Illinois lawmakers dash to D.C. for in-person coronavirus vote that could have been avoided

The threat of one incredibly selfish — and now highly despised — member forced lawmakers to rush back to vote on the stimulus package tied to the COVID-19 outbreak.

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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, surrounded by a bipartisan group of House members, signs the stimulus bill known as the CARES Act after the bill was passed Friday. The bill is intended to combat the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, surrounded by a bipartisan group of House members, signs the stimulus bill known as the CARES Act after the bill was passed Friday. The bill is intended to combat the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

In a speech Friday in the House chamber, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. saluted everyone who works “at the Jewel Food store in my neighborhood” while the coronavirus pandemic explodes, adding: “They are risking their lives too.”

Schakowsky never expected to be back at the House of Representatives on Friday.

With COVID-19 spreading and Illinois under a stay-at-home order, Schakowsky has been working remotely from the kitchen table at her Evanston house. But things changed suddenly and dramatically Thursday for her and about 200 other House members scattered across the nation.

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The threat of one incredibly selfish — and now highly despised — member, Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., to demand an in-person roll call vote on the COVID-19 stimulus bill, forced lawmakers to rush back to D.C.— just in case.

The plan Massie threatened to upend was for the House to approve the $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill by a voice vote, under a bipartisan agreement between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, both Californians.

Massie did ask for a recorded vote. He was gaveled down. He asked for a quorum call. There were enough members. Massie was gaveled down.

And then, in an extraordinary spectacle, House members from both sides of the aisle roared yes as they stood spaced apart in the chamber and — this was historic —in the overhead gallery, to practice social distancing. At least two House members and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., have tested positive for the coronavirus, so the exposure threat was not theoretical.

Thursday night, Schakowsky and Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi, Cheri Bustos and Lauren Underwood made the last flight out of O’Hare.

Friday, Rep. Mike Quigley was on the 7:09 a.m. American Airlines flight from O’Hare, along with other Democratic members: Brad Schneider, Robin Kelly,Sean Casten and Bill Foster.

Also making it back from Illinois were Republicans Darin LaHood, Mike Bost and Rodney Davis.

Democrats Bobby Rush and Danny Davis were absent. A Rush spokesman said his doctor recommended he stay home, due to pre-existing medical conditions.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., is in self-isolation in Illinois after he and his wife “began experiencing mild symptoms,” his spokesperson said.

Schneider could not depart Thursday evening because he was holding a tele-town hall. I listened in. Almost every question from panicked and scared constituents had to do with getting desperately needed economic or health assistance.

Massie has pulled stunts before, trying to muck up votes to make some procedural point.

Friday was not the time.

“It’s unfortunate,” said Quigley, from Chicago. “He put people’s health at risk … so I am not sure what was accomplished putting a lot of people on planes while we have a lot of people taking shelter. I don’t mind; it’s my job. But I don’t know what was gained in circumstances like this. If this was a tough, contentious vote, that’s a different story.”

Krishnamoorthi, from Schaumburg, said he quickly packed a bag and sprinted to O’Hare to grab that last flight out Thursday.

“People and small businesses are in desperate shape right now,” he said. “I was not going to leave anything to chance.”

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