House expected to pass massive coronavirus relief package

Posted at 6:48 AM, Mar 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-27 08:49:23-04

The House is expected Friday to approve a massive relief bill to respond to the significant economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, after a record number of Americans filed unemployment claims and the U.S. topped China as the country with the most confirmed COVID-19 cases.

The bill is expected to pass with bipartisan support. But it is unclear whether it will be approved by a voice vote or recorded vote.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday that the House would try for a voice vote, meaning the presiding officer would call for the "yeas" and "nays" from members present on the floor and determine which side prevails. A quorum is assumed in a voice vote, meaning a bill may pass even if a majority of lawmakers are not physically present.

Some House members have indicated they might object to a voice vote. Republican Congressman Thomas Massey of Kentucky told the Courier-Journal Thursday he was having a "hard time" with the concept of a voice vote, as only 218 representatives out of 435 are needed to be present to have a quorum in the House. Most representatives are currently in their districts, with several in self-quarantine due to exposure to the coronavirus.

Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York has also indicated she may try to block a voice vote because she believes the bill does more to protect corporations than workers.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer notified members Thursday evening that the bill might not pass by voice vote and urged them to return to Washington if they are able, "while exercising all due caution." Pelosi said Thursday that if there's a demand for a roll call vote, she can resort to a procedure called "vote by proxy," whereby a lawmaker who is there can inform the clerk how a member who is not there intends to vote.

Two House members have tested positive for the new coronavirus, and dozens have self-quarantined due to exposure or symptoms.

The relief measure passed in a 96-0 vote in the Senate earlier this week after lengthy negotiations between Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and White House officials. The bill expands unemployment insurance, provides direct payments to most Americans and includes hundreds of billions of dollars in loans and grants to corporations, hospitals, state and local governments and more. An amendment proposed by three Republicans threatened to delay the bill's passage, but it failed along party lines.

The bill is "phase three" legislation to address the pandemic. President Trump has signed two other relief bills and voiced support for this measure. He said he will sign the bill once it is passes in the House.