Cowardly Congress Chooses to be AWOL: Shouldn’t Our Elected Representatives be on the Job Providing Essential Services?

By Ralph Nader
April 17, 2020

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic a careening, confused President is fibbing, flailing, breaking laws, and mishandling money. As the domino effect of this crisis mounts, the public is asking: “Where is the Congress?” Our Senators and Representatives have been home since March 20 and won’t be back until May 4th, not on the job inside the Capitol. Shameful!

Worse, some lawmakers want a remote Congress so they can remain AWOL and pretend to deal with the many crises remotely.

Why? Fear of the pandemic? Escaping rollcall responsibility? No matter that Congress can follow all the CDC guidelines and more for personal protection. To facilitate social distance, much of the staff can work remotely. Legislators with medical conditions can excuse themselves.

No matter that millions of essential workers – some a few blocks from Congress, bravely go to work to perform their critical duties. Healthcare, transit, grocery, police, maintenance and sanitation workers, many executive branch civil servants and others are faithfully on the job.

Congress should be working harder than ever – 6 days a week, not its usual 2 1/2 days. Congress should be monitoring the spending of trillions of dollars it approved for recovery, and passing improved rescue legislation that puts the people first. Congress should also be anticipating and preventing the ugly greed of commercial lobbyists who will cravenly push for more giveaways for their fat-cat big-business clients. The devil is in the details and in the fine print of new and upcoming bills. Scams, gouging, waste, and corruption are exploding already in a corporate crimewave while the President pulls the federal cops off their beats.

Thirteen million people will lose their health insurance between March and July of this year. Over 25% unemployment is bringing untold fear, dread, and deprivations to millions of families. Where are the indispensable 535 lawmakers? Back at home ignoring their duties.

Small businesses and family farms, lacking the reserves and political privileges of big business, are suddenly experiencing a deadly freefall in sales with slow arrivals of temporary federal assistance. Many will face ruin and bankruptcy. Lifetimes of work smashed.

Trump has encouraged the EPA to stop enforcing violations of prohibited pollution laws. Trump’s FDA announced that it was suspending inspections of foreign plant exporters of food and drugs to the U.S. The President is even threatening the existence of our post offices.

Where is the Congress? It’s halls and committee rooms are empty!

With knowing criminal intent, the Trumpsters are running the life and health saving Federal agencies into the ground. Under Trump’s puppet Andrew Wheeler, the EPA has become the environmental pollution agency. OSHA has been turned upside down. Trump is even weakening nursing home safety regulations in our pandemic. Scientists and other civil servants are being muzzled or pushed out.

Where is Congress? It is looking for how it can push button constitutional duties from perches back home. Can Congress truly believe that it can run our national legislature from home? There is no substitute for members of Congress convening in real time in the nation’s capital. Article 1, Section 7 of the Constitution requires a quorum to conduct Congressional lawmaking. The full Senate voted in person in March to pass the $2.2 trillion relief/bailout package.

Now, Congress agrees another large assistance law is needed. It has to be preceded by hard work, the best ideas, public hearings, tight drafting, and intense deliberation over long days.

So far Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is on the job, is resisting remote voting. Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell said he agrees, but he led the flight out of Congress back to Kentucky a month ago.

Many of these pampered politicians, comfortable at home in their safe gerrymandered districts, drawing their regular salaries and benefits while watching or reading the stories of courageous workers risking their lives daily for pittances, will go down in history as cowards. Historians will not treat them kindly.

Meanwhile these so-called guardians of our crucial constitutional separation of powers are having a mock video hearing to try to show Congress can go online. This is indefensible when we have a Constitution-breaking monarchical president who says: “I have an Article 2 where I have the right to do whatever I want as president.”

Sovereign people – give your Senators and Representatives, who have fled Washington and are back home, a galvanizing piece of your mind. Just pick up the phone and dial your member or the Congressional switchboard (202-224-3141) and make your needs known. Remind them that if they don’t get back to work, you’ll remember in November.

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