Sending Office: Committee on Rules
Embracing Technology to Safely Continue Legislating During this Pandemic
April 28, 2020
The coronavirus has added new urgency to the ongoing conversations regarding whether Congress is properly prepared for unexpected emergencies. Discussions have been continuing regarding updating our procedures to temporarily enable everything from low-tech
remote voting on the House Floor to virtual committee hearings and markups during this pandemic.
I have heard from many of you since this crisis began, and I appreciate your input and ideas. As Chairman of the House Rules Committee, I take all ideas seriously.
I have always said that any possible changes to the way we conduct our business should be done in a bipartisan manner whenever possible. To the Speaker’s credit, she has convened a bipartisan task force consisting of Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Minority
Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Rules Committee Ranking Member Tom Cole (R-OK), Committee on House Administration Chairperson Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Ranking Member Rodney Davis (R-IL), and myself to attempt to achieve this.
These talks are ongoing and I remain hopeful we can reach consensus on some of these matters. I want to especially acknowledge my Ranking Member, Congressman Cole. He deeply respects this institution and we have built a friendship over the years as we worked
to find common ground many times on many issues.
The Office of the Attending Physician and the House Sergeant at Arms have developed guidelines to minimize risk as much as possible, I believe we should also embrace technology to further protect public health during this pandemic. These changes are not
a replacement for the way we normally operate – they are steps to be taken only during extraordinary circumstances like the one we find ourselves in now.
Inaction is not an option. The status quo is dangerous and could expose not only our colleagues, but also staff, members of the media, and the general public.
Experts are telling us that even if this virus recedes in the short-term, it could come back even stronger in the fall. We must take steps to prepare now. The American people are counting on us to continue legislating, and that could temporarily mean working
from the Capitol, remotely from our districts, or both during this crisis.
Included below is an editorial I wrote on this, which was just
published in the Washington Post. As I have said, my door is always open for constructive feedback. Please continue sharing your thoughts with me as this process moves forward.
James P. McGovern
Committee on Rules
I’m chairman of the House Rules Committee. We need to change the way Congress operates.
By James P. McGovern
ýAprilý ý27ý, ý2020ý ý3ý:ý53ý ýp.m.ý ýEDT
Covid-19 has exposed just how unprepared Congress is to continue its business during an unforeseen crisis. Today, we face a pandemic, but we don’t know what tomorrow may bring. We must be prepared. It is time for this institution to finally embrace technology
so it can safely continue legislating during an unexpected emergency.
As chairman of the House Rules Committee, I take changing the way this institution operates seriously. The way we do things matters. The House lives and breathes based on precedent and personal interaction, and decisions we make today will influence the
choices made in this chamber 100 years from now.
We cannot let the way things have been done in the past, though, blind us to the way things should be done in the future. The status quo has become unacceptable and dangerous — not just to members of Congress, but more importantly, to everyone we come in
Members frequently travel from their home states — some of which are coronavirus hot spots — to convene together in the close quarters of the Capitol complex. Then, they travel back home at the end of the week and repeat the process month after month. This
routine could expose not only our colleagues, but also our staffs and the general public. We don’t know how many of these individuals may have compromised immune systems, preexisting conditions, or otherwise face a heightened risk from illness. In addition,
due to a lack of testing, we don’t know how many people could also have the coronavirus but be asymptomatic.
It is a recipe for disaster during a pandemic when a virus spreads easily.
The Office of the Attending Physician and the House Sergeant at Arms have developed guidelines to minimize risk as much as possible. Some members, unfortunately, defiantly disregarded them when Congress recently met. Ignoring safety protocols isn’t courageous,
But these recommendations alone, even when followed to the letter, are not enough. We must also embrace technological advancements to further protect public health and keep Congress working. This will help us not only confront this pandemic, but also meet
other important obligations such as keeping the government funded, crafting an infrastructure bill and combating hunger.
These temporary changes could include remote voting on the House floor or virtual proceedings across congressional committees.
It’s no secret that members of Congress have varying degrees of comfort with different technologies. We can, however, start with lower-tech options such as remote voting by proxy and evolve our approach to use more sophisticated options as we ease into this
I’m not suggesting in any way changing the way we operate on a daily, routine basis — only during extraordinary emergencies such as the one we are facing now. What we are talking about should be the exception, not the norm.
I recently released a resolution that would make these changes a reality. It was the culmination of many conversations with experts, constitutional scholars and colleagues on both sides of the aisle following a recent report I released that explored these
Ultimately, there was resistance from Republican leaders. The speaker, to her credit, chose to continue these conversations for a few more weeks. A bipartisan task force has been formed to examine these issues further, and I’m proud to be a part of this
effort. I have always believed that whenever possible, any changes to House rules should be bipartisan. I still believe that today.
Inaction, however, is simply not an option. The need to adapt is urgent. Experts have made clear that even if the crush of coronavirus lessens in the immediate future, this pandemic could come back even stronger in the fall. I don’t want to look back and
wish we had made changes now.
Many congresses run by both parties have examined temporary virtual proceedings over the years, most recently following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But changes to allow remote work have never gotten across the finish line. It is time to change that.
Technology has changed considerably in the 231 years since the first Congress met. I am confident we can develop solutions that are not only constitutionally sound, but also safe, secure and transparent. Congress has a job to do, and we must legislate —
whether in person on Capitol Hill, remotely from our districts, or both.
The American people count on their elected officials to act, especially during times of crisis. We cannot let any emergency stop us in our tracks.
e-Dear Colleague version 2.0