House passes $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill, with Trump to sign quickly

The House on Friday passed a historic $2 trillion coronavirus relief package, overcoming eleventh-hour hurdles erected by a GOP lawmaker that sent furious lawmakers across the country racing back to Washington to move the emergency legislation to President Trump’s desk.

The enormous package, approved by the Senate late Wednesday night, provides hundreds of billions of dollars for the industries, small businesses, unemployed workers and health care providers hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic, which has devastated economies around the world.

Trump has said he’ll sign the bill immediately.

House Democratic leaders were able to move the package by voice vote, a rarely used procedure allowing a few members to air their objections without forcing the entire chamber to reconvene. But it didn’t happen without a good dose of last-minute drama on the chamber floor.

To pass the bill, leaders in both parties had to unite to foil an attempted blockade by Rep. Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican who had driven to Washington for the vote and requested a recorded tally, which requires the participation of at least half of all sitting House members.

Lawmakers in both parties thwarted Massie’s effort with a procedural gambit of their own: An insufficient number rose in support of his roll-call request, allowing the speedier voice vote to stand.

Still, Massie’s threat of a recorded vote sent leaders in both parties scrambling Thursday night to bring enough lawmakers back to the Capitol to approve the massive relief package. And many were furious that they were forced to defy the recommendations of the congressional physician and other public health experts, who have warned against such gatherings.

GOP leaders declined to allow Massie to speak on the floor prior to the vote, prompting him to accuse his own party brass of being “afraid of the truth.”

“The fix is in,” he tweeted from the floor. “If this bill is so great for America, why not allow a vote on it?”

The highly unusual proceedings created some light-hearted moments on the floor, despite the underlying tensions. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the last to speak before the vote, took the extraordinary step of using the podium to call lawmakers from their offices to the chamber, where some went to the third-floor galleries overlooking the chamber to avoid overcrowding on the floor.

“The sooner you come, the shorter my remarks will be,” she said to laughter.

The House had a remarkably low turnout within the 432-member chamber, reflecting the rising apprehensions of lawmakers to board planes and gather in crowds as the cases of the highly contagious virus have jumped in recent days to nearly 95,000 in the United States alone. 

Still, those who did make the trek wasted no time lashing out at Massie, with some accusing the five-term Kentuckian of jeopardizing their well-being for forcing them back to Washington.

“It’s an act of vanity and selfishness that goes beyond comprehension,” Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) said Friday.

Trump joined the chorus of critics shortly after the floor debate began, calling for Kentucky voters to “throw Massie out of the Republican Party!”

“Looks like a third rate Grandstander named @RepThomasMassie, a Congressman from, unfortunately, a truly GREAT State, Kentucky, wants to vote against the new Save Our Workers Bill in Congress,” Trump tweeted. “He just wants the publicity.”

Massie, for his part, has defended his attempted blockade, saying the Senate’s legislation defied the constitutional requirement that federal spending bills originate in the House.

“The senate did some voodoo just like with Obamacare,” he tweeted Thursday. “It’s the House’s job to reject the process.”

Publicity stunt or not, Massie’s effort didn’t work. The willingness of both sides to accept the voice vote reflected the heavy pressure facing Congress to move quickly and aggressively to counter the devastating effects — both health-related and economic — of the deadly outbreak, which has killed more than 1,400 Americans, tanked markets, shuttered business and sparked massive layoffs across the country.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that jobless claims hit almost 3.3 million last week alone — a massive spike above the roughly 200,000 applications filed just a few weeks ago. Heightening the pressure on the House to move quickly, the Senate passed the massive relief bill without a single vote of dissent.

Among the major provisions, the $2 trillion package provides cash payments up to $1,200 for individual Americans; offers $367 billion in low-cost loans to affected small businesses; expands unemployment insurance by $250 billion, while extending existing benefits by 13 weeks; and furnishes $500 billion to backstop loans for the hardest-hit industries, including airline and hotel companies.

“Today we’ve all acknowledged our nation faces an economic and health emergency of historic proportions due to the coronavirus pandemic — the worst pandemic in over 100 years,” Pelosi said.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) delivered a similarly urgent message.

“We didn’t invite it. We didn’t ask for it. We didn’t choose it,” he said. “But we will fight it together — until we win, together.”

For leaders of both parties, selling the package was no simple task.

Many liberals have hammered the bill as a corporate giveaway, citing the absence of provisions to expand paid leave and strengthen worker-safety protections, particularly for the medical workers on the front lines of diagnosing and treating the coronavirus.

Democrats had also pressed to include more funding for pensions, food stamps and medical care for those who contract the virus. All of those provisions, Pelosi told her caucus on a Thursday call, will be a part of the next, fourth round of coronavirus relief in the weeks ahead.

Conservatives, meanwhile, have grumbled about the sheer size of the spending package — none of it paid for — and provisions they deem extraneous to the immediate crisis, like $25 million for the Kennedy Center in Washington.

In the end, however, the urgency of the moment was enough to trump all of the objections, sending the package to the president’s desk.

When the next phase of relief might arrive is anyone’s guess.

The Senate left Washington after Wednesday’s vote, and is not expected to return before April 20. And the House is also expected to take an extended recess following Friday’s vote, though Democratic leaders have not indicated a timeline.

“We won’t come back unless there’s something to vote on,” said Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.).  

Jordain Carney contributed. 

Tags Bobby Scott Coronavirus Dan Kildee Donald Trump House Kevin McCarthy Nancy Pelosi Stimulus Thomas Massie

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