Press Release ● Coronavirus
For Immediate Release: 
May 11, 2020
Contact Info: 
Mariel Saez 202-225-3130
Wanted to be sure you saw this Vox article today on how governments across the world are working remotely during the coronavirus pandemic, which includes comments from Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (MD) about how Congress can do so as well. See excerpts below. To read the full article, click here.

Excerpt from Vox's "How to Run the World Remotely"
By Jen Kirby
May 8, 2020

"And then there’s the US Congress, which hasn’t officially gone to full video hearings, though some senators joined their colleagues via video for hearings this week. But lawmakers in the House and the Senate haven’t yet budged on the question of remote voting.

"Both the House and the Senate were expected to come back into session this week, on May 4, but the congressional physician warned that would be unwise. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decided to reconvene anyway on May 4, with social distancing measures in place. The House is still not back.

“But Congress can’t really do anything fully remote — can’t hold official hearings, and definitely can’t vote — unless it changes the rules.

"The House has considered proxy voting as a temporary measure during the pandemic, which would allow other Congress members to vote on behalf of those who can’t be present, though that still requires at least some members to be physically present. House members are now trying to seek bipartisan agreement on a plan that would involve remote hearings and voting, much like what’s happening in places like the United Kingdom.

"Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has been among the House members pushing for remote voting, and he and other members of Congress have been testing videoconferencing to see how the technology might work.

"'In light of the extraordinary circumstances we are facing, I strongly believe the House must change its rules so that committees can conduct oversight hearings and markup legislation, and the House can hold votes remotely, so that we are not endangering public health,' Hoyer told Vox in a statement.

“'I am leading a bipartisan Virtual Congress Task Force in hopes that we can reach a bipartisan agreement to change the rules to allow remote committee work and remote votes,' Hoyer continued. 'We are seeing legislatures around the world and across our country working remotely, as well as the Supreme Court. There is no reason we cannot find a way to do so as well.'

"There might also be some bipartisan movement in the Senate, where lawmakers like Rob Portman (R-PA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) have pushed temporarily allowing remote voting.

"This would allow Congress to do its job while limiting the risk of members returning to Washington from all over the country and potentially spreading the virus. Experts and lawmakers, past and present, told me that it’s not a problem of technology, or security, but rather the will to tweak the rules and abandon tradition.

“'A legitimate reason is — ah, I can’t think of one,' said Brian Baird, a former US representative for Washington state, who, along with the Association of Former Members of Congress, is working on these issues and who helped lead a mock hearing to show how Congress could do the same.

“'If you listen to the concerns that have been raised, most of them are rooted in desire to not change traditions,' Baird told me. ‘But the situation has changed, and so we must change to adapt to that. So it’s lovely to say, “Oh, we don’t want to do things differently than they’ve always been done.” Fine. But we also don’t want a virus that kills our constituents, or members of Congress themselves and our staff.’

"It’s also just good practice to have a plan in place in case another pandemic, or a terrorist attack or some other catastrophe, prevents Congress from getting to Washington and dealing with the emergency.

“'It is a mistake not to make plans to do this,' NYU’s [Beth Simone] Noveck [director of New York University’s Governance Lab] said. 'And it’s definitely a mistake now to kind of assume, Oh, this thing will be over in a few weeks, and we can just go back to doing things the way we’ve always done them.’”