WASHINGTON — Shortly before the House vote Friday on the massive relief package in response to the coronavirus outbreak, Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., said he planned to try to force a recorded vote on the legislation, arguing that House members should have to go on the record like the Senate did.
Massie's attempt to force a roll-call vote, however, was likely to be denied because House leaders believe there will be a quorum present, paving the way to pass the measure by voice vote. He later acknowledged on Twitter that his plan to force a vote would likely be blocked.
Earlier Friday, Massie tweeted that many people, including manufacturing workers, health care professionals, pilots, grocery clerks, cooks, delivery drivers and others, still had to go to work in the midst of the outbreak.
"Is it too much to ask that the House do its job, just like the Senate did?" he tweeted, referring to the Senate's roll-call vote on the legislation Wednesday night.
Massie said he was not delaying the bill, which he railed against. "This stimulus should go straight to the people rather than being funneled through banks and corporations like this bill is doing," he wrote.
Democratic and Republican leaders suspected Massie would try to force a recorded vote. They advised House members to come back to Washington late Thursday, because they believed the $2 trillion economic relief package would not pass by the planned Friday voice vote and could be delayed if a quorum of at least 216 members weren't in attendance.
Members then raced to get back to Washington — in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic — to make it for the possible roll-call vote.
Massie was in the chamber Friday morning just after the House came into session at 9 a.m. ET. He was one of about 50 members who were present at the time, and they were spaced out around the room.
Shortly after the House began debate on the bill, President Donald Trump slammed Massie in a pair of tweets, saying that he only wants publicity and that delaying the bill would be "dangerous & costly."
White House officials were monitoring the floor closely on Friday and working with congressional leaders to make sure the bill, once passed, gets to the White House as quickly as possible for a potential signing ceremony in the afternoon, two people familiar with the matter said.
On Thursday night, the office of Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., wrote in an advisory to lawmakers: "Members are advised that it is possible this measure will not pass by voice vote."
Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., wrote Thursday evening on Twitter: "The CARES Act is historic legislation, which is why I'm driving back to DC to help get this thing over the finish line." The drive from his Kalamazoo-area district back to Washington is nearly 10 hours.
Other Democratic members were pointing fingers at Massie on Twitter as they hustled back to Washington.
"If you intend to delay passage of the #coronavirus relief bill tomorrow morning, please advise your 428 colleagues RIGHT NOW so we can book flights and expend ~$200,000 in taxpayer money to counter your principled but terribly misguided stunt. #thankyou," wrote Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota.
A number of members said that the last-minute call to Washington forced them to suddenly get on a red eye.
"I am jumping on the red eye tonight... thanks Massie," Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona tweeted.
"Taking a red eye tonight. The American people, small businesses, and our healthcare workers need relief now," tweeted Rep. Gil Cisneros, D-Calif.
"Getting on a red eye. Too much is at stake and Americans can’t afford to wait any longer," tweeted Rep. Mike Levin, D-Calif.
Early Friday morning, several members tweeted photos of their trip showing almost no one around. Rep Mark Walker, R-N.C., said he was the only passenger on his flight to D.C.
Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., who represents the Las Vegas area, tweeted photos of an empty airport and flight.
Ultimately, passage isn't in jeopardy — but it could be delayed for as long as it takes for 216 members to arrive in Washington.
"You might have one grandstander," Trump said at his news briefing Thursday. "It will pass. It will just take a little longer." He has said he would sign the bill once it passes.
Massie's office did not respond to a request for comment, though he told WKRC radio Thursday that he plans to vote against the package.
"If it were just about helping people to get more unemployment [benefits] to get through this calamity that, frankly, the governors have wrought on the people, then I could be for it," Massie said, according to the Courier-Journal.
Massie said that he opposes a voice vote on the bill, the report said. "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."
Members have been scattered across the country as flights have been canceled and millions of people have sheltered in their homes amid the pandemic. Public health officials have said in the last 48 hours that anyone traveling from New York should quarantine for 14 days — which could affect many members of Congress. There are also two members who have tested positive for the virus and over a dozen more who are self-quarantining after possible exposure.
"Members are encouraged to follow the guidance of their local and state health officials, however if they are able and willing to be in Washington D.C. by 10:00 a.m. tomorrow, members are encouraged to do so with caution," Hoyer's notice to members said.
The notice also included guidance that if a vote does take place, members will be called alphabetically in groups of 30.
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Massie, who has threatened to vote no on the package, told local and national media Thursday that he was driving back to Washington for the vote. Earlier Thursday, Massie tweeted the section of the Constitution that defines a quorum — a rule he could use to derail the bill if enough of his colleagues aren't present and voting.
The House needs a quorum — half its membership — present to pass a bill if any single member demands one. If no one asks for a quorum, it is assumed a quorum exists. That is what would allow the House to act without a recorded vote, by voice or by unanimous consent. There are five vacancies in the 435-member House, so 216 votes constitutes a majority.