June 15, 2020

The Senate is Hard at Work, Aided by Remote Hearings


KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • The Senate has moved quickly to implement procedures and technology that enable committees to continue their important work while ensuring that senators, staff, and witnesses are safe.
  • During the month of May, 12 Senate committees held 30 hearings and business meetings. Seventeen of those involved some or all senators and witnesses participating remotely.
  • The committees met to conduct oversight of coronavirus response efforts; advance COVID-19 related legislation; consider critical national security nominees; and do other business.

As the country continues to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, the Senate must fulfill its constitutional duties. Committees are essential to how the Senate gathers information, considers legislation, conducts oversight, and confirms nominees. The Senate has moved quickly to implement procedures and technology to enable committees to continue their important work while ensuring that senators, staff, and witnesses are safe.

Senate Hearings in May            

Hearings

may hearing activity

The Senate held 30 hearings in May: five remote hearings, in which everyone involved participated from locations outside the committee room; 12 hybrid hearings, in which some were present in the committee room and others participated remotely; six standard hearings, where all involved were present and following enhanced safety guidelines; and seven business meetings to advance COVID-19 related legislation and critical national security nominees. As required by Senate rules, all business meetings were held with a quorum of Senators present in the committee room.

senate COMMITTEES go remote

More than half of the hearings the Senate held in May were entirely or partially remote. The Rules Committee, the Office of the Attending Physician, and the sergeant at arms established procedures to enable committees to use technology such as video conferencing that enables witnesses and senators in different locations to see, hear, and respond to one another securely and efficiently. The press and public could watch via livestream on the internet. Members who met in the committee room in person followed physical distancing guidelines and wore masks; staff and public attendance were limited; and the committees increased cleaning measures.

Remote/Hybrid Hearings in May

Hearings

committees conducting important business

COVID-19 related hearings held in May included: a Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on COVID-19 and steps to get safely back to work; a Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing where the committee got an update on implementation of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell; a Judiciary Committee hearing examining liability during the pandemic; and a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee business meeting advancing the nomination of a special inspector general at the Treasury Department to oversee pandemic recovery efforts.

Key Hearings

Hearings

Committees also held non-coronavirus specific hearings in key areas like national security. For example, HSGAC held a hearing to review a cybersecurity report mandated by Congress. Other meetings included an Intelligence Committee hearing on the nomination of John Ratcliffe to be director of national intelligence, and an Armed Services Committee hearing on the nominees for the secretary of the Navy and the U.S. Air Force chief of staff.

May 12 HELP Hybrid COVID-19 Hearing

Hearings

case study: HELP Committee hearing on Covid-19

The May 12 HELP hearing “COVID-19: Safely Getting Back to Work and Back to School” provides a case study of the steps committees have taken to function safely during the pandemic. The committee was able to use the new procedures to hold a three-and-a-half hour hearing on an issue of critical importance to the Senate and to the American people.

The committee heard from Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Dr. Stephen Hahn, head of the Food and Drug Administration; and Admiral Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Thirteen senators, including Chairman Lamar Alexander and Ranking Member Patty Murray, participated in the hearing remotely. Ten others attended in person wearing masks and seated at least six feet apart from each other. All four of the witnesses testified remotely.

Issue Tags: Senate, COVID-19