Coronavirus reroutes congressional procedures, leaves Trump unchecked
For Congress, the pandemic hasn’t just diverted attention. It’s diverted power structures and decision-making back to the White House.
The checks and balances system that Congress supports by nature of their meetings has been put on hold. Instead, President Donald Trump is taking over much of the proceedings.
Trump did this even before the pandemic shut down regular life, most notably in his decision to declare a national emergency and bypass congressional confirmation for construction on a border wall. Recently, he vacillated about disbanding the coronavirus task force until he was met with major pushback. And since then, he ousted top health official Dr. Rick Bright for questioning the accuracy of the task force responses.
This type of action isn’t uncommon for Trump. But a disjointed Congress doesn’t help the situation.
Since the economy started tanking in March, a remote Congress has been mostly focused on stimulus and relief packages, including the CARES Act and follow-up bills. Beyond that, they’ve been stymied: They needed to vote in person in order to allow themselves to vote from afar. But the pandemic hasn’t allowed that.
So legislative action, beyond stimulus packages, is low right now. Trump is taking more control now that checks on his decisions come slower, if at all.
The Senate returned to Capitol Hill on May 4 to catch up on work left over from March, before it left on recess in light of the pandemic. They were gone for five weeks. The House abandoned their plan to return in early May, since D.C., Maryland and Virginia are all still under strict stay-at-home orders.
And recently, the House of Representatives approved voting by proxy and remote meetings — marking the first time in its 231-year history that not all members of the House (or called-for committees) must meet in person to vote or hold hearings. For them, that means one representative can vote on behalf of up to 10 others, reducing population density in the House and lowering travel expectations.
With newly remote meetings, the House could return to check the White House and provide some legislative balance, though the changes could also mean that remote meetings become more common.
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