How lawmakers use technology to reach constituents

By Bev Banks | 03/27/2020 07:14 AM EDT

Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) (upper left corner) held an online session on coronavirus small-business impacts yesterday.

Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) (upper left corner) held an online session on coronavirus small-business impacts yesterday. McEachin/Zoom

Social distancing during the novel coronavirus pandemic has transformed how congressional lawmakers connect with constituencies.

Senate and House offices are discovering different ways to stay in touch with community leaders and other voters.

House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) is hosting conference calls with different constituencies and changing how his office addresses casework.


"Obviously moving our offices to full telework complicates things from a casework standpoint," said Geoffrey Nolan, the lawmaker’s communications director, "but we have actually switched all of our casework operations online."

Constituents can download assistance forms on Grijalva’s website, and then a caseworker will give them a call.

Nolan said one of the biggest challenges is meeting the needs of older constituents who may not have an intimate knowledge of the internet. Still, people can submit forms via fax or U.S. mail.

Grijalva’s personal office is also exploring more opportunities for video outreach on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, said Nolan.

Dingell’s blog

Michigan Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell has also used social media to her advantage during the pandemic.

The congresswoman’s Twitter account sends out updates on telephone town halls and links to a webpage called Debbie’s Blog.

"It’s hard for me too, I love being out and talking to people," Dingell wrote in a blog post this week. "We have a personal responsibility to protect others more vulnerable in our community."

Dingell — a member of the Energy & Commerce and Natural Resources committees — has written a blog post about the pandemic almost every day since March 12.

Other lawmakers, like Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), have also created a page on their website for information solely related to the coronavirus.

Town halls

Lobbyists and advocacy groups have turned to technology to reach out to lawmakers and aides amid social distancing (E&E Daily, March 20).

House members and senators have similarly turned to telephone and video town halls to speak with constituents about the pandemic.

Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah) tweeted a video of himself in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington yesterday informing the public about his upcoming event.

"If you want to see details throughout the day, please check my website," Curtis said. "We’re going to have a tele-town hall meeting tonight, and the details are on the website."

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) made the audio from his past three telephone town halls available on his website.

"On the [personal protective equipment], we do have additional masks coming online from private industry," Gardner said in response to a caller during his March 21 session.

Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) hosted telephone town halls in the past week and a half.

New Hampshire Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan hosted a joint conference call last night.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is directing all COVID-19 inquiries to the phone number 304-342-5855 and email address [email protected].

Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) invited his constituents to a virtual fireside chat on Zoom yesterday afternoon.

The video call featured a discussion on economic disruptions to small businesses and restaurants from the COVID-19 pandemic.