The Timeline on Remote Deliberations and Voting

Congress has been mostly absent as the country fights against the COVID-19 pandemic. Even before the pandemic began, many lawmakers, outside organizations, and former Members of Congress encouraged the legislative branch to instantiate remote deliberations and voting measures in the event of an emergency. 

The following is a timeline of many of the recent key events concerning Continuity of Congress during a pandemic.

June 3, 2020 - House Rules Chairman McGovern penned an op ed that urged the House to embrace technology to fully utilize remote voting and virtual committee proceedings.

May 27, 2020 - For the first time in U.S. history, lawmakers used proxy voting on the House floor to pass S.3744, the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020. Zero Republicans and 72 Democrats voted by proxy.

May 27, 2020 - House Majority Leader Hoyer posted an op-ed on Medium discussing the rationale for temporary changes that allow for remote voting and virtual committee proceedings.

May 26, 2020 - House Rules Committee Chairman McGovern released a statement responding to the Republicans’ lawsuit challenging H.Res. 965.  

May 26, 2020 - House Majority Leader Hoyer released a statement responding to House Republicans’ plan to file a suit challenging the constitutionality of H.Res. 965. 

May 26, 2020 - Minority Leader McCarthy and House Republicans released a statement saying they plan to file suit in D.C. Federal District Court challenging the constitutionality of H.Res 965, the proxy voting procedure.

May 26, 2020 - The Sergeant at Arms and the Capitol Attending Physician released a notice outlining the procedures for the House voting sessions to provide heightened Members and staff safety.

May 26, 2020 - House Majority Leader Hoyer announced the floor schedule during a press call. The House will use proxy voting on the Senate-amended FISA reauthorization and Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act suspension bill on Wednesday and two small business relief Paycheck Protection Programs suspension bills and override a vetoed resolution blocking the Education Department student loan forgiveness rule on Thursday. 

May 26, 2020 - The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress held a virtual discussion with two guests to discuss best practices and identify the challenges facing district staff while working remotely, and what steps federal agencies are taking to protect employees once they return to work in an office environment.

May 21, 2020 - House Speaker Pelosi accused Senate Majority Leader McConnell of “misleading” the public on the House’s new rules for proxy voting and cited the longstanding rules regarding proxy voting in numerous senate committees.

May 21, 2020 - Senate Majority Leader McConnell, speaking from the floor, said there are numerous Constitutional issues with the proxy voting resolution and hints the Senate may not take up legislation that is passed by the House under the procedure.

May 20, 2020 - House Majority Leader Hoyer released a floor update informing Members that the Office of the Clerk is now accepting remote voting by proxy letters.

May 20, 2020 - House Speaker Pelosi sent a Dear Colleague to the House announcing the trigger of the 45-day remote voting “cover period” pursuant to H.Res 965. This announcement comes after Speaker Pelosi received a letter from the Sergeant-at-Arms, in consultation with the Office of Attending Physician, that a public health emergency is in effect due to a novel coronavirus.

May 18, 2020 - The House Rules Committee launched a resource page on their committee website that will be continuously updated with resources detailing best practices for voting remotely by proxy in the House.

May 15, 2020 - In a historic vote, the House agreed to adopt H.Res 965 by a final vote of 217-189. The temporary change to House rules allows for remote hearings in committees, proxy voting on the floor, and a pathway to remote voting in committees and remote voting on the floor. Additional resources include the House debate remarks, the rules report accompanying the resolution, remote committee proceedings regulations, and remote voting by proxy regulations.

May 14, 2020 - House Republican Leadership sent a letter to Majority Leader Hoyer formally opposing H.Res 965, the resolution to amend the House rules to implement proxy voting on the floor and remote deliberations in committees. 

May 14, 2020 - New Democrat Coalition Chair Kilmer released a statement before the vote on the resolution to allow temporary changes for remote voting on the House Floor and virtual committee proceedings.

May 14, 2020 - Committee on House Administration Ranking Member Davis sent a letter to Rules Committee Chairman McGovern that outlines a list of questions and concerns that have not been addressed regarding the House’s adoption of virtual proceedings.

May 14, 2020 - House Majority Leader Hoyer released the guidance measures from the House Sergeant at Arms and the Attending Physician on general safety and voting procedures for Friday’s vote on the House floor. 

May 14, 2020 - The House Rules Committee held its meeting to discuss H.Res. 965 to allow remote voting by proxy in the House and H.R. 6800 the Heroes Act. Majority Leader Hoyer testified before the committee in support of H.Res 965. The House Rules Committee approved the resolution by a party-line vote of 8-4.

May 13, 2020 - House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, Rules Committee Ranking Member Tom Cole, and House Administration Committee Ranking Member Rodney Davis released a statement formally opposing H.Res 965, the resolution to implement proxy voting and remote deliberations.

May 13, 2020 - House Rules Committee released the text and a one page summary for H.Res 965, which would temporarily implement remote voting on the House Floor and virtual committee proceedings. Majority Leader Hoyer released a press statement with Committee on House Administration Chairperson Lofgren and Rules Committee Chairman McGovern. A Dear Colleague was also posted to the House Rules Committee’s website, complete with a Q&A section about proxy voting.

May 12, 2020 - House Democrats introduced The Heroes Act, which included $5 million in funding for Leg. Branch operations and $30 million for GAO oversight.

May 12, 2020 - House Rules Committee announced a meeting on Thursday, May 14 at 11:00 am to authorize proxy voting and a coronavirus relief bill.

May 12, 2020 - The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs hosted a remote hearing chaired by Sen. Crapo via video conference.

May 12, 2020 - The Senate Health, Labor, Education, and Pension Committee held a hybrid hearing chaired by Sen. Alexander via video conference. All four witnesses testified via video conference.

May 11, 2020 - House Majority Leader Hoyer informed House Democrats on a caucus-wide call that the House will vote on two rules changes on Friday, one giving committees full authority to work remotely and the other to enable proxy voting.

May 10, 2020 - Sen. Lamar Alexander announced he will self-quarantine in Tennessee after a staffer in his office tested positive for COVID-19.

May 10, 2020 - Sen. Lamar Alexander requested that the White House allow all witnesses to testify by video conference before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on Tuesday. This request was made after Dr. Robert Redfield, the head of the CDC, and Dr. Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the FDA, and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci announced they were self-quarantining following potential exposure to the virus.

May 8, 2020 - House Majority Leader Hoyer announced a new website that provides access to all of the actions taken by House committees since the start of this crisis as well as links to resources provided by the committees.

May 8, 2020 - The Virtual Congress Task Force held its third meeting over video conference. Discussions will continue over the weekend to reach a bipartisan agreement on a rules change.

May 7, 2020 - The bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus held a "virtual floor debate" on Zoom. 

May 7, 2020 - House Speaker Pelosi, during her weekly press conference, said Members will return to the House when the Sergeant At Arms and the Capitol physician say it’s safe to conduct business. Once they return, she said there will be a proxy voting initiative on the House floor. 

May 7, 2020 - The House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress Select hosted a  virtual discussion with Marci Harris, CEO of PopVox, and Beth Simone Noveck, Director of The Governance Lab and Chief Innovation Officer for the State of New Jersey to discuss the importance of committee continuity and how to continue working effectively during the ongoing global pandemic.

May 7, 2020 - Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee held a full committee hearing via teleconference on “Shark Tank: New Tests for COVID-19”.

May 7, 2020 - During the Senate Rules Committee hearing on the nomination of James E. Trainor, both Chairman Blunt and Ranking Member Klobuchar echoed their support for remote and hybrid deliberations in the Senate, saying Congress should look to use these methods to get information to lawmakers given the circumstances

May 6, 2020 - House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer held the weekly Chairs Leadership meeting via teleconference. The Chairs discussed updates on the CARES 2 legislation, as well as the importance of being able to conduct committee work remotely. 

May 6, 2020 - Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a full committee virtual committee roundtable on “COVID-19: How New Information Should Drive Policy”.

May 6, 2020 - In the first ever hybrid virtual hearing, Senators Klobuchar, Leahy, and Whitehouse all participated remotely for the Senate Committee hearing on the nomination of Judge Justin Walker. 

May 5, 2020 - Senator Brown participated in the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee nomination hearing via teleconference

May 4, 2020 - House Majority Leader Hoyer told Democrats there is no timetable to return to Washington for votes on the next coronavirus bill or other legislation.

May 4, 2020 - House Minority Leader McCarthy and Republicans in the House released a report on strategies to reopen Congress, which includes modifying House processes and structures, staggering in-person committee proceedings, implementing secure technology for ‘hybrid hearings’, and accelerating risk mitigation practices.

May 1, 2020 - The Office of the Attending Physician released its latest guidance in anticipation of the Senate convening the week of May 4. 

May 1, 2020 - House Administration Committee Ranking Member Davis sent a letter to the CAO requesting the House to enroll in Apple Business Manager, which would allow for the limited distribution of apps specifically for congressional use.

May 1, 2020 - House Homeland Security Committee held a series of virtual forums, including one with FEMA Administers the other with the former Ebola Response Coordinator to further coordinate a coronavirus response.

April 30, 2020 - Dr. Monahan, the Capitol’s attending physician, said coronavirus tests will be available for staffers and senators who are ill, but not enough to proactively test all 100 senators.

April 30, 2020 - House Minority Leader McCarthy said the House should not come back at once. Instead, committee Members should come back and adhere to social distancing guidelines. 

April 30, 2020 - The Virtual Congress Task Force encouraged House Committees to hold remote roundtables to further test video conferencing platforms. 

April 30, 2020 - HSGAC’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations held a virtual public roundtable on “Continuity of U.S. Senate Operations and Remote Voting in times of Crisis”. The staff memo released during the hearing provides a robust analysis of the constitutional and logistical questions around remote voting. 

April 29, 2020 - Sen. Dianne Feinstein released a statement urging Majority Leader McConnell not to reconvene the Senate. Sen. Chris Van Hollen echoed the same concerns to the Senate Majority Leader in a separate letter. McConnell reaffirmed his decision to bring the Senate back for legislative business. 

April 29, 2020 - Congressional Progressive Caucus held its first remote congressional “hearing” to examine solutions to the coronavirus crisis.

April 29, 2020 - Congressional experts joined Civic Hall’s virtual discussion on how Congress can work remotely during emergencies. 

April 29, 2020 - House Appropriations Committees Labor-HHS Subcommittee announced it will hold an in-person hearing on coronavirus response on May 6. 

April 29, 2020 - Majority Leader Hoyer released a press statement on the latest weekly meeting of House Committee Chairs over video conference, using one of the platforms currently being tested for remote work.

April 28, 2020 - The Congressional Progressive Caucus wrote a letter to House Leadership urging them to find a way for Congress to safely vote for both the proxy voting proposal and the CARES 2 package as soon as possible. 

April 28, 2020 - Majority Leader Hoyer released a press statement regarding the second meeting of the Virtual Congress Task Force. 

April 28, 2020 - The House Veterans Affairs Committee held the first bipartisan virtual committee forum on “The Impact of Economic and Healthcare Services on Homeless Veterans in America”. After the forum finished, Majority Leader Hoyer reaffirmed his support for virtual proceedings. 

April 28, 2020 - House Republican Whip Scalise released a press statement criticizing Democrats' decision to not return to the Capitol on May 4, saying that essential workers continue to perform their jobs everyday so Congress must do the same. 

April 28, 2020 - House Majority Leader Hoyer announced that the House will not return the week of May 4, due to guidance from Dr. Brian Monahan, the Capitol’s attending physician. Majority Leader McConnell said the Senate will still convene.  

April 28, 2020 - House and Senate Sergeant at Arms released a statement extending the closure of the Capitol Complex to May 16 due to the pandemic. 

April 28, 2020 - Sens. Portman and Durbin write another op-ed in support of remote voting, this time laying out specific security requirements that should be considered by Congress to successfully transition online. 

April 28, 2020 - House Rules Chairman McGovern pens an op ed calling on Congress to enact temporary changes to allow remote voting on the House floor and virtual proceedings across committees.

April 27, 2020 - On the Democratic Caucus call, Majority Leader Hoyer announced the House will return for the week of May 4, which meant both chambers of Congress would return for legislative business. 

April 26, 2020 - The New Dems Coalition sent a second letter to House Leadership, this time urging them to bring a remote voting resolution to the floor by the end of the week of May 4—bipartisan or otherwise—and says they would have supported Rules Chairman McGovern’s resolution. 

April 23, 2020 - After the vote in the House, the bipartisan task force held its first meeting to study remote voting measures. 

April 23, 2020 - Congress passed the Concurring Senate Amendment to H.R. 266, the Paycheck Protection Program Protection and Health Care Enhancement Act. The House also passed H.Res. 935, which established a select coronavirus oversight committee. 

April 23, 2020 - Speaker Pelosi, during her speech on the House floor, mentioned the House may vote to enact remote deliberations when the House returns on May 4. 

April 22, 2020 - Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader McCarthy agreed to create a bipartisan task force focused on studying remote voting measures. The task force Members include Reps. Hoyer, McCarthy, McGovern, Cole, Lofgren, and Davis.

April 22, 2020 - Hours after the resolution is released, House leadership dropped the proxy voting rule change. 

April 22, 2020 - The House Committee on Rules released a resolution for a proposed change to the House’s standing order to allow proxy voting on the House floor for coronavirus-related matters and teleconference remote deliberations for committees. 

April 21, 2020 - In the Senate, Majority Leader McConnell blocked an amendment by Sen. Paul to allow for remote voting. 

April 21, 2020 - Republicans plan to oppose the proxy voting measure. Over 20 Republicans have signed on to various letters urging leadership to enact remote voting and deliberations over the past several weeks. 

April 21, 2010 - Democratic House leadership looks at support for a rules change resolution to be voted on the House floor on Thursday, April 23. 

April 21, 2020 - Majority Leader Hoyer sent a letter to House Administration and House Rules proclaiming his support for remote committee deliberations and voting by teleconference over proxy voting. 

April 16, 2020 - House Rules Committee Chairman McGovern recommended the House implement “voting by proxy” that would require a Rules change for a temporary measure during the emergency. He also suggested that the House look at modifying Rules to allow for remote committee hearings. 

April 16, 2020 - A second Mock Remote Hearing is held by various organizations and included over 60 former Members of Congress, former Gen. David Petreaus, British MP Chi Onwurah, representatives from Microsoft and Zoom, New Jersey Chief Innovative Officer Beth Noveck, and Daniel Schuman of Demand Progress.

April 7, 2020 - The Problem Solvers Caucus sent a letter to House leadership urging the House to consider measures to enable Members to work remotely. 

April 6, 2020 - Speaker Pelosi announced the House established a secure email system for lawmakers and staff to electronically submit all floor documents, including “bills, resolutions, co-sponsors and extensions of remarks,” to adhere to social distancing guidelines. 

April 2, 2020 - The New Dems Coalition Caucus wrote a letter to House leadership imploring them to engage in new remote measures, including the ability to hold virtual legislative hearings and meetings to conduct public oversight and legislative discussions. 

March 27, 2020 - Congress passes H.R. 748, the CARES Act, after Rep. Massie forces Members to come back to the Hill after objecting to a Unanimous Consent vote. Notably the legislation contained a paltry $93.1m for the leg branch.

March 24, 2020 - The first Mock Remote Hearing, chaired by former Rep. Brian Baird. The mock session includes a hearing and markup session and had numerous former Members, staffers, political scientists, and congressional experts. 

March 24, 2020 - Demand Progress issued a report analyzing the Rules report, finding significant gaps in its analysis. 

March 23, 2020 - The House Rules Committee issued a report on Voting Options During the COVID-19 Pandemic, per direction of the Speaker. The report only examined voting options based on coronavirus legislation and mainly dispels the idea of remote voting in favor of proxy voting. 

March 23, 2020 - Reps. Porter and Swalwell wrote a bipartisan letter with almost 70 other Members to Rules Chairman McGovern urging the House to implement a rules change to permit remote voting. 

March 19, 2020 - Sens. Portman and Durbin introduced S. Res. 548 to amending the Senate rules to enable remote voting. The resolution has 16 cosponsors. 

March 18, 2020 - Reps. Diaz-Balart and McAdams both tested positive for coronavirus. Both Members were on the House floor for the passage of H.R. 6201. 

March 18, 2020 - Congress enacted H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, that includes free coronavirus testing, paid leave measures, enhanced unemployment insurance, and more. Members did not take proper social distancing guidelines during the vote. 

March 18, 2020 - Reps. Porter, Swalwell, and Van Taylor sent a letter with over 50 Members to House leadership requesting a Rules change to allow for remote voting.

March 17, 2020 - Congressional experts held an online briefing on what lessons were learned after the 9/11 Continuity of Congress commission and what actions need to be taken by the legislative branch in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Panelists included Norm Ornstein of AEI, Marci Harris of POPVOX, Daniel Schuman of Demand Progress, John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Center, and Lorelei Kelley of Georgetown’s Beeck Center. 

March 12, 2020 - A coalition of civil society organizations and congressional experts sent a letter to the Hill containing measures Congress should take to ensure continuity of Congress, including the adoption of rules changes, prior to Members leaving for recess. 

March 11, 2020 - A staffer in Sen. Cantwell’s office tested positive for coronavirus, the first positive case on Capitol Hill. 

March 11, 2020 - WHO officially characterizes COVID-19 as a pandemic.

March 9, 2020 - Reps. Gaetz and Meadows self-quarantine after coming in contact with CPAC attendee who tested positive. 

March 4, 2020 - Congress enacted H.R. 6074, the first $8.3 billion coronavirus supplemental bill, with almost unanimous support in both Chambers. The House also sends a Dear Colleague allowing Member offices to use 2019 funds to purchase teleworking equipment and supplies.

November 2, 2019 - Congressional experts penned an oped that urged Congress to modernize itself to be adequately equipped against potential future national emergencies. 

October 2019 - Congressional experts wrote a letter urging the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress to encourage the creation of a task force to create a modern continuity plan for Congress, raising the spectre of a pandemic that made in-person deliberations impossible.