Jun 27, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Pandemic rewires the future of Congress

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios
Illustration of U.S. Capitol building with line circling the building

The pandemic is pushing Congress toward remote hearings and votes, and is changing lobbying, fundraising and campaigning.

Why it matters: The coronavirus is forcing one of the most change-averse institutions in the U.S. to rethink how it's always done things.

  • This could change who influences the creation of the nation's laws.

The state of play: Many lawmakers are spending more time in their districts and home states — and less with donors and lobbyists.

  • Some lawmakers got sick themselves or lost loved ones to the virus. That's sensitized them to the fear, pain, stigma and uncertainty that constituents with less of a safety net are experiencing.

Flashback: The Senate returned in early May, while the House has continued to conduct most of its work remotely.

  • For the first time in more than two centuries, House members were allowed to vote remotely, by designating a proxy to cast their ballot for them.
  • House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told Axios the House may extend that 45-day window, given the COVID-19 surge across the country.

What they're saying: Lawmakers tell Axios they expect the expansion of virtual interactions to last past the pandemic.

  • Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas): More reliance on video conferencing “is going to mean we get access to more witnesses" who can't afford to travel to D.C.
  • Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.): "We discovered something we should have already known — that you could do these conference calls and get to a lot of people."
  • Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.): "Society has crammed 10 years of experience, in telework and telehealth and telecommuting and Zoom meetings, into three months."

The pandemic has also sparked a serious discussion about the effectiveness of remote voting.

  • Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.): "You might not want to make remote voting the norm, and I think that's the fear of some traditionalists. But certainly it ought to be available in situations like this. And I think of other situations that would be even more urgent, like if there was an attack on the country."
  • House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who led an effort to sue Speaker Pelosi and block voting by proxy: "This is not simply arcane parliamentary procedure. It is a brazen violation of the Constitution, a dereliction of our duty as elected officials."

Go deeper: First coronavirus cases in Congress spark push for remote voting

Go deeper