House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse to vote Thursday on holding Bannon in contempt Progressives see budget deal getting close after Biden meeting Hoyer: Democrats 'committed' to Oct. 31 timeline for Biden's agenda MORE (D-Md.) indicated Friday that the lower chamber should consider ways to allow for lawmakers to conduct legislative business from afar after leaders in both parties had to get creative to pass coronavirus relief legislation moved through the House because of one conservative lawmaker's objection.
House leaders in both parties had hoped to avoid making all members travel back to Washington for the vote given the risk they'd spread the virus.
But libertarian Rep. Thomas MassieThomas Harold MassieEighth House GOP lawmaker issued 0 fine for not wearing mask on House floor Reps. Greene, Roy fined for not wearing masks on House floor Sixth House GOP lawmaker issued K metal detector fine MORE (R-Ky.) insisted on demanding a roll call vote on the $2 trillion package, despite a backlash that included fierce criticism from President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump defends indicted GOP congressman House to vote Thursday on holding Bannon in contempt Youngkin calls for investigation into Loudoun County School Board amid sexual assault allegations MORE.
House leaders in both parties worked together to override Massie by making sure they had a minimum number of members present in the chamber to establish a quorum, which included sending dozens of them up to the third-floor visitor galleries to maintain sufficient physical distance from each other.
After the fury, Hoyer suggested that finding a way to conduct House business from afar should be seriously considered after the complications of Friday's vote.
"We will try to figure out how we can continue to do the people's business. We will have discussions about distance voting and distance participation," Hoyer told reporters after the vote.
House officials took extra precautions for Friday's vote by having members wipe down the microphones with disinfecting wipes after delivering speeches. Rep. Louie GohmertLouis (Louie) Buller GohmertHouse passes bill to end crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity Republicans keep distance from 'Justice for J6' rally Security forces under pressure to prevent repeat of Jan. 6 MORE (R-Texas) went even further and doused a podium with Lysol spray so intensely that other members sitting nearby started coughing from the aerosols.
A handful of lawmakers wore latex gloves, while at least one staffer walked around the floor with a face mask. Hand sanitizer stations were placed at every entrance of the House chamber to ensure that everyone used it on their way in or out the doors.
House leaders acknowledged earlier this week that it wasn't feasible to establish a reliable remote voting system secure from cyber threats in a short timeframe. They especially did not want to use it for the first time on the critical stimulus bill.
It's unclear what form an alternative way of voting would take.
House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) laid out a variety of options in a report earlier this week, such as proxy voting in which an absent member would authorize a member physically in the chamber to vote on their behalf or increasing the minimum number of members needed to object to a unanimous consent request.
Otherwise, using procedures like voice votes or unanimous consent requests that are typically used for noncontroversial bills runs the risk of one member alone demanding a roll call vote as Massie did on Friday.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyFixing Congress requires fixing how it legislates Schiff: McCarthy 'will do whatever Trump tells him' if GOP wins back House House GOP campaign arm raises .8 million in third quarter MORE (R-Calif.) tried to downplay Massie's actions, and rejected the idea of allowing proxy voting, which would require a change to House rules.
"I don't think proxy voting is healthy. It puts too much power in one hand," McCarthy said Friday.
Yet many lawmakers in both parties felt Massie had too much power in his hands by being able to single-handedly derail plans for members to follow health officials' guidelines and avoid travel for the vote.
“It's an act of vanity and selfishness that goes beyond comprehension," said Rep. Dan KildeeDaniel (Dan) Timothy KildeeFormer Rep. Dale Kildee dies at 92 EPA closer to unveiling plan for tackling 'forever chemicals' Sanders, Manchin, Sinema fight proxy war in the House MORE (D-Mich.) "The fact that he would put people who are at risk, number one. And secondly, require us to model behaviors that other people shouldn't be doing in order to satisfy his vanity is a pretty pathetic reflection on his character."
"He should be ashamed of himself and the country should scorn him," Kildee added.
Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-PowellDebbie Mucarsel-PowellDemocrats face bleak outlook in Florida Nation's fraught politics leads to fear, scars and exits 'Blue wave' Democrats eye comebacks after losing reelection MORE (D-Fla.) tweeted that she "just gave @RepThomasMassie a piece of my mind."
"Putting so many people at risk only to feed his ego and grandstand, all while he acknowledges that he will support for the bill. This is unacceptable," she tweeted.
And Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) called Massie's threats "disgraceful" and "irresponsible" that increased the "risk of infection and risk of legislation being delayed."
Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiWhite House: Window for finalizing sweeping budget package 'closing' Emanuel to take hot seat in Senate confirmation hearing Fixing Congress requires fixing how it legislates MORE (D-Calif.) acknowledged that the House would typically conduct a roll call vote on legislation of such a significant magnitude but argued there shouldn't be a procedural delay forced by one member.
"I respect his point of view. He wants a vote on it. It's a big bill. It's a big bill. But it's a big need and we had to get it done," Pelosi said after the vote. "Go to the floor, make the best speech that you can in opposition to the process or policy or whatever it is, but don't make it take any longer to get this done."
But Massie nevertheless plowed forward with requesting a roll call vote despite an intense discussion on the House floor with McCarthy and a tweet from Trump calling to "win back House, but throw Massie out of Republican Party!"
"I came here to make sure that our republic doesn't die by unanimous consent in an empty chamber," Massie said as he requested a roll call.
An insufficient number of fellow lawmakers rose in support of his request for a roll call vote, which allowed the voice vote to stand. So while the chamber wasn't empty, the bill still passed the same way it would have with only a few lawmakers on hand.
It's anybody's guess when the House returns.
The Senate is on recess until at least April 20. Hoyer said that it's unclear when the House will return given the rapidly changing circumstances, with the U.S. already having the most coronavirus cases confirmed worldwide this week.
Indeed, shortly after the House vote on Friday, Rep. Joe CunninghamJoseph Cunningham'Blue wave' Democrats eye comebacks after losing reelection Top cyber Pentagon official overseeing defense contractor project placed on leave Joe Cunningham to enter race for South Carolina governor MORE (D-S.C.) became the third House member to announce that he tested positive for the coronavirus. And hours later, Rep. Mike KellyGeorge (Mike) Joseph KellyHouse Ethics panel reviewing Rep. Malinowski's stock trades Lobbying world Lobbying world MORE (R-Pa.) became the fourth.
Asked when he thinks the House can come back, Hoyer replied plainly, "I don't know the answer to that."