House to vote on relief bill

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The US Capitol is reflected in a standby ambulance on March 27, 2020, in Washington, DC.

Alex Edelman | AFP | Getty Images

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House members are scrambling back to the Capitol on Friday morning as one member’s opposition to a $2 trillion coronavirus rescue package is set to delay its passage. 

With few representatives in Washington this week as the outbreak tears across the country, House leaders hoped to approve the legislation quickly Friday by voice vote — which simply decides whether shouted yeas or nays from members present are louder. But Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., said he plans to force a typical recorded vote, which could hold up passage for hours as the House needs a quorum of 216 representatives present. 

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In a series of tweets announcing his plan to request a full vote, Massie argued the unprecedented rescue measure spends too much taxpayer money, criticizing Democrats for pushing for changes rather than approving an earlier version of the legislation. 

Facing the prospect of the aid’s approval getting pushed to Saturday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s office encouraged lawmakers to come back to Washington “with caution” if they are “willing and able” to make the trip. The roadblock prompted lawmakers to come back more quickly than they expected — though it is unclear now how quickly the House can gather the quorum needed to pass the bill. 

House members shared photos as they hopped on near-empty morning flights. Some expressed outrage that Massie would force lawmakers to come back and risk their safety — particularly after two representatives and a senator tested positive for COVID-19. 

“Heading to Washington to vote on pandemic legislation,” Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., wrote in a tweet Friday morning. “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.”

The stimulus measure, which includes one-time direct payments to individuals, beefed-up unemployment insurance, more health-care funding and loans to businesses, passed the Senate unanimously on Wednesday night. On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described the bill “as mitigation” of the crisis, predicting there would be more legislation to aid “recovery.” 

The rush to pass the bill comes a day after data showed unemployment claims spiked to a record 3.3 million last week after businesses across the country shuttered to slow the pandemic’s spread. Hospitals, particularly in ravaged New York, lack resources as they struggle to keep up with a rush of coronavirus patients.

The U.S. now has more than 86,000 coronavirus cases, the most in the world, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Pelosi said she expected the bill to pass with a “strong, bipartisan vote.” The House is set to hold up to three hours of debate on the legislation Friday. 

The chamber will try to pass the bill by voice vote and see if a representative forces a recorded vote. 

Massie on Thursday told a Kentucky radio station he plans to oppose the bill, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. He decried the historic spending included in the legislation and said “there is no plan to pay for it.”  

President Donald Trump, who has pledged to sign the bill “immediately” after the House passes it, lashed out at Massie in a pair of tweets Friday. He called him a “third rate Grandstander” who “just wants the publicity” and will only delay rather than stop the legislation.

“Workers & small businesses need money now in order to survive,” he continued. “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!”

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