From Afar, Congress Begins Oversight of Trump Coronavirus Response

Congress worked with remarkable speed and bipartisanship to pass the stimulus package, as the Senate remained in session — even as some of its members fell ill — and more than 200 House members returned to Washington to vote. But leaders of both parties concede that the road ahead will be even more challenging with much of the country on lockdown and lawmakers gone for the foreseeable future.

Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland and the majority leader, said in an interview Thursday that lawmakers are “just in the very first stages of figuring out” how they would operate in the coming days. In a mark of how rapidly the debate is shifting over how to convene Congress amid a pandemic, Mr. Hoyer said he had dropped his opposition to allowing the House to vote remotely, something he previously dismissed as setting “a bad precedent.”

“Circumstances have made it clear,” Mr. Hoyer said, that remote voting must be considered. “9/11 raised the specter of members not being able to get back together, but it did not create the reality of that,” he added. “This has created the reality of members being unable to come together.”

But in the Senate, Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, ruled out the possibility. Mr. Blunt, who as the chairman of the Committee on Rules and Administration oversees the chamber’s operations, said there were lines the Senate would not, as of now, contemplate crossing.

“To make final decisions, to mark up a bill, to vote on a bill on the floor, I think you will see a traditional approach for a long time,” he said. “But I think we will be much more flexible in terms of how we gather information.”

Beyond the coronavirus pandemic, lawmakers have a lot on their plates. They must pass annual spending bills to keep the government open, as well as their annual military policy bill. They must conduct routine oversight of the Trump administration’s programs and policies, including the stimulus programs, immigration, education and health care.

Mr. Hoyer acknowledged that there were a string of unanswered questions, including whether committees would meet by teleconference and how the public — accustomed to watching deliberations on C-SPAN — would be able to observe lawmakers conducting the nation’s business when most of the work was being done on private conference calls, as is now the case.

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