A bipartisan group of House lawmakers on Thursday called for creating a system or agency that would ensure the continuity of government’s legislative, executive and judicial branches in the event of a catastrophe.
In a letter to House and Senate leaders, nearly 50 Republican and Democratic lawmakers raised concerns over the federal government’s ability to ensure “constitutionally valid operation in a time of national crisis.”
The lawmakers called for the formation of a “new body” to “grapple with modern threats and issue new recommendations designed to ensure continuity of all three branches.”
“Following the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, we are writing to urge you, as leaders of Congress, to address the urgent and dangerous vulnerabilities to the continuity of all three branches of government,” the lawmakers wrote.
They said the threat of a catastrophic event still looms and the government remains vulnerable two decades after 9/11.
“Large-scale events could quickly alter elections or render the House unable to achieve a quorum,” the lawmakers wrote. “In a closely contested Congress — as we currently have in both chambers — a single assassin could alter the makeup and balance of power of the body.”
“As unpleasant as it may be to imagine, these vulnerabilities are invitations to future attacks,” they wrote.
In the wake of 9/11, two Washington think tanks — the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution — convened a Continuity of Government Commission to study the threat of terrorism.
The commission found that while the 25th Amendment, which was enacted in 1967 during the Cold War, ensured presidential succession, there was no provision on the books to ensure Congress could continue to operate in the event a significant portion of lawmakers was incapacitated.
The commission issued a report in 2003 that included recommendations to address vulnerabilities stemming from the threat of terrorist attacks.
In particular, the panel recommended that Congress pass a constitutional amendment allowing the House and the Senate to temporarily fill vacant seats held by “incapacitated members” in the event of a “catastrophic attack.”
But, the lawmakers said, the commission’s recommendations have not been addressed by Congress, and their letter comes as lawmakers envision an ever-evolving threat landscape.
The deaths of lawmakers due to COVID-19 and the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol have “only reiterated that threats against members of Congress are real and growing,” the letter states.
“Few things could be more important than ensuring that the U.S. government can and will continue to function through natural disasters, domestic threats, and international attacks,” the lawmakers wrote. “Certainly, there are many pressing matters facing Congress, and partisan divides can make it difficult to address challenging issues.”
“Following the 20th anniversary of 9/11, it is time for this issue to transcend partisanship and take precedence,” they wrote.