MARCH 27, 2020, 5:57 AM, WASHINGTON —
Overriding the objection of a maverick Republican, the House approved a $2-trillion economic relief package Friday aimed at pumping money directly into Americans’ pockets while also helping hospitals, businesses, and state and local governments struggling with the surging COVID-19 pandemic.
Rep. Thomas Massie, a libertarian conservative from Kentucky, sought to delay a vote by demanding a majority of members be present to vote. His insistence came despite withering attacks by President Trump on Twitter, calling for Massie to be ousted from the party.
House leaders had hoped to hold a simple voice vote, to protect members from potentially contracting the coronavirus by traveling and gathering in the Capitol. Based on Massie’s earlier threat that he would insist on a quorum — 216 members at the moment — they summoned lawmakers back.
Massie earlier confirmed his intention in a tweet.
“The Constitution requires that a quorum of members be present to conduct business in the House,” he wrote. “Right now, millions of essential, working-class Americans are still required to go to work during this pandemic such as manufacturing line workers, healthcare professionals, pilots, grocery clerks, cooks/chefs, delivery drivers, auto mechanics, and janitors (to name just a few). Is it too much to ask that the House do its job, just like the Senate did?”
Democratic and Republican House leaders had signed off on the bill, which passed with a 96-0 Senate vote Wednesday
following extensive negotiations between Democrats and Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. After days of intense conference calls with House members, the leaders of both parties said that it would pass with an overwhelming majority. Trump has vowed to sign the bill.
The threat that a single representative might object left lawmakers hopping into cars to drive or finding last-minute flights back to Washington in case they need to be present to pass the largest single economic aid package in U.S. history.
Trump lambasted Massie on Twitter on Friday morning. “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......and costly,” Trump tweeted.
Among those who rushed to the Capitol were California Democrats Gil Cisneros of Yorba Linda, Mike Levin of San Juan Capistrano, Jimmy Gomez of Los Angeles, and Brad Sherman of Northridge, who each tweeted about catching a cross-country red-eye flight to be in the Capitol ahead of the morning vote.
Gomez tweeted, “Flying back to DC to vote for the stimulus bill. It could pass on a voice vote but some members want to make a statement by potentially asking for an in-person vote. Not all my colleagues can go back for health reasons. So, I’m doing it for them & for my constituents.”
Democratic Rep. Nanette Barragán of San Pedro, one of those who could not return, replied to thank Gomez: “My 79-year-old mom with Alzheimer's whom I am a nightly caregiver for and I thank you!”
The package also blocks foreclosures and evictions during the crisis on properties where the federal government backs the mortgage; pauses federal student loan payments for six months and waives the interest; gives states millions of dollars to begin planning for the November election by offering mail or early voting, and provides more than $25 billion for food assistance programs such as SNAP.
Members of both parties acknowledged that they oppose portions of the bill, which is the third and by far the largest of Congress’ measures to respond to the pandemic. But they said they would vote for it to help Americans withstand the economic hardships and stem the spread of the pandemic.
“This is not a perfect bill and I’m concerned about the $2-trillion price tag, but the American people need help. And this response to the present crisis will put money into the pockets of struggling workers and families,” Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) said.
Rep. Russ Fulcher (R-Idaho) said the government is obligated to step in: “When the government shut down the economy, it assumed the responsibility of bringing it back.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) noted that 13 people died in Elmhurst Hospital in her New York City district Thursday night and assailed the bill for its provisions for big businesses. “What did the Senate majority fight for? One of the largest corporate bailouts ... in American history. Shameful. The greed of that fight is wrong, for crumbs for our families!” Ocasio-Cortez said.
House Democratic leaders have already begun talking about the need for a fourth relief package, assuring restive Democrats that more of their priorities will be in the next bill. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) told reporters that it should include provisions for workers’ paid leave and safety protections, for covering the cost of COVID-19 treatments, and for yet more funding for food stamps and state and local governments.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) told reporters Thursday he’s not ready to begin discussing the fourth package. “I wouldn’t be so quick to say you have to write something else. Let’s let this bill work,” he said.