The Institute of Politics’ Bipartisan Program for Newly Elected Member of Congress has gone through numerous transformations since 1972, when it began as a one-month educational fellowship for four invitees. 

The program—designed to help new members forge bipartisan relationships and learn practical skills of lawmaking just prior to taking the oath of office—later expanded its invitation list to 12 and eventually adopted its current policy of welcoming every newly minted federal lawmaker. Over the years, the IOP has hosted nearly 700 current and new members of Congress for a mix of social interaction and policy discussion with guest experts and Harvard Kennedy School faculty over three days in Cambridge.

But now, due to the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, the new members of Congress will not attend in person for the first time in nearly 50 years. Instead, they will convene via Zoom, with both participants and presenters participating remotely.

“This program allows new members of Congress the opportunity to get to know their colleagues, explore the policy implications of these important topics, and utilize the expertise of our faculty colleagues during the program and during their service,” IOP Director Mark Gearan says. 

“We're grateful to have the technology that still allows us to convene and to have the expertise of our faculty and others be part of the program.”

IOP Director Mark Gearan

Gearan says while the program will be missing the casual social interactions that come with an in-person conference, there are silver linings. The remote nature of the event, he says, will allow more people to participate—both attendees and presenters—whose schedules might previously not have allowed it.

“We're grateful to have the technology that still allows us to convene and to have the expertise of our faculty and others be part of the program,” he says. “While we will miss their presence in Cambridge this year, we are proud to offer the expertise of Harvard faculty and other policy experts as they begin their public service.”

The IOP does not release a list of attendees, but organizers said a sizable number of the 46 newly-elected members of the 117th Congress—Republicans and Democrats—have registered to participate.

Gearan says this year’s program will draw heavily on the expertise of HKS faculty and practitioners to brief incoming lawmakers on important national challenges. Topics include fighting COVID-19, rebuilding the economy, America’s role in the world, and the effects of the pandemic and economic recession on educational access, food security, criminal justice, and democratic governance.

The program will be spread across four days this month, with evening sessions on two Mondays and morning sessions on the adjacent Tuesdays. 

The program will begin on Dec. 7 with a virtual meet-and-greet evening, where the new members of the 117th Congress will share personal stories about why they ran for Congress and what they hope to accomplish. The event will be facilitated by Gearan and will feature remarks by Amy Walter, the national editor of the Cook Political Report. 

On Dec. 8, the morning session will begin with a panel called “What We Wish We Knew,” with four current U.S. representatives: Republicans Dan Crenshaw of Texas and Elise Stefanik of New York, and Democrats Joseph Kennedy and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts. The panel will be moderated by CBS News Chief Congressional Correspondent Nancy Cordes.

That will be followed by a discussion of strategies to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, featuring Dr. Ashish Jha, formerly of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and now dean of the Brown University School of Public Health; Belfer Center Senior Lecturer and domestic security expert Juliette Kayyem; and David Williams, the Florence Sprague Norman and Laura Smart Norman Professor of Public Health and chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Chan School and a professor of African and African American Studies and Sociology, at Harvard University. The panel will be moderated by Nancy Gibbs, the Lombard Director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. 

The following Monday evening, Dec. 14, the new members will return for an evening about economics, society, and inclusion. The session will begin with a talk titled “Rebuilding the Economy and Getting America Working Again.” Panelists include HKS Professor of the Practice and environmental economist Joseph Aldy; Professor of the Practice Karen Dynan of the Harvard Economics Department; HKS Dean and Don K. Price Professor of Public Policy Douglas Elmendorf; and two visiting economists, Seth Carpenter of UBS and Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute. 

The second panel is titled “Including all Americans in our Economy and Society” and will include three Harvard Kennedy School professors: Professor of the Practice of Public Leadership Arthur Brooks, Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy Director David Deming, Winthrop Laflin McCormack Professor of Citizenship and Self-Government Archon Fung, and Criminal Justice Policy and Management Program Faculty Director Sandra Susan Smith. The panel will also include Diane Schanzenbach, director of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. 

The program will wrap up Tuesday morning, starting with a panel on international relations titled “America’s Role in the World.” Panelists will include Roy and Barbara Goodman Family Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations Nicholas Burns; Future of Diplomacy Project Senior Fellow and Goldman Sachs Management Committee member Dina Powell McCormick; Jeanne Kirkpatrick Professor of the Practice of International Affairs Meghan O’Sullivan; Center for Public Leadership Director Ambassador Wendy Sherman; and A.J. Meyer Professor of Energy and Economic Development Robert Stavins.

The session will close with a discussion between the participants and Harvard University President Lawrence Bacow.

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