The Slatest

Congress Races Back to Washington Because a Libertarian Is Having a Fit

Thomas Massie holds a microphone and a gun.
Rep. Thomas Massie draws a Ruger LCP handgun from his pocket during a rally in support of the Second Amendment on Jan. 31 in Frankfort, Kentucky. Bryan Woolston/Getty Images

On Thursday night, the office of the House majority leader had some unfortunate news to break to the body’s members: If they were “able and willing to be in Washington, DC by 10:00 a.m. tomorrow,” they should get a move on. There was a familiar but no less aggravating problem on the horizon: A rogue libertarian was threatening to be a pain in the ass.

The House has been trying all week to determine how it might pass the Senate’s $2 trillion coronavirus relief package without calling representatives back to Washington and risking the health of its many very old members, especially when the outcome of a vote wouldn’t be in serious question. The House Rules Committee presented several imperfect options for how they might consider the legislation, and House leaders decided yesterday that they would hold a voice vote on the floor rather than a typical recorded vote. They urged members to submit statements into the record in lieu of debating on the floor.

The risk with a sparsely attended voice vote, though, was that any one member could call a point of order suggesting the absence of a quorum—a majority of the body—thereby requiring a recorded vote. While leaders tried to talk some troublemakers out of pulling such a parliamentary maneuver, one member seemed particularly stubborn.

Republican Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie had been on the troublemaker watchlists of both parties. While he wouldn’t give a straight answer on what he planned to do, he did confirm that he would be in Washington for the House’s consideration of the bill. And his tweets suggested he was aware of his parliamentary options.

On Thursday night and Friday morning, dozens of members tweeted about how they were en route to Washington at the last minute, with some of them singling out Massie as the reason.

Suozzi and King are from Long Island. This is part of the reason why there was so much anxiety: Given the last-minute nature of the summons to Washington, many of the members for whom it would be easiest to return would come from East Coast delegations like New York and New Jersey, the two states hit hardest by the coronavirus so far.

But the hammer really came down on Massie mid–Friday morning.

These were the rarest of Donald Trump tweets: the ones that both Democrats and Republicans in Congress were racing to like. Even John Kerry was joining the pile-on.

One of the lone defenders of Massie, though, was Texas Rep. Chip Roy, who has stuck around in Washington to block unanimous consent agreements on bills far less controversial than this in the past, and knows the feeling of everyone hating you.

Throw Chip Roy out of the Republican Party!

Debate on the bill was extended another couple of hours Friday morning to give all those who were traveling enough time to make it. The frayed nerves were on display in the vigorous debate that ensued. Michigan Rep. Haley Stevens drove through the night from her hard-hit district to make it to the Capitol, and she spoke like someone who had driven through the night from her hard-hit district to make it to the Capitol.

So it wasn’t the most selfless move from Massie. But now that enough members are back in town to conduct House business, though, perhaps they should consider, say, improving the legislation by removing things like the $170 billion handed to the richest real estate investors in the country. The House may not appreciate Massie making them come back. But now that he has, they could all unite in support of making their nemeses, the senators, come back.

Update, March 27, 2020, at 2:18 p.m.: The House passed the bill by voice vote, without any changes, early Friday afternoon. It will now head to President Trump’s desk for his signature. You can watch, below, how quickly Massie’s efforts were dismissed.