McCarthy House’s election drama may open up to more cameras

NEW YORK — The difference between a government-controlled camera that followed a climactic moment in the election of Representative Kevin McCarthy as House speaker and one operated by a C-SPAN journalist was like a blurry black-and-white picture contrasted with sparkling, clear color. .

In one, McCarthy goes up a passage in the House chamber and disappears. A few people at the front turn to see where he is going. After a minute, and some audible gasps, everyone stops to look at what the camera doesn’t show.

C-SPAN captured the entire scene, including McCarthy’s tense, finger-pointing conversation with Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and a GOP colleague who held back from being fired by Gaetz.

Some people in Congress and C-SPAN are seizing on that moment to ask the floor of the House to be more open to cameras for the sake of transparency. There is tangible movement in that direction.

McCarthy, as speaker of the House, has the final word. His office has indicated that changes are being considered. Already, government cameras have expanded their views.

“I am very hopeful that the speaker would consider independent media coverage, if not permanently, at least on request,” said Ben O’Connell, director of editorial operations for C-SPAN. “We got a lot of positive feedback from both sides of the aisle.”

The way the public views House sessions has changed little since cameras were first introduced 43 years ago, according to Susan Swain, co-CEO of C-SPAN. For the most part, the podium and the legislators who come forward to speak are shown, but little else. There are exceptions when other cameras are allowed, such as when a joint session of Congress is held for the State of the Union.

What increased the visibility of that week in January was that, technically, there was no speaker at the time. Outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., agreed to three C-SPAN cameras, O’Connell said.

“We want to make it as accessible as possible, and I think cameras do that,” said Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, who has 25 co-sponsors of a resolution supporting C-SPAN’s bid.

Beyond the McCarthy drama, cameras gave other insights such as when the polar political representatives of Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, DN.Y., and Paul Gosar, R-Ariz. had a congenial conversation.

All of Pocan’s co-sponsors are Democrats, giving them a slight edge with McCarthy, R-Calif. But there is some GOP support for the concept, including from Gaetz.

CNN quoted Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, as saying, “What the American people were able to see happen on the floor was a good thing for our democracy and our republic.”

Considering how the speaker vote played out publicly, it wouldn’t surprise Pocan if McCarthy had much interest in more closely watched events. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

McCarthy’s office was not necessarily unanimous about how he viewed matters during the vote and is open to greater access on certain occasions.

“We are exploring a number of options to open the House of Commons to ensure a more transparent and accessible Congress for the American people,” said Mark Bednar, a McCarthy spokesman.

The Senate has similar rules, but McCarthy’s vote has gotten less attention.

Unauthorized, the government-controlled cameras have been offering a number of different views in recent weeks, observers said. Eight cameras have been installed, up from six four years ago.

What’s uncertain is whether C-SPAN will get what it wants: its own cameras, installed in the gallery above the House floor, robotically controlled by journalists and available at a pool for all news organizations.

McCarthy’s office will likely move cautiously, said Brendan Buck, who worked for Speakers John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and is now a partner at communications firm Seven Letter. .

“When you give something, it’s hard to give it back,” he said. “They have to make sure they’re comfortable giving the access, knowing it could be forever.”

Buck said he believed some rank and file members of Congress would be more resistant than leadership. With Washington increasingly divided by party, the House floor is one of the few places where members get to know colleagues they might not normally be able to spend time with, he said.

“They don’t want him to have eyes and ears on every conversation they have,” Buck said. That may not be a good reason to restrict cameras, but it could actually serve democracy, he said.

More cameras might promote the show rather than the legislation, a point Pocan acknowledged.

“But, honestly, there are going to be people who are going to interfere regardless,” he said. Pocan doesn’t want cameras to be kept away for the wrong reasons, like the risk of a deputy getting caught on the job.

Every time a new speaker was elected in the 22 years O’Connell was at C-SPAN, the company’s chief executive wrote diligently to request access to journalists with video cameras, he said.

This year, he said, “I didn’t think we were going to do anything because it felt like we were yelling at a wall.”

But the speaker’s vote, in which other television networks and social media made extensive use of the C-SPAN video, led Swain to try again.

The Radio and Television Correspondents Association, which represents broadcast outlets covering Congress, supports C-SPAN’s request. The group’s chairman, Jared Halpren, said he appreciates McCarthy’s office’s willingness to explore other options.

If changes are made, they would be tied directly to the night McCarthy was elected.

“It was a perfect reflection of the argument for allowing independent media in the room on a more regular basis,” said Ó Conaill.


AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro in Washington contributed to this report.

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