Remote Deliberations: Terms of the Trade

Congress is beginning to innovate around how it deliberates in committees and on the floor. These changes are driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has made in-person meetings unsafe and unwise, although many of the proposed modifications require rules changes. We have seen various terms used to refer to how Congress could deliberate — e.g. remote hearings, virtual hearings, remote voting, etc. — but they are used inconsistently.

Here are our proposals to add some meat to these terms. 

A “traditional” proceeding is how the House and Senate currently do things, both in terms of rules and common practice.

A “hybrid” proceeding is one where a quorum is physically present in the committee room or on the floor, but some members are participating from another location. (We have seen a few hybrid proceedings recently in the Senate.)

A “virtual” proceeding is a proceeding that is not official because of a lack of quorum in the committee room or on the floor, although it otherwise has sufficient members participating and follows all other committee/ chamber rules. 

A “remote” proceeding is a virtual proceeding where the House or Senate rules have been changed to allow for a quorum to count members who are physically present and those who are participating from other locations. All other committee rules are unchanged. If no one is physically present, the proceeding could be called “fully remote.”

A “round table” is not intended to simulate an official proceeding. It may be used to do committee work that would later be adopted in an official proceeding.

The following is another way of comparing and contrasting traditional, hybrid, and remote proceedings.

*Senate committees allow proxy voting in certain circumstances, but House committees do not. Accordingly, the Senate can hold hybrid hearings where members participating remotely can cast votes — so long as a quorum is present — but would be unable to make motions.

We have been tracking recent committee proceedings that have occurred since social distancing measures went into effect in Mid-March, and attempt to classify them as described above. See the slideshow below.

By Daniel Schuman and Amelia Strauss

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