Articles and Opeds
Rep. Deutch Op-Ed: Time to Find a Way for Congress to Work Remotely during COVID-19 Pandemic
Today, Congressman Ted Deutch (FL-22) published an op-ed in the Palm Beach Post on the need for Congress to continue its formal work, including committee hearings and legislative debate, while working remotely during the coronavirus pandemic. "It is time to find an immediate solution that allows Congress to remotely perform all work typically done in Washington."
As Congressman Deutch wrote, "We all look forward to the day when we can safely debate legislation on the House floor, cast votes alongside our colleagues, and conduct oversight of the Administration in person. Until then, let’s keep doing the work the American people expect us to do. Let’s bring this body into the 21st Century."
The op-ed can be read here and below.
Congressman Ted Deutch
In March 1789, just as the U.S. Congress was scheduled to meet for its very first time, Members were delayed an entire month from assembling and casting their first votes due to severe weather.
Now, 231 years later, that same legislative body faces a different obstacle preventing us from safely traveling to our nation’s capital. But even as we perform our responsibilities from our districts, we are still able to assemble, and we must continue all of our work — virtually.
For nearly two months, vast swaths of America — our businesses, schools, and public spaces — have shuttered to slow the spread of COVID-19. Federal, state, and local governments have asked millions of Americans to follow the guidance laid out by public health experts and stay home if they are able.
Adjusting to this new reality hasn’t been easy. Despite the challenges, Americans have quickly seized available technology to virtually connect with friends and family, continue their children’s learning, and, for millions, transition to remote working.
Similarly, members of Congress quickly moved constituent engagement and assistance to virtual town halls and conference calls, drafted and introduced legislation through a new remote filing system, and pursued Congressional oversight through phone calls and letters.
Still, much of the formal business that keeps Congress running — voting, legislative debate, and committee hearings — has slowed or stopped entirely.
Many people are rightly confused; if a business or doctor’s office can maintain operations virtually through secure means, why can’t Congress?
The House Physician acknowledged it could take months, even years, for Congress to fully return to in-person business as it existed just earlier this year. We cannot wait that long.
It is time to find an immediate solution that allows Congress to remotely perform all work typically done in Washington.
It isn’t a question of technological ability. The technology exists and is already in use by our allies. Look no further than the virtual sittings in the United Kingdom’s House of Commons, virtual committee meetings in Canada, and remote voting in Spain’s legislature.
It is also not a question of legal authority. At the start of every new Congress, the House votes on the rules to govern itself. The U.S. Supreme Court has reaffirmed on multiple occasions Congress’ clear authority to determine the rules that govern their chambers.
Nor should we fear setting a precedent that future Congresses may abuse. Only the most extraordinary situations — like a deadly global pandemic — would call for these measures.
Congress has already taken historic actions, passing the much-needed CARES Act and other assistance packages. We have directed trillions of dollars to lessen the pandemic’s economic blow on families and businesses.
But there is other important work that also cannot wait.
Congress must seek answers about the Executive Branch’s early missteps in the response to this public health crisis.
We need public hearings on how the federal government is distributing assistance funds to make sure it reaches people and small businesses in need and is not misdirected to well-funded corporations.
Congress must press states like Florida to explain how two pay periods pass without distributing promised unemployment relief to those who lost their jobs. And we should investigate any misinformation campaigns, whether from a foreign entity or the White House itself.
By continuing this work remotely, we are signaling to Administration officials that we expect their participation in our hearings.
We can achieve this by using virtual meeting platforms to conduct hearings and briefings while we cannot gather in person; by finding a mechanism for remote voting that allows us to function as a legislative body while the pandemic keeps us in our districts; and by partnering with American tech companies to better connect the work of the people’s house into people’s homes.
Last week, I hosted a virtual Foreign Affairs Subcommittee briefing with other Members of Congress and briefers on the ground in Yemen. If we can hold meetings live from the Middle East, we can easily do it from West Palm Beach.
Security concerns will need to be addressed and adjusting to this new technology may not be seamless. Nobody who has watched our regular hearings on CSPAN would expect as much.
But the alternative is returning to Washington and moving committee hearings to giant auditoriums, where the story will be about masks and social distancing, rather than the important matters at hand.
We all look forward to the day when we can safely debate legislation on the House floor, cast votes alongside our colleagues, and conduct oversight of the Administration in person.
Until then, let’s keep doing the work the American people expect us to do. Let’s bring this body into the 21st Century.