House debates coronavirus stimulus bill as GOP rep faces backlash over threat to force recorded vote

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The House of Representatives on Friday moved toward a vote on the massive $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package aimed at reducing the spread of the disease and keeping Americans financially afloat as businesses shut down to limit social contact according to guidelines from the federal and state governments.

But it came as one GOP lawmaker was poised to hold up proceedings — and he faced scorching criticism from his colleagues and the White House over that scenario. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., signaled Friday morning that he would indeed demand a roll-call vote.

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“I swore an oath to uphold the constitution, and I take that oath seriously. 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,’” he tweeted.

He indicated he wants to ensure there is a quorum, which would require half of the members to show up on Capitol Hill.

But House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy nevertheless signaled he’s got an exit strategy, insisting to reporters that they can pass the bill without a roll-call vote.

He did not explain how.

Amid the drama, House members debated the measure on the floor.

“We must take swift action to ensure that people can stay home to slow the spread of this deadly virus and that our economy can be supported so it can rebound when the medical experts and scientists say it is safe to do so,” House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer said as he kicked off three hours of debate on the measure.

Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, also urged the House to approve the bill as quickly as possible.

“While no one will agree with every part of this rescue bill, we face a challenge rarely seen in America’s history,” he said. “We must act now or the toll on lives and livelihoods will be far greater. I strongly urge its passage.”

The House initially planned to pass the coronavirus stimulus package by unanimous consent or voice vote with a skeleton crew of legislators present in order to minimize the risk of spreading the coronavirus among its members. The body, under its rules, can pass legislation by unanimous consent — with no representative in the chamber objecting — or a voice vote — an exercise in which those for and against a bill yell yea or nay, and the loudest side wins.

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But either method can be shut down by a “point of order” from a member who could argue a lack of quorum, meaning less than half of the House’s total members are present in the chamber. At that point, it would need at least 216 total members present to hold a recorded vote.

Rep. Massie, R-Ky., has indicated to House leaders, despite significant arm-twisting efforts from Republican leadership, that he will force a recorded vote by suggesting the lack of quorum. House leadership is also concerned a handful of other members — Republicans and Democrats — might be considering taking the same action.

Massie faced an intense backlash from colleagues and even President Trump over the threat, with the president mocking him Friday morning as a “third rate Grandstander.”

“He just wants the publicity. He can’t stop it, only delay, which is both dangerous…& costly,” Trump tweeted, before urging Republicans to win back the House but “throw Massie out of Republican Party!”

On Fox News’ “American Newsroom,” New York Democratic Rep. Max Rose called Massie’s potential delay “disgusting” and “inhumane.” He went so far as to call him “un-American” and say he’d have “blood” on his hands with any further delay.

Massie on Thursday night noted that the coronavirus bill, with about $2 trillion of new spending and $4 trillion of stimulus via monetary policy from the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve, equated to “$60,000 per family of new national debt and dollar devaluation in this stimulus.”

He also said in an interview with 55 KRC radio Thursday morning that he was interested in following the letter of the Constitution rather than a workaround in the House’s rules.

“I’m having a really hard time with this. Because they’re saying, well it’s hard to travel, yadda yadda yadda,” Massie said. “Well, last night, 96 out of 100 Senators voted. All we would need is 218 out of 435 to vote,” he added, pointing to a section of Article I in the U.S. Constitution that states “a majority of each [body of the legislature] shall constitute a quorum to do business.”

This has led to a mad scramble among some frustrated House members to return to D.C. in time to vote on Friday. The recorded vote might be put off until Saturday if the House cannot reach a quorum and one is demanded.

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On Friday morning, Speaker Nancy Pelosi noted that the House would have several hours of debate. As for whether there would be a roll call vote, she said they’d have to see.

The House came to order seconds after 9 a.m. ET, with lawmakers expecting floor debate on the coronavirus stimulus before attempting to vote on the bill, which passed the Senate 96-0.

The bill is also expected to pass overwhelmingly in the House, even if Massie or another member scuttles the effort to vote on the bill by voice vote or unanimous consent.

“You might have one grandstander,” President Trump said at a coronavirus press conference on Thursday. “It will pass. It will just take a little longer.”

Fox News’ Chad Pergram, Sally Persons, Hillary Vaughn, Gregg Re and Marisa Schultz contributed to this report. 

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