In Trump’s shadow, Congress-at-home eyes reboot during virus

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FILE - In this April 23, 2020, file photo House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., walks to her office after signing the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, H.R. 266, after it passed the House on Capitol Hill in Washington. Pelosi shelved a proposal for proxy voting this week after Republicans objected. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

WASHINGTON – They long for what's being lost: the ability to publicly question officials at committee hearings, to chat across the aisle, to speak from the House and Senate floor for all of America, and history, to hear.

Congress wants its voice back.

With no real plan to reopen Capitol Hill any time soon, the coronavirus shutdown poses an existential crisis that's pushing Congress ever so reluctantly toward the 21st century option of remote legislating from home.

“It’s the ability to be an equal branch of government,” said Rep. Katie Porter, a freshman Democrat from California.

Divisions are fierce, but so too is the sense of what is being lost. Every day lawmakers shelter at home, their public role is being visibly diminished. While they are approving record sums of virus aid, they are ceding authority to oversee the effort and tackle next steps.

It’s an imbalance of power for all to see: President Donald Trump’s daily public briefings without a robust response from Capitol Hill, though the White House is also discussing changing its format to curtail his role.

“This is a time where oversight is really important,” said Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash.

The pandemic “begs for Congress’s engagement, virtual or otherwise,” he said.