WASHINGTON—President Trump signed a roughly $2 trillion stimulus package into law, hours after House lawmakers hustled back to the Capitol to pass the aggressive response to the coronavirus pandemic that has staggered the U.S. economy.
The bill is the largest relief package in U.S. history and extends aid to many struggling Americans through direct payments and expanded unemployment insurance. The package provides loans and grants to businesses, augments drained state coffers and sends additional resources to sapped health-care providers.
“I want to thank Democrats and Republicans for coming together and putting America first,” President Trump said in remarks Friday in the Oval Office. He added, in a nod to the size of the package: “I never signed anything with a T on it.”
Mr. Trump has told people he wants his signature to appear on the direct payment checks that will go out to many Americans in the coming weeks, according to an administration official. The White House didn’t comment.
Normally, a civil servant—the disbursing officer for the payment center—would sign federal checks, said Don Hammond, a former senior Treasury Department official.
The measure passed the Senate 96-0 earlier in the week and had overwhelming support in the House as well. But it needed to clear one last hurdle on Friday after Rep. Thomas Massie (R., Ky.) tried to force a recorded vote, arguing it would be irresponsible to use a voice vote on such a large bill. This angered many fellow lawmakers, who said making them show up in person risked spreading coronavirus and would needlessly stall aid to Americans.
To prevent a delay, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) worked with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D., Md.,) to assemble a flotilla of rank-and-file legislators to stop Mr. Massie. Many Democrats and Republicans boarded red-eye flights back to Washington or took long road trips to reach the quorum—216—needed to outflank Mr. Massie. His maneuver would have succeeded only if the House lacked a quorum or if he had support from one-fifth of the lawmakers to insist on a roll call. Neither was the case.
“We have our differences, but we also know what is important to us,” Mrs. Pelosi said when she joined Mr. McCarthy at a press conference after the vote. “America’s families are important to us.”
The vote came as the Capitol is awash in anxiety over the novel coronavirus. Two additional members of the House—Rep. Mike Kelly (R., Pa.) and Joe Cunningham (D., S.C.) said Friday they tested positive for the illness. In all, at least five lawmakers have contracted Covid-19, including one, Rep. Ben McAdams (D., Utah), who is on oxygen support in the hospital.
For safety reasons, House lawmakers who attended the vote sat several seats away from each other on the chamber’s floor and were scattered throughout the galleries typically reserved for the public. They were under orders to use hand sanitizer when entering and leaving the chamber. Should there have been a roll-call vote, lawmakers would have voted in groups no larger than 30, in alphabetical order.
In the most dramatic moment of the floor debate, Rep. Haley Stevens (D., Mich.) donned pink latex gloves as she delivered an impassioned plea to pass the bill, talking beyond her one minute of allotted time and shouting when her own leader, Mr. Hoyer, urged her to suspend so he could extend her more time, while some Republicans jeered.
“To our doctors and our nurses, I wear these latex gloves to tell every American: do not be afraid!” said Ms. Stevens, who drove back to Washington from Michigan a day earlier to be present for the vote.
Other lawmakers made similar treks. Republican Rep. Tom Reed left his home in Corning, N.Y., at 3 a.m. to make it to the Capitol by the time the debate started. His wife and daughter joined him, driving so that he could get work done.
“Because of the concerning tactics that might be being played here, I wanted to make sure I do my part to get this bill passed,” he said.
Rep. Dusty Johnson (R., S.D.) took two flights, starting in Sioux Falls—the first one he could catch. His connecting flight to Reagan National Airport was nearly empty, save for three other lawmakers on board, each in rows 6 feet apart.
“It was unfortunate that this last-minute scramble caused taxpayer dollars to be wasted, and public health to be compromised, but our country cannot afford delay,” he said.
Other lawmakers vented over Mr. Massie’s move.
“It’s an act of vanity and selfishness that goes beyond comprehension,” said Rep. Dan Kildee (D.,Mich.). “He should be ashamed of himself and the country should scorn him.”
On the House floor, some lawmakers took veiled swipes at Mr. Massie, skirting House rules of decorum aimed at preventing personal attacks. “To you who oppose this bill, please, please stand down,” Rep. Fred Upton (R., Mich.) said. “We can’t wait another day to help. Don’t add to this disruption by, in fact, being a disrupter. Be a leader.”
Outside the Capitol, Mr. Trump applied his own pressure on Mr. Massie, calling him “a third rate Grandstander.”
Mr. Massie said that he had been steamrolled, and denied a turn by GOP leaders to speak in the floor debate. “The fix is in,” he said. “If this bill is so great for America, why not allow a vote on it?”
After a tense morning, party leaders grew confident as more members reached the Capitol. Stalling for time, Mrs. Pelosi prolonged her floor speech until she could be sure that 216 members were in the chamber. At one point, she asked Messrs. Hoyer and McCarthy: “How are we coming, Mr. Leaders? How are we coming with our gallery?”
Ultimately, according to a Democratic leadership aide, about 240 lawmakers made it to their seats. The voice vote occurred with a chorus of ayes and a smattering of nos. Mr. Massie immediately challenged whether there were enough lawmakers in attendance, but was shot down. “A quorum is present, the motion is adopted,” said the presiding officer, Rep. Anthony Brown (D., Md.), to cheers from the lawmakers, who then filed out of the Capitol.
Lawmakers are already discussing what could be needed in a subsequent economic-relief package—which would be the fourth to address the health crisis. Some members say states need more money. Mrs. Pelosi has said she wants to see additional worker-safety protections, along with access to free health care for those who become sick from the virus.
“We have a bunch more bills to come,” said Rep. Cedric Richmond (D., La.), whose New Orleans district has one of the highest death counts in the country.-WSJ