Schuman writes the First Branch Focus newsletter and is policy director for Demand Progress, a nonprofit group advocating for civil liberties, civil rights and government reform. Harris is a former House aide and CEO of Popvox Inc., an information and resources platform for civic engagement and legislating.
The rapid spread of coronavirus has made it unsafe and unwise for members of Congress — many of whom are among those most likely to become grievously ill — to convene in person.
Current rules, however, require members to be physically present to vote on the floors of the House and Senate. If our legislative branch is to respond effectively to this crisis and play its vital constitutional role as a check on the executive and judicial branches, it must act now to give itself the option to convene in a temporary emergency remote session.
As speaker, Nancy Pelosi has the power to convene the House outside of the chamber if the public interest requires it; Senate leaders have similar powers. Whether the House or Senate could convene online in virtual session, however, is a different matter and likely would require each chamber to vote — and in person — to amend their rules in advance.
The unique circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic make it necessary for the House and Senate to do so now.
Harris is the CEO of Popvox Inc., an online platform providing information and resources for civic engagement and legislating.
The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress on Thursday takes up what some might consider the most arcane, inside-baseball, boring topics on Capitol Hill — but one that I get very excited about given its potential to keep congressional information from going totally off the rails: franking!
The congressional franking privilege, which originally allowed members of Congress to send official mail to their constituents at government expense, dates from 1775, when it was approved by the First Continental Congress. Of course, this privilege was abused over the years, leading to the creation of the Congressional Franking Commission, which is charged with regulating and limiting how official resources are used for communication.