House Republicans have started rolling out portions of the policy agenda they would pursue should they win the majority in November’s midterm elections. But that agenda shouldn’t just focus on what legislation they will pass, but where they will pass it.
If they regain control of Congress, Republicans should take our democratic process back to where it belongs: With the people themselves. Such a move would not only educate the public about our system of government, it might also educate lawmakers who appear to spend most of their time in an elitist bubble.
Meeting Outside the Capital
While the Constitution prescribes a federal seat of government, it does not require Congress to meet there. Indeed, in its modern history, Congress has met outside Washington on two ceremonial occasions: To celebrate the Constitution’s bicentennial in Philadelphia in 1987, and in 2002 in New York, to commemorate the 9/11 attacks. Republican leaders should use these precedents to pledge that, if they regain control, they will hold a portion of the 118th Congress outside Washington.
Other policy-making bodies hold sessions outside a single capital building or city. The European Parliament famously splits its time between Strasbourg, France and Brussels, Belgium. Since 2008, when then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown revived the practice, Britain’s Cabinet has met away from Westminster on more than a dozen occasions, in an attempt to understand the needs of citizens and regions outside metropolitan London.
Republicans should adopt this model for Congress, to get lawmakers both literally and figuratively outside their Beltway mentality. They should promise to spend one month of the year conducting business at a location away from Washington. For instance, if Congress moves elsewhere in July, members would escape the capital’s searing heat and humidity, while relocating temporarily to one of the 50 state capitals, most of which have ended their legislative sessions by mid-summer.
For logistical reasons, a state capital seems the likeliest location for a “citizen session,” but where should Congress convene? Because state capitals like Boston, Austin, and Sacramento have a permanent political class and fever swamps that approach those of Washington, a more rural location seems far preferable to a metropolis.
The mountain West boasts several such capitals, from Helena to Cheyenne to Pierre. Montpelier, Vermont features a unique level of bipartisanship—a Republican governor working with a Democratic legislature in a deep-blue state. While New Hampshire already receives attention from presidential aspirants, its 400-member House of Representatives means its legislative chamber could easily accommodate 435 members of Congress.
Escaping Beltway Elites
Meeting in a state capital, particularly in a rural setting, would bring members of Congress—to say nothing of the press—face-to-face with the types of voters they often only read about. Most Washington reporters venture out to the hinterlands on a limited basis, writing about Democrats’ woes with rural voters solely after an election drubbing. Regularly interacting with such individuals over several weeks, rather than as a spectacle to be observed for a single story, might lead Washington insiders to think of rural voters as more than, as political strategist Rick Wilson once infamously put it, “credulous Boomer rube[s].”
Moving Congress elsewhere would also enlighten many Democratic lawmakers who spend practically all their time in a progressive bubble. Consider Maxine Waters, who in 2020 received nearly 72 percent of the vote in her district, and for her work in Congress travels to Washington, where in 2020 Joe Biden received more than 92 percent of the vote.
Would Waters have made her 2018 comments calling on leftists to harass Trump administration officials—“You get out and you create a crowd. And you push back on them. And you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere”—if she actually had to interact with constituents who disagreed with her?
After the horrific events of last January 6, some would consider security concerns an insurmountable obstacle to Congress sitting elsewhere. But with the right amount of funding, coordination, and lead time, the Capitol Police and related agencies could solve these and other potential logistical concerns. The real question is, do members of Congress who have spent the past two years conducting committee sessions from home—occasionally in their underwear—actually want to go out and meet their voters?
Some have promoted the concept of moving federal agencies outside Washington—another commendable goal. But Republicans should go further, and contrast Democrats’ “Zoom Congress” with their proposal to put power back where it belongs—with the people.