Many House members are scrambling to book flights and return to Washington amid concerns that they could be requested to show up in person and vote on the historic stimulus bill, infuriating lawmakers who are nervous about traveling during the coronavirus crisis.
The fear is that one member — potentially GOP Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky — could prevent the House from approving the $2 trillion bill by voice vote, forcing them instead to cast a roll-call vote in person. That has angered many members, who are now forced to decide whether to skip a vote on the biggest rescue package in American history — or travel to Washington and risk their personal well-being.
On a conference call Thursday, many House Democrats expressed deep concerns about traveling, worried about contracting the virus and spreading it to their families, sources on the call said.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that if they are unable to pass the bill by voice vote, then they would have a roll call vote on final passage on Friday, according to three sources on the call.
Several members told CNN that comment caused confusion since House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer previously indicated to members that any roll-call vote would occur Saturday instead. That means members who want to cast a vote on the historic measure need to show up on Friday to have their position recorded. A voice vote would allow fewer members to be present.
Hoyer’s office said Thursday night that members are encouraged to be in Washington by 10 a.m. ET, and that the $2 trillion economic stimulus bill may not pass by a voice vote because there is “now a possibility that a House Republican may suggest a quorum is not present and attempt to call for a recorded vote on final passage. We have notified our Members of the possibility that the bill may not pass by voice vote.”
Any member can request a recorded vote, forcing members to vote in person.
The floor debate will go on for up to two hours, starting at 9 a.m. ET Friday.
Massie, a libertarian-minded Republican who often breaks from his party leadership, is viewed as the most likely member to try to force the vote after indicating publicly his reservations at the idea of letting the bill pass by a voice vote. Massie 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.
Democrats believe their members won’t take that step.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat, told CNN on Wednesday that she might force a recorded vote, but Democrats don’t believe she will.
Neither Massie nor Ocasio-Cortez responded to requests for comment Thursday.
On that Thursday call, Pelosi made clear her strong opposition to any attempt by a lawmaker to force House members to return to Washington for the vote, saying such a move would be “inexcusable” and amount to “selfishness,” according to two sources on the call.
Pelosi, along with Hoyer and a number of other rank-and-file members, were blunt about their preference for the vote to occur by voice Friday, rather than an in-person roll-call vote.
Several members expressed concerns about traveling amid the coronavirus pandemic, noting they have health issues or live with someone with health concerns. Others noted their challenges in traveling back to Washington. At least 10 members expressed their concerns on the call, noting that the bill will pass regardless so it makes little sense to potentially endanger members’ health or their families’ health, one of the sources said.
Even though the federal government is urging New Yorkers who are leaving the metro area to self-quarantine for two weeks, members from the state will be at the Capitol today.
Rep. Pete King, a New York Republican, tweeted 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.”
This story has been updated with comments from a radio interview with Massie.