What happens if the coronavirus pandemic reaches a point that requires all travel and mass gatherings in the United States to be suspended—and members of Congress cannot meet in the Capitol or elsewhere in Washington? What happens if enough members of Congress catch the virus, or are quarantined, that there is no longer a quorum to meet and conduct business? How, in such a circumstance, would Congress pass laws to address containment, treatment, and appropriations, or even exercise oversight of an administration that cannot be trusted to act appropriately?
The answer to these questions is frightening. There is no plan in place for Congress to hold remote meetings or otherwise conduct its business if it becomes impossible for its members to meet together, face to face in the Capitol or at another site in the District of Columbia. And that needs to change, right now.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was boarding my flight at Dulles airport when I and my fellow passengers were called back back from the jetway—the second plane had hit the World Trade Center, making it clear that a terrorist attack was under way. I made my way home, watched the coverage, and came to a startling conclusion by mid-afternoon—United Flight 93, which had just crashed in Pennsylvania, had been headed for the U.S. Capitol, and if it had left New Jersey on time instead of 45 minutes late, it would likely have struck the cast-iron Capitol dome around the same time another plane hit the Pentagon. That could have resulted in the deaths or incapacitation of hundreds of members of Congress, eliminating the constitutionally required quorum until special elections could be held to replenish the House.