WASHINGTON – GOP Rep. Thomas Massie is facing a deluge of criticism from Republicans, Democrats and even President Donald Trump for demanding for a last-minute vote on the coronavirus relief package that forced a frantic rush for lawmakers to travel back to Washington Friday.
The Kentucky Republican, who opposed the bipartisan bill that passed the House, called for a recorded vote in the House, meaning at least a majority of House lawmakers needed to be present in order to ensure its passage so that it could be sent to Trump for final approval.
The House had planned to approve the package while keeping its hundreds of members home due to concerns about further spreading the virus. Already, three House lawmakers have tested positive for COVID-19. The third, Rep Joe Cunningham, D-S.C., announced his diagnosis just after the House approved the measure.
House leadership told members it would approve the bill by “voice vote,” in which members present simply state “aye or nay,” a method that doesn’t require a majority of Congress to be at the Capitol.
But that all changed because of Massie. House rules state a recorded vote can be forced even if just one member makes the request. Massie left the option open, leaving his colleagues unsure whether he would ask for a full vote, which requires a majority of members be present.
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He did ultimately asked for a full vote but it was shot down by his colleagues, who packed the floor and the gallery areas overlooking the chamber and allowed the House to pass the measure by voice vote.
Massie’s threats prompted House leaders to ask that members quickly return to Washington, leading to a frantic rush to find flights or drive to D.C.
Several lawmakers posted selfies from red-eye flights and from their cars with many publicly airing their frustration and anger toward Massie.
Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., posted a photo on a flight back to D.C. Friday morning. The only others on board the deserted plane were three other lawmakers also heading back for the vote. All sat several seats away from one another in accordance with social distancing rules.
Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-Penn., said on Twitter that she, too, was heading to D.C.
“I’m really disappointed that there’s some members threatening to tank the bill on the floor, so we all got a call last night that we should head back as quickly as possible,” she said.
One of Massie’s fellow Republican colleagues was more blunt. Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., called it “disgraceful” and “irresponsible.”
“Heading to Washington to vote on pandemic legislation. Because of one Member of Congress refusing to allow emergency action entire Congress must be called back to vote in House,” he wrote on Twitter. “Risk of infection and risk of legislation being delayed.”
Trump lashed out at Massie in a series of tweets in which he called him a “grandstander” and a “disaster for America” who should be thrown out of the GOP for his opposition to the package.
“He just wants the publicity. He can’t stop it, only delay, which is both dangerous…& costly,” Trump added.
On Thursday evening, one House lawmaker pleaded for Massie to inform the rest of his House colleagues if he intended to hold up the vote and prevent hundreds of them from hopping on planes.
“Dear @RepThomasMassie: If you intend to delay passage of the #coronavirus relief bill tomorrow morning, please advise your 428 colleagues RIGHT NOW so we can book flights and expend ~$200,000 in taxpayer money to counter your principled but terribly misguided stunt,” Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., wrote on Twitter.
Rep. T.J. Cox, a freshman Democrat from California, caught a red eye with several other House lawmakers that landed in Washington around 6 a.m. EDT so they could support the bill.
“I think a lot of members thought it was their responsibility to vote,” he wrote in a text.
The last-minute drama that could have delayed financial help from getting to Americans and businesses even led to John Kerry, the former Secretary of State under President Barack Obama, writing on Twitter that Massie tested positive as “for being an a**hole.”
“He must be quarantined to prevent the spread of his massive stupidity,” Kerry wrote. Trump even wrote back, saying he was “impressed” Kerry had “such a good sense of humor.”
Massie had toyed with the idea of demanding a recorded vote during an interview Thursday 55 KRC radio. He didn’t publicly announce that he would do so until about an hour before the House was set to approve the measure.
“The Constitution requires that a quorum of members be present to conduct business in the House. Right now, millions of essential, working-class Americans are still required to go to work during this pandemic such as manufacturing line workers, healthcare professionals, pilots, grocery clerks, cooks/chefs, delivery drivers, auto mechanics, and janitors (to name just a few). Is it too much to ask that the House do its job, just like the Senate did?” he wrote on Twitter, explaining his rationale.
After the House approved the legislation, Massie told reporters he believed his demand was blocked because House members didn’t want to to have their names recorded in the vote.
“They don’t want to be on record of making the biggest mistake in history,” he said. “These people need to do their jobs. If they’re telling people to drive a truck, if they’re telling people to bag groceries and grow their food, then by golly, they can be in there and they can vote.”
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Contributing: Ledge King