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House rushes back to Washington to try to pass $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill

Tom Brenner | REUTERS

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

With few representatives in Washington this week as the outbreak tears across the country, the House hoped to approve the legislation quickly Friday without a recorded vote. But after Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., indicated he would oppose the bill, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer‘s office advised members Thursday night “that it is possible this measure will not pass by voice vote.” 

In a voice vote, members yell their yeas and nays, and the presiding member decides which are louder. The recorded vote is the typical method for major legislation, where members log a yes or no. 

By the time the House convened at 9 a.m. ET Friday morning, though, the Maryland Democrat’s office said “we are hopeful the bill will pass by voice vote.” A spokesman for Massie did not immediately respond to requests to comment. 

Facing the prospect of the aid’s approval getting pushed to Saturday, 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 rush back to the Capitol — though it is unclear now if the House can gather the quorum needed to pass the bill Friday morning. 

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.

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-based 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, appeared to take a shot at Massie on Thursday. 

“You might have one grandstander. And for that we’ll have to come back and take a little more time, but it’ll pass, it’ll just take a little longer,” he said. 

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