Thornberry talks guns, defense and whether to run again


AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Mac Thornberry is one of the longest-serving Texans in Congress. The Republican has represented parts of north Texas and the Panhandle since 1995. He’s currently the ranking Republican member on the House Armed Services Committee.

The Congressman spoke with politics reporter Phil Prazan on Sunday’s State of Texas program. Thornberry shared his thoughts on potential gun legislation on Capitol Hill, the move to shift some military funding to build a border wall and gave a less-than-definitive answer about whether he plans to run again.

PRAZAN: There have been two mass shootings in Texas. One was in El Paso, one was in Odessa. Odessa is a town very similar to towns in your neck of the woods. What do your constituents want when they see that kind of news? What do they want you to do?

THORNBERRY: I think they, like most of us, grapple with understanding how this can happen. And obviously, if it can happen in El Paso and Odessa, it can happen anywhere. And so they grapple for meaning. What is happening here? Why is this? And can we do something to stop it? And I think we’re all grappling with those answers. Simplistic sort of, oh, let me just pass this bill and it will all stop, obviously that’s not true.  And my constituents know it’s not that simple. There are deeper issues involved here. 

PRAZAN: Would you like to see anything happen when it comes to major national policies that you would like to vote on in the House?

THORNBERRY: Well, I think we always ought to look at the circumstances of these shootings and examine our laws to see if something can be done. For example, a few years ago when the church shooting down outside of San Antonio occurred, one of the things we discovered was the military was not reporting violations of the military criminal code to the national data bank. And so we fixed that. And it turns out state and local governments weren’t either. So something came of it that was useful for enforcing the current law. So, I think we always ought to look and see if something needs to be adjusted.

PRAZAN: Something that people point out on this issue is that the shooter in Odessa got the gun from a private sale. Went through a background check at a gun store, was flagged, was not able to purchase it there. Was able to do one of these person-to-person sales, private sale without a background check.  There’s talk about closing that and requiring background checks on those private sales. Is that something you would support?

THORNBERRY: I think we need to learn more about this private sale. There’s also some indication that someone assembled this gun illegally and sold it to him, so you already had violations of the law before the sale ever took place. So, should we look at background checks? Are there circumstances we ought to require them that we don’t now?  We ought to look at that. At the same time, if I loan my shotgun to my brother to go quail hunting, I don’t think a background check is appropriate for that circumstance. So that’s why you need to look at the details of these things.

PRAZAN: You’re in Austin this week to talk about the military. Tell us a little bit about what brings you to Austin. What message do you want the meeting to go across?

THORNBERRY: Well, my primary, my only committee assignment in Washington is the Armed Services Committee. I was chairman for four years, now the top Republican. There’s exciting things happening here. Army Futures Command in Austin. It’s a unique combination to have Fort Hood close, to have the University here but also the high tech community.  And that combination is a unique thing. I was here a year ago when it was beginning to get stood up. And now checking on the progress a year after that.

PRAZAN: We’ve heard this week that there has been talk about some military funding being diverted from the bases to the border wall effort from the President.  Should we be concerned about that if you live in one of these cities with a big military base?

THORNBERRY: Well, we should all be concerned about it regardless of where you live.  Because we expect the men and women who serve in the military to defend us.  And they expect to be given what they need to do the job we ask them to do. And sometimes that’s schools to educate their kids and hangars so that they can fix their planes and all sorts of facilities. My view is we ought to fully fund military needs on its own. And we also ought to fully fund border security needs on our own. We shouldn’t have to choose one or the other.

PRAZAN: Last question from me, though. Just because with news also this week, Congressman Bill Flores announced that he was not going to run again.  Are you going to be back next time? Are you going to run again?

THORNBERRY: Oh, I don’t know. I’ll have a final decision and announcement on that before too long. But I think people should not make too much of the fact that folks who have been in a while or have put limits on themselves, how long they would serve, have decided to do something else.  They may well be replaced by added skills and perspectives that will be good for the party and the country. 

PRAZAN: You know, I was listening to Congressman Mike Conaway on that. It’s just a different environment being out of power. With the Democrats in control, you can only do so many things that probably interest you. Do you agree with that?

THORNBERRY:  Well, yeah. A number of us in Texas have been very fortunate. I think Texas had more committee chairmen at one time than any state ever had in the country’s history. To some extent there is a natural ebb and flow to this thing.  A fair number of people were elected, stayed a long time, being committee and subcommittee chairmen, and then there’s a natural change to that.  So, again, I don’t think that anybody should make too much of it, either from a partisan level or what that says about Congress.

PHIL:  So, for the Congressman Thornberry fans out there, when should we look to see a decision coming from you?

THORNBERRY:  It’s got to be pretty soon, I think.  Because Texas filing starts in November.  And so, I think everybody in the delegation will have to make their final decisions before too long.

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