House to Socially Distance While Voting for Coronavirus Stimulus Bill

Pelosi will try to avoid a big crowd of members in the House. Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

There is zero doubt the U.S. House of Representatives will pass the same $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus legislation that the Senate unanimously approved late on the night of March 25. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is addressing any heartburn over the package in her own caucus by talking up a subsequent stimulus measure that can take care of Democratic priorities left out of the Senate deal.

If she can quell any dissent, Pelosi would prefer to pass the Senate bill by a unanimous consent motion, but already one Republican member, right-wing gadfly Thomas Massie of Kentucky, has expressed opposition based on anachronistic deficit-hawk grounds. So Plan B is to hold a voice vote that would not require anything like a quorum so long as the speaker concludes the “ayes have it.” The Hill reports the safety precautions:

In a notice sent to lawmakers on Thursday, members were provided with safety protocols, which include a requirement for all members to use hand sanitizer before entering the chamber and a restriction on members being on the floor during debate unless they are scheduled to speak. 

“In order to accommodate the session of the House of Representatives on Friday, March 27, 2020, the following guidelines have been developed in consultation with the Office of the Attending Physician (OAP) and House Leadership,” they wrote. 

“Members should use extreme care and deliberation when making the determination to travel to Washington, D.C. The OAP continues to recommend teleworking for all Congressional offices. In all cases, Members and staff must maintain 6-foot social distance spacing as much as practicable when in the offices or the Capitol.”

The really tricky contingency would be a member demanding a roll-call vote after the voice vote is completed, which Massie has threatened to do on grounds that enacting a bill of this size and scope without a House quorum would somehow be unconstitutional. Plan C is to bring in members in groups of 30 to vote, though the bigger problem is getting half the House to travel to Washington; it might delay the vote until later in the weekend. Perhaps Republicans will convince Massie (or any other potential obstructionist) that it won’t look good to hold up assistance to hard-pressed Americans after GOP senators railed at Democrats for holding up a Senate vote while their demands were being negotiated. In any event, after the vote is held Congress will shut down like so many going concerns, with no certain date of return.

House to (Very Carefully) Vote on Coronavirus Stimulus Bill