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Why 10 Republicans Voted Against Honoring Golf Legend Jack Nicklaus

The House voted Monday to award a Congressional Gold Medal to Nicklaus. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)
The House voted Monday to award a Congressional Gold Medal to Nicklaus. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Do 10 House Republicans just hate Jack Nicklaus?  

The House voted 371-10 Monday night to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the Golden Bear “in recognition of his service to the Nation in promoting excellence, good sportsmanship and philanthropy.”  

But 10 Republicans said “no” to the greatest golfer of all time: Justin Amash of Michigan, Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma, Jason Chaffetz of Utah, Walter B. Jones of North Carolina, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Reid Ribble of Wisconsin, Tom Rice of South Carolina, Randy Weber of Texas, and Ted Yoho of Florida.  

It’s not that they don’t like Nicklaus, though Yoho’s office told CQ Roll Call the Florida Republican isn’t much of a golf fan.  

“Probably ’cause he’s bad at it,” Communications Director Brian Kaveney theorized.  

They voted “no,” the Republicans say, because there’s a principle at stake. Amash’s office referred us to his 2012 statement on the bill and said the Michigan Republican’s explanation this time around would probably mirror the last.  

In April 2012, Amash explained on his Facebook page — Amash explains every vote he takes on Facebook — that he voted against awarding the medal to Nicklaus, considered one of the nation’s highest civilian honors, because he thought it was “better to reserve the medal for those whose heroism and self-sacrifice was made to save the lives of others.”  

As Amash points out, this isn’t the first time the House has voted to recognize Nicklaus. In the 112th Congress, the bill passed 373-4. (The bill was promptly read twice in the Senate and stuffed in a filing cabinet, where it died.)  

And so now the proposal is back. Ohio Republican John A. Boehner famously told his House colleagues when he took the speaker’s gavel at the start of the 112th Congress that they weren’t going to waste congressional time naming post offices and commemorating every minor achievement. Still, the speaker, who is an avid golfer , has made a bit of an exception in two consecutive Congresses for Nicklaus.  

The good part about a previous vote is there is a baseline for comparison. And the takeaway is this: In the House of Representatives, opposition to awarding Nicklaus a gold medal is growing.  

Six of the 10 “no” votes came from Republicans who were not in the House during the last go-round. The only new member to vote against the bill who was in Congress last time is Jones — and, back then, he didn’t cast a vote at all.  

Jones told CQ Roll Call Tuesday that if he had voted in 2012, it wouldn’t have gone Nicklaus’ way.  

The North Carolina Republican, who is often at odds with the majority of his party, said his central issue was that the Congressional Gold Medal ought to be reserved for those who have served the nation — but he also raised some budgetary concerns.  

“Mr. Nicklaus can buy all the gold he wants,” Jones said, continuing that he might have supported the effort if they let “the millionaire” buy the gold medal himself.  

A number of the 10 Republicans who voted against Nicklaus’ recognition cited monetary concerns.  

Massie told CQ Roll Call in a statement that he came to Congress because there was a $17 trillion debt, “not because a golf pro was in need of a gold medal.”  

It was Massie who called for the roll call vote in the first place, waiting on the House floor to ensure the bill wasn’t “doc fix’d .”* And Massie said he thought it was “ironic and unfortunate” that the House awarded a Congressional Gold Medal for playing golf on the same day it conferred the same award to military heroes.  

(That bill to collectively award a Congressional Gold Medal to American Fighter Aces passed immediately after the Nicklaus measure, 381-0.)  

As for the Nicklaus bill, perhaps the most interesting vote came from Scott Rigell, R-Va.  

He was the only member to have switched his vote, opposing Nicklaus’ gold medal in 2012, but voting for it this week.  

Back in 2012, Rigell’s office told Deadspin that, “The Congressman believes these awards should only be handed out to those who have sacrificed their lives protecting our freedom.”  

On Tuesday, Rigell told a different story.  

“There’s no major philosophical difference here,” Rigell said. “Basically, it’s one of these things where the margin of whether you vote for it or against it is not all that great.”  

Rigell said his objection last year was, “Let’s get on with the business of the day,” and he said while he still wrestles with congressional priorities, he wasn’t compelled to vote against honoring “a great American.”  

“I didn’t think that was a battle I needed to fight this year,” Rigell said.  

But plenty of freshman Republicans did fight that battle. And, in a sign that they’re proud of their swimming-against-the-tide status, the offices of those Republican fresh faces eagerly handed CQ Roll Call lengthy statements Tuesday, patting themselves on the back for standing up to the gold medal tyrannies of Congress.  

Weber’s statement began with the phrase, “Since the American Revolution,” and it ended with a call to help job creators, reduce red tape and end “job-killing regulations.”  

Weber, who also mentioned the debt in his statement, explained that, “if we are going to award gold medals, they need to go to the heroes who have or are risking their lives for our freedom.”  

Rice, who represents one of the most golfer-friendly areas in the nation, Myrtle Beach, also offered a stem-winder explanation. He noted that he respected and admired Nicklaus, but with so many unresolved issues over veterans’ health care, “I did not feel comfortable awarding a congressional medal to Jack Nicklaus.”  

That message was parroted by Ribble, one of the experienced Nicklaus naysayers. He told CQ Roll Call that the Congressional Gold Medal ought to go to veterans or citizens who have contributed to the national defense.  

“I just don’t know that being able to hit a white ball around a golf course while earning millions of dollars is deserving of a gold medal,” Ribble said.  

There have been numerous military heroes honored in the medal’s history, starting with George Washington, but two other famous golfers — Byron Nelson and Arnold Palmer — have been recipients.  

Another experienced Nicklaus adversary, Chaffetz, made it clear that his issue was bigger than awarding a gold medal to a man who had won 18 major championships.  

Chaffetz’s press secretary, MJ Henshaw, told CQ Roll Call that the Utah Republican voted against all such measures commemorating sports teams and whatnot; it wasn’t just about Nicklaus.  

“I was going to make some joke about his handicap, but, yeah, no,” Henshaw said.  

Doc fix’d – verb – past tense. To quickly voice vote a measure before a member may request a recorded vote. Referring to the surprise voice vote on the Sustainable Growth Rate adjustment, more commonly known as the “Doc fix.”