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Pelosi warns against ‘selfish’ lawmakers disrupting coronavirus vote

POLITICO logo POLITICO 3/26/2020 By Heather Caygle and Sarah Ferris
Nancy Pelosi standing in front of a laptop: Speaker Nancy Pelosi. © Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team are determined to clear a $2 trillion coronavirus relief package by Friday, making contingency plans in case a lawmaker on either side tries to delay the vote.

On a private Democratic Caucus call Thursday afternoon, Pelosi said the House would vote the next day, saying members in both parties should not be “selfish” and try to disrupt passage of the bill.

“If we have a quorum tomorrow, we will take a vote tomorrow,” Pelosi said according to multiple Democrats on the call. “The American people want certainty. We need to get this bill passed tomorrow.”

“We have to get people off their selfishness,” Pelosi added, speaking about GOP threats to demand a roll call vote instead of letting the House clear the package via a simple voice vote.

Pelosi’s comments come as House leaders on both sides worry that one or more of their members will try to cause a scene on Friday, demanding a quorum call or a roll call vote which would require more lawmakers to return to the Capitol. House leaders are hoping to pass the bill via a voice vote, which wouldn’t necessitate a majority of members traveling to Washington, something they are desperate to avoid.

In an effort to ensure the vote goes smoothly, Pelosi has been in touch with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he called Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the incoming White House chief of staff.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has been making the pitch to his members — in pressers, conference calls and individual conversations — to not object to the voice vote on Friday. His argument: that the process will still allow for a debate and a chance to express opposition, without having to drag everyone back to Washington and slow down the bill’s passage.

House Republican leadership is particularly concerned about the intentions of GOP Rep. Tom Massie. Massie drove from Kentucky to be in Washington for the vote, and has signaled to the leadership that he may call for a recorded tally. The White House is aware of the issue, sources said.

Both McCarthy and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) have been in contact Massie, according to a Republican leadership aide — but no one is quite sure where he will land.

Earlier Thursday, Massie signaled he was still wrestling with his decision. “They’re trying to convince us it should be a voice vote, it shouldn’t be recorded. And I’m struggling with this,” he said. "I'm having a real hard time with this.”

When asked Thursday whether any lawmakers would block the bill’s speedy passage in the House, Trump responded: “Let’s see whether or not we have a grandstander.”

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In addition to potential GOP disruptions, Pelosi said there was one Democratic member who might demand a roll call vote on the massive package but she did not name the lawmaker.

For some Democrats, the main point of contention involves the massive $150 billion rescue fund for state and local governments as they attempt to combat the crisis on the ground. That money can only be awarded to localities of more than 500,000 people — a major concern for lawmakers whose districts may not qualify for aid. The National League of Cities has lobbied lawmakers to allow the cash to flow to any locality with 50,000 or more people.

The $2 trillion-plus package, which has already been approved by the Senate, will provide immediate relief to workers, small businesses and major industries crippled by the crisis.

Later in the call, Pelosi strongly urged Democrats not to demand a roll call vote, telling her caucus it would be "selfish" to require their colleagues to fly and drive in from across the country, potentially putting everyone’s health at risk.

House leaders are hoping to quickly pass the relief package via a voice vote — allowing members who chose to come to the chamber to debate and verbalize their objections without requesting a roll call vote.

But a single member could object on the grounds that there isn’t a quorum — in this case 216 lawmakers — in the chamber. A lawmaker could also demand a roll call vote, something leaders in both parties are urging against.

Some rank-and-file Democrats — Reps. Dan Kildee of Michigan and Gerry Connolly of Virginia — also tried during Thursday's caucus call to plead with their colleagues not to request a recorded vote during the time of national crisis. Instead, they urged, any lawmakers upset with the legislation should voice their objection through the congressional record.

For many lawmakers, there is deep anxiety about returning to the Capitol, which they see as a hotbed for potentially spreading the virus. Many fear it could spread not only on the floor during votes, but also with hundreds of lawmakers en route to Washington on planes and trains.

Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) said it was irresponsible for lawmakers to get on planes and called for remote voting. Peters was among nearly 70 House Democrats who sent a letter this week urging their leadership to consider remote voting.

Still, the Sergeant at Arms and Capitol physician have prepared for a potential surge of lawmakers to attend votes on Friday, and Saturday if needed.

Members received a sternly worded email on Thursday that included nearly a dozen new restrictions — from elevator usage to the Speaker’s lobby — in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus.

Lawmakers will vote in pre-assigned groups of 30 to limit contact on the floor, and will be required to use hand sanitizer before and after leaving the chamber. Ahead of the vote, the chamber will be limited only to members who are scheduled to speak.

On their way to votes, lawmakers are asked to ride with no more than one other person in an elevator, and most staff will be barred from the Capitol building itself.

Several House members remain quarantined, including three — Reps. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) — who say they developed symptoms in recent days.

Rep. Ben McAdams (D-Utah) — who, along with Rep. Mario Diaz Balart (R-Fla.) has tested positive for the virus — remains hospitalized as he battles the illness.

Jake Sherman and Melanie Zanona contributed to this report.

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