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Bill Straub: Lone holdout in vote in U.S. House to support Hong Kong freedom fighters was — Massie

It was Aesop who first noted that a man is known by the company he keeps. With that in mind, Rep. Thomas Massie, aka Wonder Boy, might want to reconsider cozying up to his new BFFs, notorious international tormentors Russia and China, who aren’t exactly known for having the best interests of the United States in mind.

Massie, R-SomewhereorotherLewisCounty, has long looked at Russia with admiring eyes and is considered, according to one publication, the most Kremlin-friendly member of the House, despite that nation’s propensity for finagling America’s elections and blatantly stealing Crimea from its weaker proprietor, Ukraine.

Now our boy is playing footsie with China, which likely poses a greater threat to the U.S., both economically and in matters of security, than Russia. Just why Massie has decided to snuggle up and seek the favor of the likes of Russia President Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, president of the People’s Republic of China, is blowin’ in the wind, since he’s, as usual following the meandering course of a legislative career that hasn’t made a lick of sense since the get-go. But the evidence is there and growing.

Last week something unusual happened in the partisan train wreck known as Washington DC. Republicans and Democrats in both the House and Senate got together and passed two pieces of legislation intended to bolster the fight for human rights in the semi-autonomous Chinese administrative region of Hong Kong.

China, not one of the world’s great leaders in the campaign for human rights, is up to its old tricks in Hong Kong, that glitzy, neon-lit business center of 7.3 million people. Once a colony of the British Empire, the territory was returned to China in 1997 with the understanding that the Beijing government would shy away from the sort of political crackdowns for which it has become infamous.

But the situation on the South China Sea is deteriorating. Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world, is reporting that “millions of people in Hong Kong are protesting democratic deterioration and rights violations, amid increasing police brutality and other violence against them.”

“Freedom House has tracked a sharp democratic decline in Hong Kong over the last decade, alongside increasing interference by the Chinese government in local affairs,” the organization stated in policy brief. “A weak international response to the events in Hong Kong increases the likelihood of worsening unrest that could harm US interests and citizens in Asia, and would set a dangerous precedent for potential future Chinese Communist Party aggression.”

Congress acted to address the growing crisis. One bill prohibited exporting nonlethal “munitions,” including tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, water cannons, stun guns and tasers to Hong Kong police. It passed the Senate by voice vote and received unanimous support in the House.

The second measure, the more vital one, directed various federal departments to assess whether political developments in Hong Kong required a change in the way the U.S. deals with the region, ordering the State Department to issue an annual report to Congress regarding whether Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous from China to justify its unique treatment.

The measure also included this, according to the bill summary:

“The President shall report to Congress a list of individuals responsible for committing acts that violate internationally recognized human rights in Hong Kong, including the extrajudicial rendition or torture of any person in Hong Kong. The bill bars such individuals from entering the United States and imposes sanctions on them.”

Now to most people that would all sound fairly reasonable, if a bit underwhelming given the stakes involved.

Again, the upper chamber, under the direction of Senate Republican Leader Mitch “Root-‘n-Branch’’ McConnell of Louisville, passed the measure without dissent. Meanwhile, the House passed it 417-1.

By now you know where this is headed.

The Whiz Kid, Rep. Thomas Massie, was the lone hold-out.

Actually, this perhaps shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Wonder Boy has made a political career out of being cute – he seems to think it’s amusing he votes against various bills regardless of how innocuous they might be or, in this case, how important.

It’s a great routine. The protestors in Hong Kong are sure to get a kick out of it.

Massie explained his stunning vote in a couple of ways. On Twitter, he said he hopes President Trump, aka President Extremely Stable Genius, aka President Great and Unmatched Wisdom, who has expressed concern about how the bill might affect trade talks, issues a veto.

“This bill went too far,” Massie said. “We have no legislative authority to meddle in the internal affairs of another sovereign country. Doing so only invites them to try to do the same to us.”
On Fox News, Massie said “But what it did, it has sanctions on China. I agree with 90 percent of the bill but the 10 percent that says we’re going to sanction China – give me a break. You don’t pull a gun unless you’re ready to shoot it. And when you start escalating things, like, with China, and you start doing, you know, in this case, the sanctions. I’ve never voted for a sanction and so I wasn’t about to start here. This is fake. This is Congress acting like they want to do something. But they’re not really going to do anything.”

None of this rationale, of course, makes any sense. Perhaps it was a poor translation from the original Mandarin.
Don’t meddle in the internal affairs of foreign countries? Even in the face of unspeakable human rights violations? The United States for far too many years stood on the sidelines when the government of South Africa crushed the native population under its boot heel. The Bosnian genocide in the 1990s was unrelenting until the U.S. – finally – got involved.

History is full of tales about an authoritarian government treating human rights like so much toilet paper, creating horrible and ghastly situations that require the moral force of the U.S. to intervene. America deservedly loses credibility around the world when it fails to act on behalf of human rights.

The most direct response, short of a military operation or armed sales, is sanctions. This particular bill simply bars those who practice torture from entering the United States. That’s going too far? Who is Massie receiving advice from, the Khmer Rouge?

The United States is obligated as the leading voice of freedom in the world to stand up for human rights both within and outside its boundaries. Asserting that perpetrators of torture should be allowed to visit this soil unfettered is the height of ridiculousness.

Like the Trumpster, Whiz Kid seems to have an odd fascination with authoritarian leaders. What’s baffling is, as a member of Congress, he essentially wants to reduce the federal government to nothingness, rendering it comfortable on the point of a pin, to the extent that he can be called a neo-nihilist. But if strongmen like Putin and Xi want to make mincemeat of their populations, more power to them.

Massie, it should be said in fairness, is not a complete nitwit. He is absolutely right, for instance, that Congress has made hash of the budget and appropriations process. On that he deserves support. He also has made good points about the right to privacy.

But the vast majority of his career is horrifying, opposing a vast number of initiatives simply to draw attention to himself. Hong Kong needs support. But the Whiz Kid apparently feels it’s more important to build up his reputation as a contrarian to help these folks out.

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.

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  1. Marv Dunn says:

    As I see it, Massie has been pretty ineffective for Northern Kentucky. I wish some middle of the road Republican would primary him. Trey Grayson comes to mind but I’m not sure if he lives in the District any more.

  2. Greg Jonstan says:


  3. Romeo Haqqee says:

    Hong Kong is second on Human Freedom Index of Cato Institute. US is way down at #17.

Reply to Greg Jonstan Cancel Reply