House passes $2 trillion coronavirus package — but not without last-minute drama

The eleventh-hour drama in the House comes after days of frenzied negotiations among Senate leaders to secure a deal and an intense behind-the-scenes lobbying effort by House leaders to ensure none of their members tried to delay the bill.

“People will die today as a result of this virus,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in closing remarks just before the vote. “And we have come together as Democrats and Republicans from every region of this country to respond in a way that is sufficient to this challenge.”

The massive rescue package ultimately passed by voice vote, but not before an extraordinary scene played out in the House chamber.

In a series of tweets late Friday morning, Massie confirmed plans to demand a recorded vote, meaning members would physically have to come to the chamber to have their vote recorded. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) tried to talk Massie out of it on the House floor, to no avail.

After it became clear Massie wouldn’t relent, leadership started taking steps to block his move. In a plan devised by Hoyer the night before, lawmakers were brought into the chamber, including in the public galleries above the floor to allow them to distance themselves for safety. By having a quorum of members in the chamber — at least 216 lawmakers, including in the public galleries — they could block Massie’s request for a recorded vote and pass the proposal by voice vote.

At 1 p.m. Pelosi took the floor to essentially stall for time as both parties’ whip teams could corral enough members on the floor. At one point, Pelosi urged her members to move even more quickly: “Come on, my colleagues, to the gallery!”

The plan worked — Massie was quickly overruled and the bill passed without members having to take a recorded vote. But lawmakers in both parties were still irate that they had to be present at all, endangering themselves and the dozens of congressional and Capitol support staff on hand, all because of Massie’s singular objection.

President Donald Trump lambasted Massie in a series of tweets Friday, calling him a “third rate grandstander” and suggesting Republican leaders boot him out of the party.

“He just wants the publicity. He can’t stop it, only delay, which is both dangerous & costly,” Trump tweeted.

The package ultimately won support from the majority of members from both parties. In a sign of the gravity of the situation, Pelosi and McCarthy delivered a rare joint bill signing after the vote, thanking each other for the bipartisan work — just days after bickering between the parties nearly tanked a deal in the Senate.

“We are all a family, and like many families, we have our differences, but we also know what is important to us,” Pelosi said, standing beside McCarthy and Hoyer, noting that the bill passed “practically unanimously.”

“We will get through this together,” McCarthy said, ticking off provisions to support small businesses and their workers.

The bill aims to prop up virtually every sector of the U.S. economy in response to a pandemic that has shuttered businesses, fueled massive layoffs and disrupted nearly every aspect of American life.

The measure provides a significant — albeit temporary — expansion of unemployment benefits, a one-time cash infusion for most Americans, and emergency federal funding for food aid, hospitals and schools and universities. The package also provides a $500 billion lifeline to major industries including airlines, $350 billion for small business loans and $150 billion for state and local governments.

“This is a 9/11 moment,” Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) said on the floor. “A time to put partisan differences aside, policy differences aside, and work together as Americans.”