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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.
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, indicates 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 are encouraged to use the stairs.
“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 states. “Credentialed press will be permitted, as will official business visitors to the House wing.”
The document calls for members to remain in their offices until they vote. The officials are discouraging those “who are ill with respiratory symptoms or fever” from attending.
They indicate the vote will likely take place via a “voice vote” — a verbal exercise in which those in favor shout yea, and those opposed holler nay. The loudest side prevails.
However, after the voice vote, any member may simply call for “a recorded vote.” That automatically triggers the roll call.
If there is an actual roll call vote, the officials plan to divide the members into 16 groups of 30 members apiece in which to file into the chamber “to minimize the risks posed by placing too many individuals in one location,” according to the memo.
They will also 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.
A member of the House GOP leadership told Fox News they are working with one member in particular on their side who may want a vote. The member’s identity is unclear; 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 & 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.”
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., updates reporters as lawmakers continue work on a coronavirus aid package, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 12, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Fox News is told that House brass developed a “grouping” scenario for the potential recorded vote because there is nervousness among the leaders about a member calling for a full vote.
“A recorded vote could take five or six hours,” said one House aide. 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 take about 20 or so minutes. Votes are sometimes reduced to 5 or even 2 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 Republican and Democrat Party leaders in the House of Representatives, are 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,” said another senior source.
Fox News is told both sides are 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.”