In another life, Ted Yoho castrated lions. Now that he’s in Congress, he doesn’t do that as much anymore. But before the Floridian beat an incumbent twelve-term Republican, won the general election, and made headlines in Washington for his unorthodox staffing decisions (when his chief of staff started working for him, she was 24 years old) and eyebrow-hiking statements on the debt ceiling, Theodore Scott “Ted” Yoho was a large-animal veterinarian in North-Central Florida who worked with a small zoo and sometimes, yes, decoupled big cats from their manhood.
“You know, those things are huge,” he tells National Review Online. “Knowing that you’re part of the food chain for them — you just hope your drug calculation is correct and your drugs work well.”
Now he’s going after an even bigger target: The congressman has co-sponsored the efforts of Representative Pete Olson (R., Texas) to impeach Attorney General Eric Holder. Freshman congressmen don’t typically break out the I-word, but Yoho hasn’t been one to shy away from controversial positions and statements. He made a name for himself during the shutdown as a vocal member of the conservative group of House members pushing hardest for the government to stay shuttered unless the Affordable Care Act was defunded. And when he argued to a Washington Post reporter that keeping the debt ceiling fixed would “bring stability to the world markets,” he became a lightning rod for criticism directed at House Republicans over the shutdown. Lots of YOLO jokes were made.
But back in Florida, his supporters seemed unfazed by criticism. Tho Bishop, who used to work for the House Financial Services Committee and is running for the Florida House, sums it up this way: “No one that was a big Yoho fan amongst my circle said, ‘I’m done with this guy after the shutdown thing.’”
#ad#In fact, at least among grassroots activists and libertarian-leaning conservatives, the opposite may have happened. Burnie Thompson, a conservative talk-radio host based in Panama City, tells National Review Online that he has yet to see backlash against the congressman.
“He is a Republican whom real conservatives are very happy with,” Thompson tells me. When I ask if the two have met, he says they haven’t.
“He’s on my list of people,” Thompson says, pausing our phone conversation to tell one of his producers to book Yoho on an upcoming show. “He’s one of those conservatives everybody’s loving,” says Thompson.
And debt-ceiling intransigence isn’t the only issue where the national media and Yoho’s supporters go their separate ways. When the congressman suggested that the tanning-bed tax in the Affordable Care Act “disenfranchised” white people, he practically broke the Internet. But, according to his supporters, the pushback was unwarranted. Paul Skinner, the president of the Marion County Young Republicans, tells me he thought Yoho’s comment was pretty funny.
“Just the way he brought it forth, I thought a lot of people thought the same way, on the discrimination of that, taxing someone just because they’re going to get a tan and a different color. I thought that was quite comical, to a degree. . . . In other circles it may have been a bigger deal, but I really didn’t hear much of it after it was mentioned.”
His provocations haven’t always faded from public view so quickly. The veterinarian ruffled more than a few feathers when he decided to face off with incumbent Cliff Stearns, a member who served for 23 years. One North Florida Republican insider tells National Review Online that some bridges still need to be rebuilt. Be that as it may, Stearns’s lengthy tenure ended up being a liability rather than an asset. North-Central Florida primary voters wanted a change of pace, and that’s exactly what they got.
Yoho tells me he started reading up on foreign policy, financial theories, and the nation’s founding principles about ten years ago. Then the passage of the Affordable Care Act kicked him into gear. “I saw that as a fundamental change in this country,” he says, “going from a free-enterprise system to a — some would say, get this right, I’m not saying this — some people said more of a socialist-type direction, or even a fascist-type direction for our country, and that’s not what our country is founded on.”
#page#He continues, saying that the American dream still exists, though it’s harder to realize than it had been. “The unemployment of the underclass, our youth, is at one of the all-time highs,” he says. “Why is it that 26-year-olds are considered children so they can stay on their parents’ insurance policy? Why is this the generation where there’s more children — adult children — living with their parents than at any other time in our history?”
He’s not just opposed to the ACA as a matter of principle, though; Yoho tells me that his health-care costs went up by 300 percent this year because he’s a member of Congress and that his chief of staff’s premiums went from $127 to almost $300.
“Thanks, Nancy,” he says.
#ad#“I have yet to hear somebody say, ‘Man, this is great for me,’” he adds, adding that he supports the Republican Study Committee’s substitute for the Affordable Care Act, Representative Steve Scalise’s American Health Care Reform Act. He doesn’t like everything about it, including that it lets people stay on their parents’ insurance until they’re 26, but it’s “a heck of a lot better” than the ACA.
His former vocation helped prepare him for all this, he notes.
“You’re dealing with patients that can’t really talk to you, and you’ve got to diagnose a problem,” he says. “And I think that’s true of a lot of things — you’re able to just sit back and diagnose it, find out what the problem is. Instead of giving an aspirin for a headache that’s caused by brain cancer, diagnose why the headache’s there and deal with the underlying cause. And the perfect example is our debt.”
He continues, comparing that situation to raising the debt ceiling instead of getting the debt “under control.”
If nothing else, Yoho’s work as a veterinarian gave him lots of practice explaining things. He mentions a short zoology lesson he once gave his brother. “He’s kind of a city slicker,” Yoho says.
“The ones with the horns, those are the bulls, right?” Yoho says his brother asked of some of cattle in a field.
“I said, ‘No, the ones with testicles are the bulls,’” the congressman recalls with a chuckle.
— Betsy Woodruff is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.