Texas Tribune: Many Texans in Congress scrambled to join vote as US House passes coronavirus spending bill

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks to reporters while walking to the House Chamber floor, ahead of a vote on a coronavirus relief bill on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 27. (Courtesy Reuters/Tom Brenner)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks to reporters while walking to the House Chamber floor, ahead of a vote on a coronavirus relief bill on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 27. (Courtesy Reuters/Tom Brenner)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks to reporters while walking to the House Chamber floor, ahead of a vote on a coronavirus relief bill on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 27. (Courtesy Reuters/Tom Brenner)

WASHINGTON—Some U.S. House members from Texas rushed to the U.S. Capitol on March 27 and urgently passed into law a massive spending bill that is aimed toward mitigating the health and economic impact of the new coronavirus.

It was, for modern times, an unheard of member scramble from every corner of the country.

At issue was the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, a bill estimated to cost taxpayers over $2 trillion with the goals of reinforcing the medical response to the pandemic, keeping businesses afloat long enough to avoid more layoffs and bolstering liquidity in the market. The bill will direct payments to individual Americans and will deliver loans to distressed businesses affected by the virus outbreak: small businesses, large corporations and airlines.

The bill easily and unanimously passed the U.S. Senate late on March 25 with the support of U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, both Republicans from Texas.

But senators were in Washington, while House members had recessed to their home districts almost two weeks ago. The aim for House leaders was to move the Senate bill—for which Speaker Nancy Pelosi was a negotiating partner—through the House through a procedural mechanism that would prevent members from having to possibly expose themselves and their constituents to the virus.



The instrument for such an extraordinary move was to call for a voice vote, a circumstance in which the presiding officer judges passage based on a handful of present members vocal ayes and nays.

That was not to be.

By the afternoon of March 26, a Republican congressman from Kentucky, U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, emerged as a point of concern for House leaders. They feared Massie would attend the vote and call for a recorded vote. To counter the move, a quorum of 216 members would be needed.

Then came guidance from House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's office: "Members are encouraged to follow the guidance of their local and state health officials, however if they are able and willing to be in Washington D.C. by 10:00 a.m. tomorrow, Members are encouraged to do so with caution."

And so, House members traveled across the country by trains, planes and automobiles and arrived to Washington early on March 27 to begin debate on the bill.

U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, a Republican from The Woodlands, managed the schedule for Republicans to debate the bill. But there was little contention with the Democrats on the other side of the aisle. Nearly all of the members who made the trip to Washington did so because of their intent to pass the CARES Act.

Even so, Republicans and Democrats shared a refrain: "The bill is not perfect." But over and over, members declared that circumstances demanded compromise.

"The Greek physician, Hypocrites, once said, ‘For extreme diseases, extreme methods of cure are most suitable,’ and while this medicine will have some short-term adverse side effects, it is our best hope for curing the crisis,” said U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington, R-Lubbock.

"[Americans] want to know that we will not allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good," concurred U.S. Rep. Al Green, D-Houston. "This is not a perfect bill. It is a good bill. I will support it. The American people need certainty. They want to know we will be there for them."

Republican U.S. Reps. Bill Flores of Bryan, Louie Gohmert of Tyler, Michael Burgess of Lewisville, and Democratic U.S. Reps. Colin Allred of Dallas and Sylvia R. Garcia, Al Green and Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston also delivered remarks from the floor.

As members made their speeches from the chamber on March 27, President Donald Trump directed his ire at Massie. Tweeting that the congressman is "a third rate Grandstander," the president called to "throw Massie out of Republican Party!"

U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, an Austin Republican, jumped onto social media to defend Massie.

"@RepThomasMassie is one of the most principled men in Congress & loves his country. He is defending the Constitution today by requiring a quorum. There’s nothing 3rd rate about that, @realDonaldTrump," Roy wrote. "I may miss vote if he forces roll call (flights) but it will pass. Back off."

Not all Texans made it to the Capitol on such short notice. Roy tweeted that he had trouble booking a flight. Other members had health concerns. U.S. Rep. Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, a freshman Democrat from Houston, spent the day in a self-quarantine from her home. She announced on March 26 that she is suffering from a fever and flu-like symptoms and awaits the results of a coronavirus test.

Members listened to the debate while seated spaced out throughout the chamber, with some taking seats in the public gallery. The House attending physician warned members to maintain "a 6-foot social distance spacing as much as practicable when in the offices or the Capitol." He further encouraged members to use the stairs and avoid elevators. When using elevators, the physician urged a maximum occupancy of two members.

Some members spoke while wearing blue latex gloves. Others doused their hands with hand sanitizer. Other members brought Lysol to the floor.

Should a formal vote have been needed, members would have voted in groups of 16, with alphabetical order determining the group order.

The Washington Post reported that senior Capitol Hill aides paced the chamber counting members present, ensuring that a quorum of 216 members was present.

The presiding officer, U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown, a Democrat from Maryland, called the voice vote. Most present voted in the affirmative, with a smattering of nays.

Then Massie took to the podium.

"I came here to make sure our republic doesn't die by unanimous consent and an empty chamber, and I request a recorded vote," he said.

Brown instructed members to rise if they supported a recorded vote and then stated there was an insufficient number of members supporting such a measure.

Trump is expected to sign the bill into law.

Brady, who also serves as the top Republican on the House tax writing committee, closed the Republican side of debate on the bill.

"When the chips are down, Congress can come together with our president to help hardworking families and businesses when they need it most," he said.

"This is the challenge of a lifetime," he later added. "But if we keep pulling together, we pass this bill today without delay, we take another step toward that day when we answer door and fear is no longer there."

The Texas Tribune



MOST RECENT

Bicycles for public use are docked at a MetroBike station on Lake Austin Boulevard. Austin's $460 million Proposition B will include funding for additional bicycle lanes through the city. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Breaking down Austin's $460 million bond for bike lanes, trails, sidewalks and more

The bond will fun a bridge over Pleasant Valley Road connecting two ends of the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike trail, among other improvements.

There is no data to support whether homelessness has increased since March, according to Austin’s Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, but ECHO executive director Matt Mollica said anecdotally, he believes the pandemic, job loss and lack of federal rent relief has led to more people locally experiencing homelessness. (Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)
Nonprofits fighting to end homelessness in Austin say COVID-19 measures have created new challenges

Nonprofits have seen a greater need from Austin’s homeless community—for food, clothing, health care and hygiene resources—since March, and they are scrambling to fill those gaps.

Local health leaders are urging caution ahead of Thanksgiving. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Ahead of Thanksgiving, Travis County health officials urge caution

Austin Public Health leaders say gatherings with people outside one's household held indoors and without masks pose the greatest risk.

Sold sign
Central Austin continues trend of rising home prices in recent report

The monthly median housing price in October for Central Austin climbed to $625,000.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced a COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan for the state Nov. 23 for a vaccine he said could be available as soon as December. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announces COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan

The vaccine could start being distributed "as early as next month," according to a Nov. 23 news release.

P. Terry’s Burger Stand is expected to open its long-awaited Pflugerville location this January. (Courtesy P. Terry's Burger Stand)
P. Terry's to open in Pflugerville in January and more Central Texas news

Read the latest Central Texas business and community news.

The Bridge at Turtle Creek apartment complex will provide more than 300 affordable units upon completion in 2022. (Rendering courtesy Journeyman Group)
Austin development updates: Apartments could replace two Rainey Street bars, 307 affordable housing units coming to South First Street area

A 569-foot apartment complex could replace Javelina and Craft Bar. Meanwhile, development continues in the St. Elmo area.

Falafel—served in a pita or without one—is TLV's most ordered dish. (Courtesy TLV)
Still open for takeout, TLV is the lone restaurant operating in Fareground food hall

"We will make it through these tough times," said chef Berty Richter.

Trail of Lights (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
Holiday markets, strolls, tree lightings and Trail of Lights: 18 events in the Austin area in November and December

The Trail of Lights has gone drive-thru this year, while the Blue Genie Art Bazaar is taking free, ticketed reservations to adhere to social distancing requirements.

Austin voters approved a $7.1 billion public transit expansion Nov. 3 that will add bus and rail in Austin. (Design by Miranda Baker/Community Impact Newspaper)
After historic public transportation vote, here is what's next for Project Connect in Austin

Shovels won't be hitting the ground on the light rail and downtown tunnel for years, but work is getting started now after Austinites approved the $7.1 billion plan Nov. 3.

Laura Colangelo
Q&A: Laura Colangelo discusses challenges facing private schools during pandemic

Colangelo said private schools have adapted to remote learning and other obstacles in 2020 despite less revenue and a 9% decline in enrollment statewide.

Festival attendees will have access to augmented reality artworks throughout the galleria. (Courtesy Bee Cave Arts Foundation)
Inaugural interactive light festival coming soon to Bee Cave and more Central Texas updates

Read the latest business and community news from the Austin area.