The House of Representatives approved a massive, $2 trillion coronavirus relief package and President Trump signed it into law Friday afternoon, but not without some late drama that threatened to delay enactment of the unprecedented measure to lessen the economic toll of the pandemic.
The House passage came by overwhelming voice vote, after an objection from one Republican lawmaker forced hundreds of members to scramble back to Capitol Hill.
One congressman infuriates many: Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, described by Politico as “a libertarian-leaning gadfly frequently at odds with leadership,” opposed the relief bill because it adds to the deficit and included provisions he said were unrelated to the pandemic. And he argued that having a vote without a quorum present — at least 216 of the 430 current members of the House, far exceeding the CDC’s guidelines against gatherings of more than 10 people — would be unconstitutional, though as The Washington Post notes, that requirement is rarely enforced.
Massie’s procedural move drew the ire of President Trump and fellow lawmakers. Trump took to Twitter to rip Massie as “a third rate Grandstander” and called for him to be thrown out of the Republican Party. Representatives of both parties criticized Massie’s stance as irresponsible, selfish and costly. Leaders in both parties tried to talk the Kentucky lawmaker out of following through, to no avail. Some conservatives defended Massie, but when he called for a recorded vote, he failed to get the required support of one fifth of the members present, ensuring the defeat of his motion within a matter of seconds.
Lawmakers — spread throughout the chamber and the public galleries above the House floor to avoid close contact, armed with hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, with some donning gloves — cheered the passage. “House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy elbow bumped a top leadership aid who’d counted numbers in his head,” the post reports. “Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) walked across the aisle and elbow bumped Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.). A few curses seemed to be hurled from rank-and-file members on both sides.”
What’s next: The House will be in recess for an undetermined amount of time. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indicated that Democrats will be working on the next phase of coronavirus relief legislation, but House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California has questioned whether additional steps are needed yet. In the meantime, federal departments and agencies will have to confront the challenge of quickly implementing the sweeping relief bill, including sending payments to families and setting up loan facilities for businesses.