WASHINGTON. There were no rules in the U.S. House of Representatives chamber last week, and C-SPAN made the most of it.
A multi-day trial of Republicans to choose the speaker of the House of Representatives – Kevin McCarthy ultimately won early Saturday on the 15th ballot – left the House without a valid set of rules.
For C-SPAN, a non-profit cable network that typically relies on live coverage provided by House officials, this meant their own camera operators had free rein to capture the drama, including an angry Mike Rogers, an Alabama Republican representative. lunging at a colleague. Matt Goetz of Florida after his “Never Kevin” coalition failed another vote.
A rare view from the camera caught the attention of television and reflected in the ratings of C-SPAN. Samba TV, a firm that tracks what people watch on smart TVs, estimated that 379,000 households signed up on the first day of the new Congress, up 161 percent from the opening day of the previous Congress.
It also earned the often-unsung network a ton of accolades and spurred efforts by both Republicans and Democrats to secure wider video coverage of the room, rekindling a decades-long debate.
“America has been watching in real time this past week how our government works,” Gaetz tweeted on Tuesday, announcing on Fox News his plans to amend the Republican regulation package to allow C-SPAN cameras to stay on the floor. House of Representatives at all times.
“Wider transparency in Congress is a net plus, and we need more of that,” Gaetz added.
Gaetz’s amendment followed a proposal by Wisconsin Democrat Mark Pokan to broaden the 118th Congress’s perspective.
“Last week @CSPAN the lighting was Oscar worthy,” Pokan wrote on Monday. “That’s why I’m introducing legislation requiring House cameras to continue filming the entire House, not just what the speaker wants.”
The resolution, which Pokan plans to introduce later this week, “requires the continuation of the broadcast of the sold-out House of Representatives during the legislature, in line with the broadcasts that occurred January 3–6, 2023.” But that won’t give C-SPAN exclusive access, the aide said.
Democratic Representatives Maxwell Frost of Florida, Mark Takano of California, Nydia Velasquez of New York, and Donald Payne of New Jersey co-sponsored the measure.
“This is a small but important step towards transparency and accountability in our government,” Frost wrote on Monday.
But do lawmakers really want all houses to see unrecorded moments? For the most part, cameras have avoided candid moments in the chamber since the House of Representatives began offering live coverage of proceedings in 1979. Instead, they are still directed towards the podium or anyone who is giving a speech.
Nose lovers and gossipers could go about their business in the aisles discreetly. And if the hall was almost completely empty, while the heated deputy delivered a speech specially created for television, the audience did not know anything.
When then-Speaker Newt Gingrich turned the tide in 1995, about 30 Republicans in the House of Representatives sent a letter of protest. They didn’t like it when cameramen shot cutaway shots or took a wider view of the camera.
Opponents also argued that the free-moving cameras would limit lawmakers’ ability to negotiate ahead of a tough vote, or give members even more incentive to speak up.
Jonathan Bidlack, director of the Fiscal and Fiscal Policy Project at the R Street Institute, pointed to Rep. Kathy Porter of California, who, amidst the madness of speakers, went viral for defiantly reading The Subtle Art of Giggling a few days earlier. announcing his application to the Senate. But the benefits outweigh the potential costs, Bydlak said.
“Obviously there is an audience and an appetite for that kind of transparency,” Bydlak said. “For people who say that the general public is not interested in what their government is doing, I think you only need to look at what happened last week to see that this is clearly not true. … And I think it’s quite plausible that more Americans would be more interested in what’s going on if they had a little more understanding than they do now.”
Over the years, C-SPAN continued to broadcast the official channel provided by the House record label while insisting on using their own cameras.
“It’s time for Congress to take the next step and allow C-SPAN cameras in the hall and … expand what American citizens can see in their national legislature,” the network’s executive director urged.
This letter could have been written this week, but it actually dates from 1994, when Gingrich was preparing to pick up the speaker’s gavel.
Cameras run by the House of Representatives offer only “limited view of the floor,” complained then-CEO Brian Lamb. And many Americans had no idea what they were watching.
“They don’t know that the cameras in the hall are controlled by government employees according to the procedures established by the speaker’s office,” Lamb wrote.
“Help end the confusion” and allow C-SPAN to broadcast from the camera, Lamb pleaded. But Gingrich didn’t go for it, and neither did any of his successors. The house maintained tight control over the cameras during the era of Dennis Hastert, John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi.
On Tuesday, C-SPAN reiterated its call for more access, citing the success of its performances.
“The response from the public, the press, and members to C-SPAN coverage — along with the topics of ‘transparency’ in your new set of rules — prompted us to resubmit the request we unsuccessfully made to your predecessors: to allow C-SPAN to cover the House of Representatives. meetings on behalf of our network and all congressionally accredited news organizations,” co-CEO Susan Swain wrote in a letter to McCarthy.
The letter asks for permission to install “several additional cameras in the House of Representatives” that will complement the existing House recording system in order to “create a second, journalistic product, as we did last week.”