GOP senators: Next coronavirus aid package may need unanimous consent

Logistics of getting lawmakers back to Washington could get more complicated

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio says it could be difficult to get lawmakers back to D.C. soon for more aid votes (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio says it could be difficult to get lawmakers back to D.C. soon for more aid votes (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted April 6, 2020 at 1:03pm

A pair of Senate Republican appropriators suggested Monday that it would be difficult to envision lawmakers returning to the Capitol for votes on the next round of coronavirus aid any time soon.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who has focused on providing payroll assistance to small businesses as chairman of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, said it is almost inevitable the federal assistance programs will need more money.

“The appetite is there. I think everyone I’ve talked to in the Senate recognizes we’re going to have to go back and do more, and probably more than once,” he said in a CNBC interview.

But Rubio indicated that any action taken in the immediate future may require consent of the entire Senate.

“The bigger challenge is logistical, and that is how do you get over 500 members of Congress back to Washington to take a vote in the House and Senate? It would almost have to be structured as something that’s voted on unanimously in both chambers,” he said. “It’s going to be very difficult logistically to … get everyone back there, especially given the uptick in the infection rate in the D.C. area.”

Rubio cautioned that while there would be widespread support for additional assistance, if needed, there’s always a risk that it may not be unanimous.

“You can pass things in the Senate with only two people there,” he said, referring to the chamber’s unanimous consent process. “If you wanted to go back and just add more money, you could pretty quickly do that with two people there.”

“The question becomes, in the Senate, if one single senator objects, that becomes impossible,” he added.

The next time all senators are expected in Washington for voting is on April 20.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican appropriator from West Virginia, highlighted the challenge of reconvening the Senate on schedule.

“We’re still keying in on April 20 [as] the date. I haven’t heard anything differently. I do think we’ve been asked to be flexible, so I would imagine D.C. being closed until the 24th, [which] is the date the mayor has designated, I think there’s a likelihood that date could slip,” she said Monday.

Capito was at the Capitol to preside over a brief pro forma session, which the Senate is holding once every three days.

Beyond logistics, Capito spoke about some of the substance for the next phase of assistance, according to Emily Cochrane of The New York Times, who was representing a pool of reporters covering pro forma sessions of the House and Senate in a voluntary effort to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

“I’ve been pressing for the infrastructure bill, we’ve passed it out of my committee unanimously,” Capito said. “And so I think that is something I’m very much in favor of, for a bill on top of that.”

Capito said lawmakers would also need to evaluate what is and isn’t working about the most recent coronavirus stimulus package.

“Do we need to extend, to … put more money into [the small business paycheck protection] program? I think that’s probably going to be the higher priority, and I understand that’s the direction that we’re looking at as well,” she said.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter Saturday that she is aiming to advance an additional legislative package this month. The House is currently also expected to return to session on April 20.

“Our communities cannot afford to wait, and we must move quickly. It is my hope that we will craft this legislation and bring it to the Floor later this month,” the California Democrat wrote.

The next package, Pelosi wrote, “must go further in assisting small businesses including farmers, extending and strengthening unemployment benefits and giving families additional direct payments.”

“We must also provide the desperately needed resources for our state and local governments, hospitals, community health centers, health systems and health workers, first responders and other providers on the frontlines of this crisis,” she added.