#OpenCongress? How Congress Can Work Remotely During Emergencies (Updated With Video)

April 22, 2020 NYC’s city council met by Zoom. Why not Congress?

A Civic Hall virtual conversation, Wednesday April 29, noon-1:00pn EDT

When the US Congress recessed in mid-March so that Members as well as congressional staff could go home as COVID-19 social distancing measures came into effect, it did so without preparing to conduct remote deliberations. Now, Congress is stuck in limbo, trying to govern using the “unanimous consent” rule, which allows any single member to stymie proceedings and making it impossible for committees to function.

Behind the scenes, longtime democracy and transparency organizers tried before the recess occurred to get House leadership to amend the rules to allow remote voting and live-streaming of hearings and votes, but they were rebuffed in the mistaken belief that this would be unconstitutional or technically insecure or infeasible.

Meanwhile, many state and local legislatures have shifted to using Zoom and other tools to conduct proceedings, with even the NYC city council holding its first-ever digital meeting Wednesday April 22. Rep. Steny Hoyer, the number two Democrat in the House, has come out for letting Congress Zoom, but so far House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has refused to make any moves to alleviate the situation. The House was poised this past Wednesday to move a resolution that would have turned on remote deliberations on the floor and in committees, but they dropped it at the last second.

Now what? We’ll discuss the prospects for Congress working remotely with two leading civic tech experts and advocates, Daniel Schuman, the policy director for Demand Progress, and Marci Harris, the founder and CEO of PopVox.

To view the conversation, go here. (Password: 4v=*3L94)

For more background, here’s a joint oped that Schuman and Harris wrote for The Bulwark.

Additional resources that were shared by participants in the Zoom chat:

House Rules Committee, Majority Staff Report Examining Voting Options During the COVID-19 Epidemic, March 23, 2020

Demand Progress, Analysis of House Rules Committee Democrat Report on Remote Voting, March 24, 2020

Yuval Levin and Adam White, “The Crisis Congress,” National Review, April 2, 2020

GovLab, “Continuity in Legislatures Amid COVID-19: An Updated Snapshot,” April 24, 2020

Rep. James McGovern, “I’m chairman of the House Rules Committee. We need to change the way Congress operates.” The Washington Post, April 28, 2020