On the day in late January that I interviewed Walter Jones Jr. in his office in Greenville, North Carolina, the Republican congressman was feeling particularly apocalyptic. He had just read a Fox Business story detailing how three Wall Street private-equity firms, whose members had ponied up $1.3 million for GOP lawmakers in 2017, persuaded Congress to preserve a tax loophole for high-end money managers. On Jones’s desk, awaiting his signature, was a condolence letter to the family of US Army Spc. Javion Shavonte Sullivan, who had died two weeks earlier in Iraq. And on the muted TV, a chyron stated that President Donald Trump had ordered the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller last June, only to be foiled by the White House counsel.
Jones, 75, is a religious man. Brought up Southern Baptist, he converted to Catholicism as an adult, breaking from a denomination that still questions whether Catholics’ devotion to the Virgin Mary disqualifies them from entering Heaven. Jones prays for the country regularly, but his deep faith and his “child’s view of Heaven” don’t protect him from despair.
“I am at a point where I just wonder: Are we in the final days of a great nation?” he told me. “I’m thinking that, going back to the Bible, we’re on the verge of Revelations.” He was referring to the New Testament Book of Revelation, which—in the language of beasts, horsemen, and fire—foretells the destruction of a wicked world before the Second Coming of Christ. “The nation that has been blessed in so many ways has forgotten the blessings,” Jones said.
He paused for a few seconds. “That’s, I guess in a way, why I’m kind of an independent.”
In 2005, Jones renounced his vote authorizing the invasion of Iraq, and ever since he’s been a dissenting voice within the Republican Party. He has challenged three presidents on their use of force, calling on his congressional colleagues to increase their military oversight. And he has long decried the corrupting effect of big-dollar campaign contributions. “Whatever happened to honesty and integrity?” he asked me, almost as soon as I stepped into his office. “It’s gone, and it’s all because of the influence of money.”
The nonprofit newsroom ProPublica ranks Jones first among House members in voting against their own party—he’s done so almost 40 percent of the time since January 2017. That independent streak has been all the more conspicuous during the Trump administration, as his fellow Republican lawmakers scramble to make a show of party unity.
Since Trump’s inauguration, Jones has joined with Democrats in advocating for an independent commission to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election. He was the first Republican to demand that House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes, a Trump surrogate, recuse himself from his panel’s Russia probe. He voted against both the tax overhaul and the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act. He was the lone House Republican to oppose the Financial Choice Act, which, if enacted (the measure passed in the lower chamber and awaits a vote in the Senate), would strike down key provisions of the Dodd-Frank financial-reform legislation. He has protested Trump’s military escalations in Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen. And he has called on Congress to demand disclosure of the president’s tax returns.