Almost Unanimous, 2017 edition: We asked why these lone dissenters withheld their votes on bills.
by GovTrack Insider staff writer Jesse Rifkin
Sometimes everybody agrees on something… that is, everybody except one holdout.
There were 24 congressional votes in 2017 for which all legislators in the House or Senate voted yes except for a single dissenter. This is notably more than in previous years: there were 15 such “lone dissenter” votes in both 2016 and 2015.
GovTrack Insider contacted all the dissenting members of Congress who didn’t provide a public explanation of their votes to find out why they voted no on bills for which everybody else voted yes.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY4)
North Korea was one of the biggest issues of 2017, with the rogue nation’s ballistic capability reaching its most advanced level yet, as Kim Jong Un and President Trump traded increasingly apocalyptic threats.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY4) was the lone dissenter on two bills which would impose sanctions on the country — April’s H.R. 479: North Korea State Sponsor of Terrorism Designation Act and May’s H.R. 1644: Korean Interdiction and Modernization of Sanctions Act.
“Non-military sanctions have largely proven to be ineffective,” Massie spokesperson Jadan Horyn told GovTrack Insider in a statement.
“Worse yet, they create tensions with our natural allies, move us closer to war, impose hardships on American companies doing business abroad, and punish civilians in the targeted country who would otherwise be supportive of the U.S.”
“It’s important to note that the Senate didn’t think much of these two bills either,” Horyn continued, “since neither one has come to the floor of the Senate for a vote.”
However, the last part of that statement may be a bit misleading.
The former bill would have designated North Korea as a State Department official “state sponsor of terror,” as the nation had previously been designated between 1988 and 2008. Although the House bill didn’t pass legislatively, President Trump nonetheless officially added the country back to the list of state sponsors of terror in November.
And while the latter bill to add sanctions to North Korea didn’t pass in its direct form, some provisions were added to the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which became law in August.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
Jim Mattis had not yet been retired three years from leading U.S. Central Command when President Trump nominated him to the cabinet. Yet the law requires any former military member to have retired for seven years from service before becoming Defense Secretary, to maintain America’s tradition of civilian control of the military.
A waiver had only been granted once before, in 1950 for George Marshall. A waiver for Mattis was approved by the Senate 81–17 and became the first bill Trump signed into law. But even the other 16 senators voting against the waiver eventually came around on Mattis by the time of his actual confirmation vote eight days later, many as a result of his praised confirmation hearing and testimony.
“Your job is far greater than deciding how to engage militarily. That is left to generals and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” Gillibrand explained to The Hill. The secretary of Defense has a far greater range of responsibilities that is informed by civilian background and experience.”
Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI3) was the lone no on not one, not two, but a stunning 10 votes. Amash ranked as the most libertarian (or tied for the most libertarian) House member from 2011 to 2016 according to FreedomWorks. All of the votes in which Amash was the lone no would have led to higher spending or a larger government in some form.
A good example was December’s H.R. 4323: Supporting Veterans in STEM Careers Act, which would expand federal grants to unemployed veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan so they can work in important burgeoning science and engineering fields.
Other votes on which Amash was the lone dissenter generally included very small scale bills on issues such as a May vote regarding a single land deed restriction in Old Town, Maine, a February vote regarding a ski area in Mount Hood, Oregon, and a June vote regarding a hydroelectric project in Kodiak, Alaska.
Amash’s office did not respond to several requests for comment.
Rep. Alcee Hastings (R-FL20)
H.R. 1892: Honoring Hometown Heroes Act would authorize governors to fly the U.S. flag at half-staff throughout their state if a first responder dies in the line of duty. The last expansion of governors’ privileges for the flag was a 2007 law allowing for half-staff for a member of the Armed Forces.
The only no vote came in May 2017 from Rep. Alcee Hastings (R-FL20). “Congressman Hastings’ ‘nay’ vote was cast by mistake,” press secretary Evan Polisar told GovTrack Insider in a statement. “He intended to vote yes.”
Hastings submitted an explanation to the Congressional Record the following day, on page 35 here — but by then it was too late to change his actual vote.
The legislation, introduced by Rep. John Larson (D-CT1), passed the Senate with changes in November, meaning it now goes back to the House for reconciling the differences between the two chambers.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR3)
There’s a federal Peanut Standards Board, created in 2002. South Carolina produces 8% of the nation’s peanut crop, but the board consist of members from eight other states — and not South Carolina. (The states represented on the board are Alabama, Florida, Georgia, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia.)
October’s H.R. 2521: South Carolina Peanut Parity Act would remedy this discrepancy — introduced by one of South Carolina’s own, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC2).
Yet somebody from 3,000 miles away voted no: Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR3). Blumenauer’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment, either from GovTrack Insider or from other journalists. It remains unclear what interest Blumenauer — or indeed, the state of Oregon at all — would have in stymying the federal Peanut Standards Board.
The bill has yet to receive a vote in the Senate.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX1)
The Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) is an agency established in 2010 to regulate and supervise the financial system in the wake of the global financial crash of 2008. Nine of the 10 voting members are comprised of heads of federal agencies dealing with the financial system, such as the Treasury Secretary and Federal Reserve Chair.
However, one is a so-called “independent member” appointed by the president but serving for a Senate-confirmed six-year term not tied to a president’s term in office. Currently that member is S. Roy Woodall, Jr., appointed by President Obama in 2011 but with a term that was scheduled to expire at the end of September 2017.
The Kentucky native had received high marks during his tenure in the job, to the point that even the Republican-controlled Congress voted almost unanimously to extend his term. H.R. 3110: Financial Stability Oversight Council Insurance Member Continuity Act was even introduced by a Republican, Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL14).
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX1), a conservative member of the House Freedom Caucus, voted no.
“H.R. 3110 allows for former President Obama’s appointees at the Financial Stability Oversight Council to stay on for up to 18 months. That in itself was enough to vote no,” Gohmert spokersperson Kim Willingham told GovTrack Insider in a statement.
“The House should be incentivizing President Trump and the Senate to get all presidential appointee slots filled as quickly as possible instead of offering incentives not to do so.”
The bill, introduced by Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL14), passed the Senate the following week and was signed into law later in September. Woodall still currently serves on the board.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the runner-up for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, was the lone dissenter two times in 2017.
FDA Reauthorization Act
One no vote was on August’s FDA Reauthorization Act. Sanders said he believed the legislation “does nothing to lower drug prices and is a giveaway to the pharmaceutical industry,” a spokesperson told Axios.
He also protested the Senate’s rejection of a provision he proposed for the bill, which would have allowed Americans to more easily purchase or obtain medications from Canada, where costs are less expensive.
The bill, which had previously passed the House in July after being introduced by Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR2), was enacted into law later in August.
Assistant Secretary of Defense
Sanders’ other dissent was June’s vote to confirm Trump’s nominee Kenneth Rapuano to be an Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Security and Global Defense, who was approved.
Sanders’ office did not respond to multiple requests for comment explaining his vote. Rapuano was a former deputy homeland security advisor during the George W. Bush administration, but hardly a controversial pick, producing no organized opposition.
Other Defense Department positions requiring Senate confirmation proved more controversial, such as December’s 74–23 vote on Owen West to be Assistant Secretary for Special Operations, or October 79–17 vote on David Trachtenberg to be Assistant Secretary for Policy.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL1)
Even though Florida ranks #3 in the country in human trafficking, December’s lone no vote on an anti-human-trafficking bill was Florida’s Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL1).
S. 1536: Combating Human Trafficking in Commercial Vehicles Act requires the Department of Transportation to create an official tasked with coordinating human trafficking prevention efforts across federal government agencies and departments.
“I vote against all bills that create new federal boards, commissions, [or] agencies,” Gaetz explained on Twitter.after a constituent tweeted at him asked to explain the vote.
The bill had previously passed the Senate in September after being introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and was enacted into law in January 2018.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
Ralph Erickson was nominated by President Trump in June to serve as a federal judge on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, a Midwestern-to-Western court based in St. Louis, Missouri.
As far as Trump judicial nominees have gone, Erickson was considered relatively benign by most Democrats. He had no especially controversial decisions during his previous position as a judge for the North Dakota District Court, originally nominated in 2003 by George W. Bush.
Yet Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) was the only senator to vote against his circuit court nomination during the September vote. Warren’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Warren does not serve on the Judiciary Committee, which had the opportunity to interview Erickson during his confirmation hearing. (A public Q&A between Warren and Erickson, had it occurred, would have surely yielded insight into her dissenting vote.)
Western Journalism similarly wrote, “It remains unclear why she chose to vote against Erickson’s confirmation.”
Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC3)
The Department of Homeland Security spends more than $7 billion per year on acquisitions, which includes items such as weapons, vehicles, and surveillance technologies created or manufactured by private-sector contractors.
H.R. 1252: DHS Acquisition Authorities Act would allow the department’s Undersecretary for Management to “approving, pausing, modifying, or canceling major acquisition programs, as needed.”
The lone dissenter last March was Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC3), a House Freedom Caucus Member. Jones’ office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Even though the bill aims to cut government spending overall, its immediate effects — before any major DHS acquisitions were canceled or lessened — would be to increase spending slightly. The legislation would cost less than $500,000 annually, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
The bill has yet to receive a vote in the Senate.
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI)
Donald Coggins was originally nominated by President Obama back in 2016 to be a federal district court judge for South Carolina. Coggins had been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee but never received a vote from the full Senate before that session of Congress ended. In an unusual move, the well-liked Coggins was nominated again by President Trump for the open seat in 2017.
Yet during November’s Senate “cloture” vote, a formality on whether to end debate on the Senate floor and proceed to the actual vote on Coggins’ nomination, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) was the only senator to vote no.
This is particularly baffling because during the actual vote on Coggins’ nomination held a mere hour later, Hirono voted to approve the judge.
Hirono’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Read our 2016 articles about “almost unanimous” bills here.
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