While the issue of virtual hearings didn’t become contentious, the switch to proxy voting, allowing a House member away from Washington to let a colleague present on the House floor vote on his or her behalf, became embroiled in a lawsuit brought by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who called Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s adoption of the rule an “unconstitutional power grab.”
Virtual hearings allowed a more diverse group of witnesses to appear before Congress, most lawmakers and advocates of updating congressional processes said.
“The fact that I can have testimony in front of a committee from someone who’s in another time zone, without requiring them to come to Washington, D.C., really opens up a world of opportunity,” said Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., chairman of the House Select Committee on Modernization. “To the extent that hearings are about access to information that can direct the work of a committee, there is more access to more information if you’re not solely dependent on who can be in a specific room on a specific time on a specific day.”
Kilmer’s panel, formed in January 2019, had issued a set of 97 recommendations before the pandemic struck, and several of them focused on infusing congressional processes with technological tools, streamlining schedules and providing greater transparency to lawmakers’ work.
Over in the Senate, Missouri Republican Roy Blunt said remote hearings “have been incredibly successful” and predicted that they may be “one of the things that will last,” even after the pandemic-era restrictions are lifted. But Connecticut Democrat Christopher S. Murphy said he had Zoom fatigue, finding it difficult to question witnesses through remote hearings, and he preferred in-person questioning.