House leaders hope to pass a $2 trillion stimulus bill by voice vote Friday because of expected low attendance due to coronavirus-related quarantines and travel restrictions. But to do so, they’ll need all members who do show up to not ask for a roll call vote.
That outcome is not guaranteed as some members, mostly Republicans, have complained about provisions in the bill and could protest passing it by voice vote. Leaders hope those members will express their dissent on the floor without throwing up any procedural hurdles.
The pandemic that is forcing many lawmakers to miss the vote is the same one Congress is trying to combat, with aid in the package going to states attempting to control the spread of the novel coronavirus, businesses that have had to temporarily close down or are losing customers, and individuals and families who have lost income. The Senate on Wednesday passed the bill, 96-0.
Two House members have already announced they’ve tested positive for the coronavirus, while several others are self-quarantining amid concerns they were exposed to the virus. Anyone leaving New York City is supposed to self-quarantine for 14 days before going out in public, meaning lawmakers from that region are unlikely to attend Friday’s vote.
Still, dozens of members are expected to show up to the Capitol at 9 a.m. Friday when the House gavels in to debate the bill.
Any member who wants to prevent the bill from passing via voice vote could dig into the House rule book and find a procedural mechanism with which to object. The most common objection to a voice vote is a member standing up and asking for the “yeas” and “nays” to force a roll call vote.
“Our members want to come back in order to have the debate, and we expect to have a voice vote on it,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday. “But if we don’t, we’ll be prepared for whatever it is. One way or another … we will be passing the bill tomorrow.”
Earlier in the week, Pelosi had said she hoped to pass the bill by unanimous consent but on Thursday she took that option off the table.
“I don’t think we will get unanimous consent,” she said. “I think there’s some people on the other side of the aisle who are coming here [who] would object to that, but we’re not worried about that.”
Pelosi’s confidence about passing the bill by voice vote may come from a bit of leverage she has that could persuade Republicans not to object to quickly clearing the measure. One of the options — besides the preferred voice vote or unanimous consent — Democrats have proposed for voting during the pandemic if lawmakers can’t get to Washington is proxy voting.
Proxy voting would allow members not present to choose a colleague to cast a vote for them. It can’t be implemented without a vote to change House rules. But if Republicans force members to return to Washington for a roll call vote on the stimulus bill, Pelosi would likely be able to easily secure the votes for such a change.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said he opposes proxy voting, and other Republicans are likely also uncomfortable with it. So if any Republican were to object to a voice vote, they would not only be delaying inevitable passage of the stimulus bill but also risking a potentially permanent rule change. (Once the House makes a change to its rules, it’s often carried over from one Congress to the next.)
“My constituents don’t vote for somebody else to lend their voice to, they lend their voice to me and I think each individual should represent their district,” McCarthy told reporters Wednesday about why he opposes proxy voting.
The California Republican said he didn’t know if anyone in his conference might demand a roll call vote on the stimulus bill, which he supports. But he was hopeful he could convince them to use the debate time to voice their objections instead of erecting procedural obstacles. He reiterated that hope at his weekly press conference Thursday.
“We will have debate, and then we will have a voice vote,” McCarthy said. “I do not think there is a need for anything else.”
President Donald Trump at a daily coronavirus press briefing Thursday raised the possibility that the bill’s passage could be delayed.
“One grandstander maybe, you might have one grandstander,” Trump said. “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.”
One of the main Republicans to watch will be Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie, who told 55KRC talk radio in Cincinnati on Thursday that he’s opposed to the stimulus bill and suggested he’s considering asking for a roll call vote or objecting if there’s not a quorum.
“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.”
In the interview and in a tweet, Massie pointed to constitutional language that says a majority of the House would be needed for a quorum to do business.
“I know there are people saying, ‘Oh, you got to vote for it. You can’t slow this down,’” Massie said. “Meanwhile, they spent a week in the Senate arguing how much money should go to the Kennedy Center.”
Other Republicans, such as Reps. Ken Buck of Colorado, Andy Harris of Maryland, Louie Gohmert of Texas and Jody B. Hice of Georgia, have raised concerns about the bill. None of their offices returned requests for comment on whether they would raise procedural objections.
New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has also complained about the bill, though for different reasons. But she likely wouldn’t be able to travel to Washington to object, given the quarantine recommendations for anyone leaving New York City.
If a member asks for a roll call vote, that could still happen Friday. But it would take a quorum of 216 members (a majority taking into consideration current vacancies).
Alternatively, the House could use a rule it adopted after 9/11 to set a provisional quorum based on the number of members able to return to the Capitol. But Democrats are unlikely to deploy that option because it has never been used, and some members are concerned it is not constitutional.
Some of Massie’s colleagues have already responded to his comments and are preparing to amp up the criticism if he follows through on his threat.
Coming to support
Several Republicans who have or are traveling to Washington for the occasion, such as Reps. Tim Walberg of Michigan, Bryan Steil of Wisconsin, Steve Womack of Arkansas and John Curtis of Utah, appear to be supporting the bill.
With more than 10 lawmakers planning to be present for the vote, House officials have prepared strict guidelines for members to follow in keeping with nationwide social distancing recommendations.
Sergeant-at-Arms Paul D. Irving and Attending Physician Brian P. Monahan sent a directive Thursday to all members of Congress, telling them to “use extreme care and deliberation when making the determination to travel to Washington, D.C.”
During debate, floor access will be limited to lawmakers who have arranged with their leadership offices to speak. Other members are encouraged to stay in their offices and will be given sufficient time to travel safely to the House to participate in the voice vote.
If a recorded vote does take place, voting will be done alphabetically in groups of 30 members over an extended period of time. There are 15 alphabetical groups starting with Reps. Ralph Abraham to Lisa Blunt Rochester and ending with Reps. Frederica S. Wilson to Lee Zeldin.
Access to the Capitol will be limited to members, staff who have an office in the Capitol, and those who have designated floor access. Members are encouraged to use elevators instead of stairs. The speaker’s lobby will be closed to the press Friday, but the House press galleries will be open.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer is encouraging members who can’t make it to Washington to record video statements explaining their position on the bill. The Maryland Democrat reached out to C-SPAN, asking it to air the video statements, and the network has agreed.
C-SPAN, a nonprofit cable company, said in a statement that it is coordinating technical details with House leadership offices and organizing its own internal operations to process the videos. Airing recorded statements by lawmakers would be a first for the network, which carries gavel-to-gavel coverage of the House and Senate floors along with a variety of other programming.
“The network is currently anticipating the members’ statements will air in blocks during prime time the week of March 30th,” the statement said, noting that it would air the videos on C-SPAN television and radio, stream them on its website, and store them in the network’s video library to create a permanent historical record.
Hoyer will also post House Democrats’ video statements on a website his leadership office is in the process of creating.
Griffin Connolly, Chris Marquette and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.