 midterm election.

Yep, just like they did in the 2016 presidential election, the event that the president of the United States — Donald John Trump Sr. — keeps denying publicly.

Mr. President, please talk to the CIA boss. He knows more about this stuff than you do.

However, I keep circling back to an initiative that was launched in 2011 in Congress. It was designed to improve cyber security and was to be led by my own member of Congress, Republican U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry.

House Speaker John Boehner appointed Thornberry to lead a select committee to iron out the wrinkles in our nation’s cyber security system. It’s interesting to me that this was a GOP-only panel, comprising just Republican members of the House. I guess Thornberry and Boehner didn’t think there were any Democrats who could contribute to what ought to be a bipartisan/non-partisan concern.

Thornberry said in a statement after the panel’s work was done:

Cyber is deeply ingrained in virtually every facet of our lives.  We are very dependent upon it, which means that we are very vulnerable to disruptions and attacks.  Cyber threats pose a significant risk to our national security as well as to our economy and jobs.

At least 85 percent of what must be protected is owned and operated by the private sector.  Government must tread carefully in this area or risk damaging one of our greatest strengths — dynamic, innovate companies and businesses that are the key to our economy and to cybersecurity advances.

A “significant threat to our national security.” Yep, Rep. Thornberry, that is so very correct.

That threat presented itself in the 2016 election. There remain myriad questions about whether the Donald Trump campaign played a role in that threat. We’ll know the answer in due course, once the special counsel, Robert Mueller, finishes his work.

However, I do believe it’s fair to wonder: With all the work that Rep. Thornberry’s committee did to improve cybersecurity, did it do enough to protect our electoral system from the hanky-panky that came from this country’s preeminent foreign adversary?

I do not believe it did.

Bad behavior claims another one

Now it’s Joe Barton who’s bailing out of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Barton is a Republican from Ennis who reportedly sent some nasty pictures of himself over Twitter while he was engaged in a relationship with a “mature, adult woman.” The scorn poured over him. Barton, the senior member of the Texas congressional delegation, hung tough for a little while.

Then he announced his retirement, effective at the end of his current term in 2018.

Barton had to go. His departure should be a surprise to anyone. The mood across the country has revealed a diminishing tolerance for public officeholders’ lewd behavior. Barton, of course, was careful to explain that the recipient of the hideous pictures was engaged in a consensual relationship with him.

Fine, congressman. Hit the road, will ya?

Barton is just the latest in a long list of Texas lawmakers who are calling it quits. His announcement, to no one’s surprise, contains no mention of the trouble he brought onto himself.

Read more about Barton’s announcement here.


With the departure of the Texas congressional delegation’s dean, the longest-serving member from Texas is Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, who took office in January 1993.

And, hey, that means the Panhandle’s GOP House member, Mac Thornberry of Clarendon, who was sworn in just two years later, in January 1995, becomes the No. 2-ranked tenured member of the delegation.

I mention that only because Thornberry was elected in that 1994 Republican wave that ran on the Contract With America, a lengthy platform of government reforms that included term limits for members of the U.S. House and Senate. Thornberry has voted for term-limit amendments to the U.S. Constitution whenever they were presented to House members; they just haven’t gotten the votes needed to be referred to state legislatures for ratification.

And, no … he never made a personal pledge to bow out after three terms in the House.

I just thought I would bring it up because it seems oddly relevant.

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.


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.”