GOP lawmaker forces House back to DC for vote despite positive virus tests

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House members rushed back to Washington after Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) signaled he would try to thwart the relief bill passage.

The House on Friday was planning to quickly pass the Senate's $2 trillion coronavirus relief package, utilizing a voting tool that wouldn't require every member of the House to be in the chamber — a necessary precaution due to a COVID-19 outbreak on Capitol Hill.

However, one GOP lawmaker single-handedly upended that plan, forcing his fellow House members to jump on last-minute red-eye flights — risking infecting themselves and others — because he says he is opposed to how much the bill adds to the national debt.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) called the bill — which provides direct payments to Americans struggling from the economic impact of the virus and increases unemployment benefits, among other things — a "calamity" on a radio show on Thursday.

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And he said that he felt that the House should be forced to come back to Washington, D.C., and vote on it, even though two House members have tested positive for COVID-19 disease, and three more — Reps. Katie Porter of California, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Seth Moulton of Massachusetts — have fallen ill and are awaiting results to see if they have it.

"I'm having a really hard time with this. Because they're saying, well it's hard to travel, yadda yadda yadda," Massie told 55 KRC, according to the Courier-Journal. "Well, last night, 96 out of 100 Senators voted. All we would need is 218 out of 435 to vote."

By possibly objecting to voting for the relief bill by voice vote, he forced lawmakers onto planes late Thursday to rush back and ensure that enough members were present to pass the bill.

It led his fellow members of Congress to call him out on social media.

"I am jumping on the red eye tonight... thanks Massie," Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) tweeted.

Rep. Pete King (R-NY) didn't mention Massie by name but had choice words for him nonetheless.

"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. Risk of infection and risk of legislation being delayed. Disgraceful. Irresponsible," King tweeted early Friday morning.

Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) — who also had to fly back on a red-eye — similarly called out Massie but not by name.

"Flying back to DC to vote for the stimulus bill. It could pass on a voice vote but some members want to make a statement by potentially asking for an in-person vote," Gomez tweeted from a plane. "Not all my colleagues can go back for health reasons. So, I'm doing it for them & for my constituents."

Massie's stunt also caught the eye of Donald Trump, who said Massie should be expelled from the GOP for his move.

Massie, for his part, has been downplaying COVID-19 and calling out the social distancing measures put in place to stop its spread, even as the death toll from the virus rises and public health experts say the measures are the best way to stop the spread.

"The greater harm to society is the public’s unquestioning acceptance of the unchecked authority of governments to force private behavior and disrupt economies," Massie tweeted on March 16, as the virus was starting to grow in the United States. "When this is over, I fear FDR's internment of Japanese-Americans is going to look like a 'light touch.'"

He also questioned why restaurants can't serve dine-in patrons, part of the social distancing measures adopted by multiple states to quell the coronavirus outbreak.

"All health is highly dependent upon good nutrition. I suspect that closing down in-person dining at restaurants (Ky just did) will lead to worse public health outcomes than if they had remained open," Massie tweeted on March 16. "Why not screen servers, increase spacing, serve only bottled drinks, etc?"

This is also not the first time Massie has single-handedly upended relief funding.

When Congress was trying to pass disaster relief funding after a series of natural disasters in 2019, both Massie and Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) blocked its passage by objecting to unanimous consent. It delayed a vote on the legislation — which the Senate had already passed on an extremely bipartisan 85-8 vote — for days, as Congress had left town for the Memorial Day recess.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.