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A “State of the Union”-style extreme security posture will be in effect on Capitol Hill on Friday, as the House of Representatives is set to vote on the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package, Fox News has learned — and there are new concerns that one member may “go rogue” and possibly delay a vote until Saturday.
A memo sent by Capitol Attending Physician Dr. Brian Monahan and House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving to all House members ahead of Friday’s coronavirus vote, obtained by Fox News, indicated that limited personnel with no extra aides will be permitted at the Capitol. Only one or two persons will be allowed in the elevators at a time, and most will be encouraged to use the stairs, according to the memo.
“Access will be strictly limited to members of Congress, congressional staff who have an office located inside the Capitol and staff who have designated floor access. If a staff person does not have a Capitol office — even if accompanied by a member — they will not be permitted inside the Capitol,” the memo stated. “Credentialed press will be permitted, as will official business visitors to the House wing.”
The document called for members to remain in their offices until voting. The officials are discouraging those “who are ill with respiratory symptoms or fever” from attending.
They indicated the vote likely will take place via a “voice vote” — a verbal exercise in which those in favor shout yea, and those opposed holler nay. The loudest side would prevail.
Top Democrats and Republicans have indicated they’d prefer a voice vote because it would not require as many members to return to the Capitol, and would speed a vote along. However, after the voice vote, any member simply may call for “a recorded vote.” That automatically would trigger the roll call.
If there were to be a request for a recorded vote Friday, it’s expected to come from a Republican member going rogue, according to one source with the Republicans and one with the Democrats.
In the event a roll-call vote were to be needed, leadership could push to delay the vote until Saturday to give members time to travel back to D.C., according to the two sources.
The plan for a roll-call vote is to divide the members into 16 groups of 30 members apiece to file into the chamber “to minimize the risks posed by placing too many individuals in one location,” according to the memo obtained by Fox News.
Officials also are expected to eliminate two of the six lecterns in the House chamber from which members may speak. The officials are asking members to keep away from each other inside the House chamber, and to clean the lectern themselves after they speak.
Fox News is told that House brass developed a “grouping” scenario for the potential recorded vote because there was nervousness among the leaders about a member calling for a full vote.
On a GOP call Thursday afternoon, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., informed Republicans that a GOP member was threatening to request a recorded vote, according to one Republican on the call. The member wasn’t identified.
Last week, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, threatened to force a roll-call vote on phase 2 of the coronavirus package.
“Mr. Gohmert has already returned, is hard at work reviewing the bill with key staff, with appropriate observation of social distances and sanitizer, but is informed that, appropriately, unanimous consent is not going to be attempted with this bill,” Gohmert’s office told Fox News. “He will be on the floor voting tomorrow, and will be guided by his review of the bill itself in deciding which way to vote.”
Democrats are united in favor of a voice vote on the legislation Friday and there was no talk on a caucus call Thursday afternoon that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., or any other Democrat would try to gum up the process and force a recorded vote, according to a source familiar with the call.
“A recorded vote could take five or six hours,” even once all members are back in Washington, one House aide said. That’s because the House would stretch out the vote, having only members enter the chamber to vote in small clusters.
Most votes in the House have taken about 20 or so minutes. Votes are sometimes reduced to five or even two minutes if everyone is in the chamber. (The longest vote in House history came on Nov. 23, 2003, and ran 2 hours and 55 minutes. It started at 3 a.m. ET and ended just before 6 a.m. ET on a measure to expand Medicare.)
Behind the scenes, Capitol attending physicians, as well as party leaders in the House, have been working to discourage members from coming back to Washington to vote on the package, Fox News has learned.
The not-so-subtle messaging, intended to avoid the unnecessary spread of the contagion, came as the House closed the gym normally available to members.
“That’s to make it as uncomfortable as possible on them,” one source who asked not to be identified told Fox News. “Some of these members practically live out of the gym.”
“Having all of these guys on planes, flying in and then going back spells trouble,” another senior source said.
Fox News is told both sides have been trying to get a head count of how many members may actually show up. One source ventured a guess that it could range from “70 to 150.”