The House of Representatives on Friday will attempt to approve the historic $2 trillion stimulus package that passed the Senate earlier this week, expecting to be able to overcome last-minute drama by using an unusual procedural move to thwart a demand by a conservative Republican to force members to vote in person.
The Republican, Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, infuriated members in both parties by bringing them back to Washington amid uncertainty over whether he would request a full roll call vote. That uncertainty forced many to travel during the public health emergency simply to deny his demand in order to ensure swift passage of the measure on Friday.
The plan by House leadership is to deny Massie a sufficient second in support of a roll call vote, shutting down his demand and allowing the House to approve the measure by voice vote. But members still had to return to Washington in order to establish a quorum and deny Massie’s attempt.
Once the House approves the measure it will be cleared for President Donald Trump’s signature as the American public and the US economy fight the devastating spread of Covid-19.
The far-reaching legislation stands as the largest emergency aid package in US history. It represents a massive financial injection into a struggling economy with provisions aimed at helping American workers, small businesses and industries grappling with the economic disruption.
Key elements of the package include sending checks directly to individuals and families, a major expansion of unemployment benefits, money for hard-hit hospitals and health care providers, financial assistance for small businesses and $500 billion in loans for distressed companies.
House leaders face pressure to pass the legislation as quickly as possible and minimize the risks to their members in the process — and the bill had been expected to be taken up by voice vote, a move that would allow for quick passage and was designed to permit most House members not to return to Washington for a full roll call vote.
But Hoyer’s office advised members Thursday evening they are encouraged to be in Washington on Friday at 10 a.m. ET because the bill may not pass that way after all. “There is now a possibility,” the notice from the Maryland Democrat’s office said, that a Republican may force a recorded vote.
Republican Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky announced Friday that he will request a full roll-call vote, though sources have told CNN there may be procedural steps to deny Massie’s request from requiring a recorded vote.
“I swore an oath to uphold the constitution, and I take that oath seriously,” Massie tweeted just before noon ET, on Friday.
“In a few moments I will request a vote on the CARES Act which means members of Congress will vote on it by pushing ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or ‘present.'”
Despite that, House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy said that the bill will pass Friday without a roll-call vote.
“We are going to get it through today,” McCarthy said. Asked how, McCarthy said, “Stay tuned.”
The House will say that Massie does not have a sufficient second to request a roll-call vote, according to three sources familiar with the matter.
Members still had to return to the Capitol, however, because they need to establish a quorum to do this. Members are currently sitting in the upstairs gallery overlooking the House floor to ensure they have enough for a quorum and to maintain social distancing.
Massie needs 1/5th of the members to rise and be counted to get a sufficient second for a roll call. That won’t happen, sources said.
This is highly unusual, sources said, to say a member doesn’t have enough for a second.
Massie had been viewed as the most likely member to try to force the vote after indicating publicly his reservations about a voice vote.
President Donald Trump sharply criticized the congressman on Friday, saying in a pair of tweets that he “just wants the publicity” and should be thrown out of the Republican party.
“Looks like a third rate Grandstander named @RepThomasMassie, a Congressman from, unfortunately, a truly GREAT State, Kentucky, wants to vote against the new Save Our Workers Bill in Congress. He just wants the publicity. He can’t stop it, only delay, which is both dangerous & costly,” Trump tweeted.
“Workers & small businesses need money now in order to survive. Virus wasn’t their fault. It is “HELL” dealing with the Dems, had to give up some stupid things in order to get the “big picture” done. 90% GREAT! WIN BACK HOUSE, but throw Massie out of Republican Party!,” the President said.
Massie did not responded to a request for comment Thursday.
But the congressman told a local radio station Thursday that he’s “having a really hard time” with the bill, and didn’t seem too concerned about lawmakers’ difficulties in getting back to Washington.
“If congressmen are complaining that it’s hard to travel, well, what about the truckers that I saw on the road when I drove to DC? Hitch a ride with the trucker. … If you’re a congressman making $87 an hour and find it hard to get to DC, well, hitch a ride with the trucker,” Massie said on 55KRC talk radio.
Many members were scrambling to book flights and return to Washington on Thursday night amid concerns that they could be asked to vote in person on the stimulus, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.
The fear is that one member could prevent the House from approving the bill by voice vote, forcing them instead to cast a roll call vote in person. That has angered many members worried about traveling during the public health emergency.
Two House members have already tested positive for Covid-19, while more than three dozen others have self-quarantined after experiencing flu-like symptoms, interactions with infected individuals or potential exposure.
Rep. Pete King, a New York Republican, tweeted on Friday morning: “Heading to Washington to vote on pandemic legislation. Because of one Member of Congress refusing to allow emergency action entire Congress must be called back to vote in House. Risk of infection and risk of legislation being delayed. Disgraceful. Irresponsible.”
Rep. Dusty Johnson, a South Dakota Republican, tweeted a picture on a plane with Reps. Pete Stauber, a Minnesota Republican, and Minnesota Democratic Reps. Angie Craig and Betty McCollum. “A bipartisan (and socially distanced) flight to DC this morning to vote on Coronavirus economic relief,” Johnson wrote.
Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York told CNN on Wednesday that she might force a recorded vote, but Democrats don’t believe she will.
The congresswoman signaled on Friday, however, that she would not request a recorded vote.
“I don’t believe I will,” Ocasio-Cortez said on Friday morning. “There’s just a lot of members whose lives are at risk right now.”
She did, however, criticize the stimulus bill.
“But I think this bill has a lot of problems with it. And I’m extraordinary concerned about what Mitch McConnell has done. I’ve had more constituents call concerned about this bill than in support of it. It’s a very hard day. It’s a very very hard day for this body,” she said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy both made clear on Thursday that they want the $2 trillion stimulus bill to be approved by their chamber Friday by voice vote.
But if any member requests a recorded vote, lawmakers would have to cast a roll call vote.
On a conference call with Democratic members on Thursday, Pelosi said that if they are unable to pass the bill by voice vote, they will have a roll call vote Friday, according to three sources on the call.
Pelosi told CNN that while she can’t say for sure how or when the bill will pass, it will be approved Friday.
“There are a few scenarios but at the end of the period of time, we will have passed the bill so I am excited about that with strong bipartisan enthusiasm,” she said as she walked from her office to open the House floor.
Asked to confirm the bill will definitely pass Friday, she said: “Yes.”
After debate on Friday, the House is expected to proceed to a voice vote. Once the presiding officer says the “ayes” have it, the bill will be passed — unless a member requests a recorded vote.
It’s unclear how many members will show for Friday’s debate and voice vote. It could be very few or it could be a lot; there is no requirement.
Pelosi on Thursday predicted that the House will approve the stimulus package with a “strong bipartisan vote,” adding that “if somebody has a different point of view, they can put it in the record.”
“We expect to have a voice vote on it, but if we don’t, we’ll be prepared for whatever it is,” she said.
McCarthy said at a news conference on Thursday that the House will operate differently than it usually does in order to promote social distancing.
He said the members won’t sit next each other, they’ll alter where the members stand, and staff will be cleaning as members come and go. He also said that members will have to enter one designated door and leave out the other.
“We have members on both sides of the aisle who have the virus. We have members who are quarantined. We have members who have challenges with airlines, getting their flights canceled. We will have enough to get this through, but the floor will look different,” McCarthy said, explaining the modifications that will be made.
House officials detailed steps to limit member interactions in a notice to all House offices Thursday.
In the notice, obtained by CNN, the House Sergeant-at-Arms and the Capitol physician’s office outlined new procedures ahead of the vote, explaining that access around the House chamber and on the floor will be limited. To that end, the House is closing the Speaker’s Lobby, an area right off the House floor where reporters stake out and interview lawmakers and members frequently congregate.
If there is a recorded vote, new procedures are also detailed to only allow small groups of members on the floor at a time.
The stimulus package came together after intense and drawn-out negotiations between congressional Republicans and Democrats and the Trump administration that spanned multiple days and involved ongoing talks that stretched late into the night.
Democrats initially took issue with the package, which was crafted by Senate Republicans at the outset, arguing that it put corporations ahead of workers. Partisan tension over the legislation came to a head when Senate Democrats blocked two procedural votes to move ahead with the package, on Sunday and again on Monday, a setback to the bipartisan efforts to find a consensus deal.
A deal was ultimately announced mid-week, however, paving the way for the Senate to take up and pass the measure.
A centerpiece of the stimulus package is that it will provide direct financial assistance to Americans in the form of checks with the amount received based on income.
Individuals who earn $75,000 in adjusted gross income or less would get direct payments of $1,200 each, with married couples earning up to $150,000 receiving $2,400 — and an additional $500 per each child.
The payment would scale down by income, phasing out entirely at $99,000 for singles and $198,000 for couples without children.
In addition, the bill would provide billions of dollars in aid to hard-hit hospitals struggling to deal with the outbreak as well for state and local governments that are cash-strapped due to their response to coronavirus.
One point of contention in negotiations centered around a fund for distressed industries, with Democrats worrying that there would not be adequate oversight. In a compromise move, the final deal provides for accountability through an independent Inspector General and congressional oversight panel.