Mac Thornberry

For the judge and 10th congressional district representative, see Homer Thornberry.
Mac Thornberry
Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee
Assumed office
January 3, 2015
Preceded by Buck McKeon
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Texas's 13th district
Assumed office
January 3, 1995
Preceded by Bill Sarpalius
Personal details
Born William McClellan Thornberry
(1958-07-15) July 15, 1958
Clarendon, Texas, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Sally Thornberry
Residence Clarendon, Texas
Alma mater Texas Tech University
University of Texas School of Law
Occupation Rancher, lawyer
Religion Presbyterianism

William McClellan Thornberry, known as Mac Thornberry (born July 15, 1958), is the U.S. Representative from the Texas Panhandle. He has served since 1995, when the House seated its first Republican majority in forty years[1] and signed the "Contract with America" that was authored by former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich.[2]

A Republican, Thornberry represents Texas's 13th congressional district, a GOP stronghold which stretches between the Oklahoma and New Mexico borders. It winds across the Panhandle into the South Plains, then runs east across the Red River Valley. Covering over 40,000 square miles (100,000 km2), it is the second-largest district geographically in Texas and one of the largest (excluding at-large districts in Wyoming, Montana, and Alaska) in the country. It is even larger in area than thirteen states. The principal cities in the district are Amarillo and Wichita Falls.[3]

Early life, education and career

His great-great-grandfather, Amos Thornberry, a Union Army veteran and staunch Republican, moved in the 1880s to Clay County, just east of Wichita Falls.[4]

Thornberry is a lifelong resident of Clarendon, some 60 miles (97 km) east of Amarillo, in the heart of the 13th. His family has operated a ranch in the area since 1881. He received his Bachelor of Arts in history from Texas Tech University in Lubbock. He then obtained his Juris Doctor from the University of Texas School of Law in Austin.[5]

He served previously as a staffer to two other Texas Republican congressmen, Tom Loeffler and Larry Combest, and as deputy Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs under Ronald Reagan before he joined his brothers on the family ranch. Thornberry has called President Reagan "...a great man and a great president, ranking in the top tier of all of our chief executives."[6] He also practiced law in Amarillo.[7]

Thornberry is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.[8]

U.S. House of Representatives

Committee Assignments

Committee on Armed Services (Chairman)

Thornberry serves as Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee – the first Texan of either party to hold this position.[9] The Armed Services Committee has the responsibility to oversee the Pentagon, all military services, and all Department of Defense agencies, including agency budgets and policies.[10]

In his role on the committee, Thornberry has been an outspoken critic of many of President Obama's national security policies, including the fight against ISIS, the Iran nuclear deal, and more.[11] He has warned about a growing competition between al-Qaida and ISIS about which organization is the most prominent terrorist group in the world.[12] Concerning the Obama administration's nuclear deal with Iran, Thornberry has identified three major concerns he has: how the provisions will be verified and enforced, if Iran will actually live up to its promises, and the billions of dollars Iran will receive because of sanctions relief.[13] He has also stressed serious concerns about Iran's ability to produce a nuclear weapon in nine months because of the deal.[14]

Thornberry also blasted the Obama administration's approach to the Middle East, as well as its attempt to "pivot" to East Asia.[15]

Since taking the committee gavel at the beginning of the 114th Congress, Thornberry has spearheaded a major Department of Defense acquisition reform effort.[16] That effort has received bipartisan and bicameral support from House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).[17]

Past Committee Assignments

Thornberry previously served on the United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.[18]

Legislative work

Legislative biography

From the National Journal Congressional Almanac:

"In the House, Thornberry has compiled a solidly conservative voting record, though he has a pragmatic streak and is hardly the most ideological Republican in the Texas delegation. In keeping with his scholarly nature, his official website includes an essay explaining his philosophy and explaining his interest 'in continuing to push government to work smarter and more efficiently.'

Thornberry has often been at the forefront of security issues. Six months before the tragic events of September 11, 2001, Mac introduced a bill to create a new United States Department of Homeland Security,[19] which formed the basis of legislation signed into law by President Bush 20 months later. He has also played a major role in shaping national policy on transformation of the military and strategic nuclear issues.[20] In addition, he is at the forefront of efforts in Congress to protect the country from threats ranging from terrorist attacks to nuclear proliferation. He took over in January 2011 as chairman of the Armed Services Committee’s terrorism panel. Earlier, as a member of the Intelligence Committee, Thornberry criticized delays in integrating computer networks and intelligence analyses at the Homeland Security Department. He also has championed missile defense and called for better coordination of military space programs.

Thornberry was critical of President Barack Obama’s arms control deal with Russia in 2010 for precluding the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear nations. But he can be more pragmatic than other defense hawks. He served on a bipartisan commission in 2007 that drew up recommendations for winning the war in Iraq with both lethal and non-lethal approaches, such as diplomacy and foreign aid. Despite his expertise on security matters, he lost his bid in 2009 to chair the full Armed Services Committee to Buck McKeon, R-Calif., who had more seniority.[21] He served as vice chair of the full committee during McKeon's time as the chairman.[22]

On domestic issues, Thornberry has pressed for repeal of the estate tax and also tax credits to encourage production of oil in marginal wells. In 2010, he got a bill into law expanding access to state veterans’ homes to parents whose children died while serving in the military. He introduced a bill in January 2011 to help states set up special health care courts staffed by judges with expertise in the subject. The judges would serve as an alternative to juries that Republicans say are inclined to award unnecessarily large damage amounts in malpractice cases."[23]

Term limits

Thornberry has consistently voted for term limits that would apply to U.S. Congressmen. He has never said that he would limit the amount of terms he would serve until a Constitutional Amendment is passed limiting senators and representatives across the board. He is quoted as saying, "The key is who are we working for? It doesn't matter if you've been in Washington two years or 25 years. We saw a huge number of incumbents lose in the last election because they forgot that. I don't work for the new speaker. I don't work for the party. I work for the 650,000 folks in my district. That's certainly the focus of mine."[24]

Agriculture and farm bill

With a long personal and family background in ranching, Thornberry has been a leading voice in the House of Representatives about the importance of passing a Farm Bill every five years to give farmers and ranchers more stability.[25] In 2013, he voted for the five year Farm Bill that failed in the House.[26]

The 2013 Farm Bill offered taxpayers close to $40 billion in savings, including reductions in farm policy spending and the repeal or consolidation of over 100 programs.[27] Those savings included annual cuts of $2 billion from food stamps, which would have been the most extensive reforms to food policy since 1996.[28]


Thornberry supports an "all of the above" energy plan and opposes a global warming tax.[29][30] In 2013, he introduced, H.R. 2081, the "No More Excuses Energy Act of 2013" that would encourage the production of all forms of domestic energy including oil and gas, nuclear, and alternative energy and fuels.[31]

He has voted in support of opening the Outer Continental Shelf to oil drilling, barring the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases, and against tax credits for renewable electricity.[32]

In July 2015, the President signed a highway funding extension legislation into law.[33] It included a provision based on a liquefied natural gas (LNG) excise tax bill, H.R. 905, that Thornberry introduced with Rep. John Larson (D-CT).[34] The federal excise tax on LNG and diesel has been set at 24.3 cents per gallon. Because it takes 1.7 gallons of LNG to produce the same amount of energy as a gallon of diesel fuel, LNG is being taxed 70 percent higher than diesel. The new law "levels the playing field" by applying the excise tax to LNG and diesel based on the amount of energy each produces, which is how it is applied to Compressed Natural Gas and gasoline.[35]


In 2011, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner tapped Thornberry to lead an initiative on cybersecurity to focus the efforts of Congress to combat the growing national security and economic threat.[36] The task force was composed of representatives of nine committees with jurisdiction over cyber issues. The panel recommended reforming a range of current laws, including the 2002 Federal Information Security Management Act, which governs government security programs.[37] Thornberry is on record saying, “Cybersecurity attacks are a direct threat to our economy and job creation, as well as our national security."[38]

In a 2012 column he wrote for Federal News Radio, Thornberry said, "If we can get an information sharing bill to the President, however, Congress should not consider their work done. We still have larger issues to grapple with, such as the role of the Department of Homeland Security and whether some industries will require a regulatory nudge to improve their network standards."[39] That year, the House passed comprehensive cybersecurity legislation that year, but the Senate failed to act on any of it.[40]

Synthetic Drugs

In 2015, Thornberry introduced legislation, H.R. 1186, called the Synthetic Abuse and Labeling Toxic Substances, or SALTS Act — that would make it easier for law enforcement officials to take action against synthetic drug manufacturers, distributors, and sellers by closing a loophole that makes it difficult to prosecute them because they label packages as “not intended for human consumption.”[41]

Voting record

From Jan 1995 to Jul 2015, Thornberry missed 128 of 14,001 roll call votes, which is 0.9%. This is better than the median of 2.2% among the lifetime records of representatives currently serving.[42]

Voting scorecard by issue

Political campaigns

Thornberry defeated Democratic Congressman Bill Sarpalius in the 1994 general election, a heavily Republican year nationwide. He polled 79,416 votes (55 percent) to Sarpalius' 63,923 votes (44 percent). Two years earlier in a much higher turnout election, Sarpalius had polled nearly double the votes that he received in 1994. The 13th has always been a somewhat conservative district, but on paper had been made somewhat less Republican in the 1990s redistricting. For this reason, Thornberry's victory is still regarded as an upset.

Thornberry has never faced another contest nearly as close as his initial one, and has been reelected 10 times, never dropping below 67 percent of the vote. He has consolidated his hold on a district that was historically Democratic. While voters in this region began splitting their tickets as early as the 1940s, Democrats continued to hold most local offices well into the 1990s. However, Thornberry's win began a wave of Republican victories in this region, and it is now reckoned as one of the most Republican districts in the nation. Indeed, the Cook Partisan Voting Index rated it is the most Republican district in the country (R+32).[50]

Thornberry is only the third Republican to represent the district for a full term since Reconstruction. The previous Republican representatives were Robert D. "Bob" Price of Pampa (1967–1975) and Beau Boulter of Amarillo (1985–1989).

In the 2006 and 2008 elections, Thornberry handily defeated former intelligence officer and Professor Roger Waun.

In the Republican primary held on May 29, 2012, Thornberry overwhelmed his lone opponent, Pamela Lee Barlow, 47,251 votes (78 percent) to 13,643 (22 percent).[51] In the general election, Thornberry bested (91 percent) Libertarian John Robert Deek of Denton and Green Party candidate Keith F. Houston of Canyon (there was no Democratic candidate).[52]

In the Republican primary held on March 4, 2014, Thornberry easily won re-nomination. He polled 45,097 votes (68 percent) to challengers Elaine Hays and, again, Pamela Barlow, who received 12,438 votes (19 percent) and 8,860 votes (13 percent), respectively.[53]

General election results

Texas 13th Congressional District 1994[54]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Mac Thornberry 79,466 55
Democratic Bill Sarpalius (Incumbent) 63,923 45
Total votes 143,389 100
Texas 13th Congressional District 1996[55]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Mac Thornberry (Incumbent) 116,098 67
Democratic Samuel Brown Silverman 56,066 32
Independent Don Harkey 1,463 1
Total votes 173,627 100
Texas 13th Congressional District 1998[56]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Mac Thornberry (Incumbent) 81,141 68
Democratic Mark Harmon 37,027 31
Libertarian Georganne Baker Payne 1,298 1
Total votes 119,466 100
Texas 13th Congressional District 2000[57]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Mac Thornberry (Incumbent) 117,995 68
Democratic Curtis Clinesmith 54,343 31
Libertarian Brad Clardy 2,137 1
Total votes 174,475 100
Texas 13th Congressional District 2002[58]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Mac Thornberry (Incumbent) 119,401 79
Democratic Zane Reese 31,218 21
Total votes 150,619 100
Texas 13th Congressional District 2004[59]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Mac Thornberry (Incumbent) 189,448 92
Libertarian John Robert Deek 15,793 8
Total votes 205,241 100
Texas 13th Congressional District 2006[60]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Mac Thornberry (Incumbent) 108,107 74
Democratic Roger J. Waun 33,460 23
Libertarian Keith Dyer 3,829 3
Total votes 145,396 100
Texas 13th Congressional District 2008[61]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Mac Thornberry (Incumbent) 180,078 78
Democratic Roger James Waun 51,841 22
Total votes 231,919 100
Texas 13th Congressional District 2010[62]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Mac Thornberry (Incumbent) 113,201 87
Libertarian John T. Burwell, Jr. 5,650 4
Independent Keith Dyer 11,192 9
Total votes 130,043 100
Texas 13th Congressional District 2012[63]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Mac Thornberry (Incumbent) 187,775 91
Libertarian John Robert Deek 12,701 6
Green Keith F. Houston 5,912 3
Total votes 206,388 100
Texas 13th Congressional District 2014[64]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Mac Thornberry (Incumbent) 110,842 84
Democratic Mike Minter 16,822 13
Libertarian Emily Pivoda 2,863 2
Green Don Cook 924 .70
Total votes 131,451 100


  8. CFR Membership List as of May 23, 2012. Available at
  49. The Median & Most Partisan Districts, 1998-2014 The Cook Political Report. October 9, 2013.
  50. "Republican primary election returns, May 29, 2012". Retrieved May 30, 2012.
  51. "Big Country reps will keep their jobs, November 6, 2012". Retrieved February 26, 2013. External link in |publisher= (help)
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Bill Sarpalius
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Texas's 13th congressional district

Preceded by
Buck McKeon
Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee
United States order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Zoe Lofgren
United States Representatives by seniority
Succeeded by
Elijah Cummings
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