April 06, 2022

Modernization Committee Holds Hearing on the Continuity of Congress in Times of Crisis

Today, the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress (“Modernization Committee”) held a hearing to examine if Congress can effectively carry out its constitutional duties in the face of an unprecedented national emergency, resulting in either mass vacancies or the mass incapacitation of members.

Members of the Committee explored the topic with Secretary Donna Shalala, Ambassador A.B. Culvahouse, and Congressmen Brian Baird and Mike Bishop, who currently serve on the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) Continuity of Government Commission. Members also heard from George Rogers, former General Counsel for the House Rules Committee, and Doug Lewis, former Executive Director of the National Association of Election Officials.

In testimony provided to the committee, George Rogers and Doug Lewis explained the steps the House of Representatives took after the 9/11 attacks to ensure continuity of Congress in the case of an emergency. Rogers, who was intimately involved in earlier continuity deliberations in the House, detailed the changes made to House rules, including a “provisional quorum” rule designed to allow the House to continue to conduct business in unique circumstances after a crisis. Mr. Lewis discussed the expedited special elections procedures required by the Continuity in Representation Act, which was also enacted by Congress as part of its response to continuity concerns raised after 9/11.

Witnesses from the AEI Continuity of Government Commission testified to the committee that under current rules, the House could struggle to quickly reconstitute itself in the face of mass casualties or incapacitation in a way that is both constitutional and reflective of the will of the people.

In the hearing, witnesses and members explored changes to temporary minimum quorum requirements for conducting official business, proposals for considering temporary House appointments, and the feasibility of expediting special elections.

“Nobody likes to think about worst case scenarios. But in the two decades since 9/11, we’ve had far too many reminders of the potential for mass death or vacancies in the House,” said Chair Derek Kilmer (D-WA). “It is our job to ensure that this chamber remains strong and able to serve the people, no matter the circumstances. The House must continue to have these serious conversations to ensure continuity plans protect Congresses’ ability to fulfill its constitutional responsibilities in times of crisis.”

“There is simply no topic more important than ensuring that the American people have continued representation in the ‘People’s House,’ even during times of crisis,” said Vice Chair William Timmons (R-SC). “Although these are uncomfortable issues to consider, we would be derelict in our duty if we did not ensure that the proper tools are in place so Congress can continue to do its job on behalf of the American people. I look forward to exploring these ideas with my colleagues and working together to ensure the House remains strong and ready to serve in times of crisis.”

“Continuity of government plans and a line of succession are most associated with the presidency. Our laws and constitutional provisions relating to presidential succession may not be perfect, but we do have extensive provisions that attempt to ensure that we always have a president even after catastrophic events,” said Ambassador A.B. Culvahouse in his testimony. “The same cannot be said for Congress. An attack on Congress that left a majority of members dead would cripple Congress for months. We would either have no Congress at all, or perhaps a small, unrepresentative minority of remaining members might seek to act as Congress with severe constitutional and legitimacy questions swirling around the institution.”

You can watch the full committee hearing here.