WASHINGTON—Millions of Americans headed to work this morning by walking, laptops in hand, into a home office, sitting down at a kitchen table, or settling on a living room couch, thanks to widespread self-quarantining due to the coronavirus.
Conspicuously absent from those working from home are members of the U.S. Senate, who are meeting in the upper chamber of the Capitol just as they have since Nov. 17, 1800.
But, as the number of coronavirus cases in the United States heads upward, informal talk around the Capitol quietly continues about the possibility of senators and representatives teleworking, including voting remotely.
Government Affairs Institute senior fellow Joshua Huder, writing in a March 16 post at legbranch.org, roundly rejected such talk.
“While it may be necessary in life-threatening circumstances, it should remain an option only in emergency situations. Otherwise, it has long-term, negative consequences for the functioning of the legislative branch,” Huder wrote.
Among multiple reasons that Huder cites for not going to remote voting, the most serious is this:
“Among the worst features of the current process is the gulf between rank-and-file members and the substance of legislating … If we want more individual member influence, putting distance between members and the process does the opposite.
“It gives leaders even more opportunity to legislate in secret, manipulate the process, and otherwise keep rank and file in the dark. For rank-and-file members to hold their congressional leaders accountable — whether committee chairs or party leaders — they need to, at a minimum, be physically present.”
Huders negative assessment is widely shared among veteran congressional aides and campaign strategists interviewed March 16 by The Epoch Times.
“Congress should be a rare exception to the rule that everyone should stop gathering in groups if they can possibly avoid it,” said campaign strategist Spencer Critchley, managing partner of the California-based Boots Road Group.
“The legislative process is much more than just casting votes, and especially in these times of extreme divisiveness, we should do all we can to preserve as much human interaction as we can among our representatives, while seeking to restore whats been lost,” he said.
Similarly, Jimmy Williams, former senior economic adviser to Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), told The Epoch Times he doesnt “think were at that point yet,” adding that he believes “Congress needs to pass these timely and important [coronavirus] bills and then get out of town and let staff begin working on a stimulus bill, which we will surely need to pull us out of the coming recession.”
Jim Manley, former communications director for then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said he understands “the need to make changes, including banning tourists from the Capitol complex, but I am convinced voting remotely is not the way to go.”
Manley warned that “not only is it important for members to be around to get work done, but, if an exception is made now, members will try to exploit it in the future as well.”