House Passes Coronavirus Bill Despite Last-Minute Drama From Thomas Massie

A Kentucky Republican forced dozens of House lawmakers to travel to Washington for an in-person vote on coronavirus relief legislation — only to see it pass easily.

Rep. Thomas Massie, who has said the government’s response to the pandemic is worse than the pandemic itself, tried to stop a so-called voice vote that would not have required members to be present in the House chamber. House rules allow for a single member to object to a “voice vote” procedure and cause delay.

“I came here to make sure our republic doesn’t die by unanimous consent in an empty chamber,” Massie said on the floor before calling for an in-person vote.

But when Massie requested the vote, not enough members rose in support, and the bill passed by voice vote anyway. The recorded vote would have required support from one-fifth of lawmakers.

Massie announced his decision Friday in a tweet, after lawmakers had already started making their way back to Washington because the congressman had already indicated he’d likely insist on them being present for the vote.

The final outcome was never in doubt. The bill would have passed either way ― it was just a matter of when, and whether hundreds of lawmakers would need to board planes to return to the Capitol.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) during a House Oversight Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington.  (Photo: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) during a House Oversight Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington.  (Photo: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday in a private call with lawmakers that she was determined to hold the vote Friday if she could get enough lawmakers back to Washington.

“We have to get people off their selfishness,” Pelosi said on the call of the Republican threat to hold up the vote, according to Politico.

Pelosi’s office had said it was prepared to call lawmakers back to D.C. should Massie, or another lawmaker, disrupt the expedited proceedings. The House would then need to reach quorum — 216 members — to proceed.

Massie was the only House member who wanted the roll call vote, a Pelosi spokesman told HuffPost.

President Donald Trump censured Massie over Twitter on Friday morning, calling the Kentucky Republican a “third rate Grandstander.”

The Senate passed the relief package this week. The bill would send more than $1,000 in direct cash payments to all but the wealthiest tier of American households, supercharge unemployment insurance, and give businesses tax breaks if they avoid laying off their workers. It also bails out airlines and includes an additional corporate bailout fund the Trump administration can use at its discretion, which has been controversial.

Unemployment claims have already skyrocketed as local governments have ordered businesses to close in order to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, which is present in every state and has already killed more than 1,000 Americans.

But Massie, a libertarian, has said he thinks closing restaurants and other government actions are actually a bigger threat than the virus itself.

“The greater harm to society is the public’s unquestioning acceptance of the unchecked authority of governments to force private behavior and disrupt economies,” he tweeted last week, adding that the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II would seem like a “light touch” by comparison.

This week, Massie followed up that tweet: “Social-distancing, self-isolation, and shelter-in-place go from good ideas to oppression when ordered from the barrel of a gun,” later adding that he was “struggling” with whether to hold up the vote.

Lawmakers reportedly spent Thursday frantically trying to find flights back to Washington. An added worry for lawmakers: getting sick en route.

“It’s unfortunate that one single member would choose to endanger the health and safety of not only an entire legislative body and its support staff, but also all of the communities to which these members will now return after convening in Washington,” said Chris Schuler, a spokesperson for Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.). “It’s particularly egregious because this legislation will pass with overwhelmingly bipartisan support whether by voice or recorded vote.”

Congress does not yet have an alternative remote voting system set up that it can use during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A group of 70 House Democrats wrote a letter to House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) on Monday, in which they called on the House to adopt a voting system that would allow Congress to convene without members showing up in-person.

McGovern wrote back the following day to inform them that his office had conducted a report of potential options and concluded that remote voting was not viable in the “very near term.” He cited cybersecurity concerns, the quality of members’ internet access and their varied ability to use technology.

“I have also heard from colleagues who oppose remote voting and strongly believe Congress should convene in person in Washington,” McGovern added. “I must also take their views into consideration.”

Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have both been opposed to the idea.

The Capitol Building has already seen multiple positive cases of COVID-19, including at least two House lawmakers — Reps. Ben McAdams (D-Utah) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), who are currently quarantined at home. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) also tested positive for the coronavirus.

Ahead of the vote Friday, lawmakers sat several seats apart during one-minute speeches, which were overwhelmingly supportive of the legislation.

A spokesman for Massie did not have further comment at time of publication.

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