Senate Must Address Its Continuity in an Emergency

Bipartisan Coalition Supports Efforts To Keep the Senate Operational in an Emergency

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 14, 2021

CONTACT: Daniel Schuman, policy director, Demand Progress, daniel@demandprogress.org, 240-237-3930

Washington, DC — The Senate must act to ensure its continuity in a national crisis, according to a bipartisan coalition of 18 organizations and six congressional experts in two letters sent today to Senate leadership and the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. The signatories commended Sens. Portman and Durbin for their bipartisan efforts as embodied in S.Res. 201, a resolution to amend the Senate Standing Rules and enable the participation of absent senators during a national crisis. The letters were organized by the progressive organization Demand Progress and the moderate organization the Niskanen Center.

“The Senate is operating without a safety net and must act now to ensure it can function in a future emergency,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director for Demand Progress. “We are encouraged by the bipartisan efforts of Sens. Portman and Durbin to plan for the future and we commend their bipartisan efforts to ensure our democracy endures,” Schuman added.

“It’s high time to implement policies that reflect the realities of our lawmaking bodies and the incredible capabilities of America’s technological and security advancements, ” said Kristie De Peña, Niskanen’s vice president of policy. “We are proud that so many prominent organizations joined us in this effort to encourage pragmatic changes at this critical juncture,” De Peña added. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and attack on the Capitol are two recent illustrations of the importance of the Senate being ready to implement new ways to conduct its business, as were 9/11 and the Anthrax attacks 20 years ago. We can never know when the next danger will come out of the clear blue sky and we must get ready in advance. S.Res. 201 is an important bipartisan measure that sets aside partisanship to ensure that our republican can continue its legislative and oversight responsibilities even in a time of crisis. 

You can read the full letter from Demand Progress, the Niskanen Center, endorsed by XX bipartisan organizations, here and here and below:

Letter #1

June 14, 2021

The Honorable Amy Klobuchar
Chairwoman
Senate Committee on Rules and Administration
Washington, DC 20510
The Honorable Roy Blunt
Ranking Member
Senate Committee on Rules and Administration
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairwoman Klobuchar and Ranking Member Blunt:

The undersigned organizations, from across the political spectrum and focusing on a wide range of issues, write to commend the bipartisan effort led by your colleagues, Senator Rob Portman and Senator Richard Durbin, on amending procedures to allow Senators to cast their votes outside of the Senate chamber in limited circumstances. 

Introduced on April 29, 2021, S.Res.201 amends the Senate’s Standing Rules to enable the participation of absent Senators during a national crisis. The measure allows Members of the Senate to use technology certified by Senate officers to cast their votes from outside the Senate chamber in circumstances when the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders jointly determine an “extraordinary crisis of national extent exists.” 

Several recent events compromised the ability of the Senate to convene and conduct business for critical periods. These events underscore the potential susceptibility of our political system to unanticipated circumstances and the importance of ensuring our democratic processes remain intact regardless of domestic emergencies. It is undeniable that new threats and unforeseen circumstances will arise in the future; this resolution allows the Senate to mitigate potential impacts on America’s ability to continue to govern at full capacity. 

We urge you to support this bill and thank you for your consideration. We welcome the opportunity to discuss this further. Please contact Kristie De Pena, Vice President for Niskanen Center at kdepena@niskanencenter.org, or Daniel Schuman, Policy Director for Demand Progress at daniel@demandprogress.org.

Sincerely, 

Campaign for Accountability

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)

Consumer Action

Courage California

Demand Progress

Democracy Fund Voice

Free Government Information (FGI)

Government Accountability Project

Government Information Watch

Issue One

Media Alliance

NALEO Educational Fund

Niskanen Center

Project On Government Oversight

Protect Democracy

Rachel Carson Council

Senior Executives Association

Social Security Works

Norman Ornstein, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research*

Lorelei Kelly, Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University*

Robert Cook-Deegan, Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes*

Brian Baird, Member of Congress (Retired)*

Tyler Fisher, Unite America*

Kevin Esterling, University of California, Riverside*

* Affiliations listed for identification purposes only. 

Letter #2

June 14, 2021

The Honorable Charles Schumer
Majority Leader
U.S. Senate
Washington, DC 20510
The Honorable Mitch McConnell
Minority Leader
U.S. Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Majority Leader Schumer and Minority Leader McConnell:

We write to commend the bipartisan effort led by Senators Durbin and Portman to address the critical issue of maintaining continuity of the United States Senate in the event of an emergency. We urge the Senate to explore all appropriate avenues to address this issue in a timely fashion.

Senators Durbin and Portman recently introduced S.Res.201, A resolution amending the Standing Rules of the Senate to enable the participation of absent Senators during a national crisis. The measure would allow for members of the Senate to use technology certified by Senate officers to cast their votes from outside the Senate chamber in circumstances when the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders jointly determine an “extraordinary crisis of national extent exists.”

Over the last 18 months, several events could have imperiled the ability of the Senate to convene and conduct business for days, weeks, or months. This underscores the susceptibility of our political system to crises and the importance of securing the smooth operation of the Senate and respect for the prerogatives of its members. While we hope that no such circumstances will arise again, prudence dictates that the Senate must be ready. We commend to your attention the bipartisan approach taken by Senators Durbin and Portman and urge you to take such steps as are necessary in advance of future emergencies.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We welcome the opportunity to discuss this further. Please contact Kristie De Pena, Vice President for Niskanen Center at kdepena@niskanencenter.org, or Daniel Schuman, Policy Director for Demand Progress at daniel@demandprogress.org. 

Sincerely, 

Campaign for Accountability

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)

Consumer Action

Demand Progress

Democracy Fund Voice

Government Accountability Project

Government Information Watch

Issue One

NALEO Educational Fund

Niskanen Center

Project On Government Oversight

Protect Democracy 

Rachel Carson Council 

Senior Executives Association

Social Security Works

Norman Ornstein, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research*

Lorelei Kelly, Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University*

Robert Cook-Deegan, Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes*

Brian Baird, Member of Congress (Retired)*

Tyler Fisher, Unite America*

Kevin Esterling, University of California, Riverside*

* Affiliations listed for identification purposes only.