Let C-SPAN Out of Its Cage!
There were a lot of losers in last week’s GOP clown show. Hardliners in the Republican caucus lost because they failed in their goal of defeating Kevin McCarthy. Moderates lost because McCarthy gave so much away in appeasing his extremist opponents. And McCarthy himself lost, even though he won, because he had to surrender so much power in order to get the job.
When the madness finally ended, there was only one clear winner: C-SPAN. Thanks to C-SPAN, we were able to watch every agonizing minute of the speakership battle: probably the greatest reality show ever seen on national television. And all because of a loophole in House rules big enough to drive a network TV truck through.
Under normal operating procedures, we see only whatever part of House procedures the Speaker wants us to see: video provided to C-SPAN by government-controlled cameras fixed on the Speaker’s podium. Only during special events, like the State of the Union, are more cameras allowed in the chamber, free to roam and capture reactions or whatever else is going on.
And that’s what happened last week. It was officially a special event – the election of a new Speaker of the House. In fact, for five days, because the balloting dragged on for so long, there was no Speaker at all. All rules were off. C-SPAN was let out of its cage. C-SPAN went wild.
There’s an old saying, attributed to Otto von Bismarck, that to retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch either being made.” To which I can only say: Baloney! Last week, with C-SPAN unchained, we watched the law-making process up close – and the results were delicious! What could have been five days of agonizingly boring vote-counting turned out to be pure entertainment, complete with memorable television moments.
On the Republican side of the House we saw: Kevin McCarthy finally losing patience and confronting hold-out Matt Gaetz; Marjorie Taylor Greene begging anyone to take her cellphone and talk to Donald Trump; Mike Rogers lunging at Matt Gaetz, only to be restrained by colleague Richard Hudson. If only there had been microphones to capture their conversations! Meanwhile, on the sidelines there was newly-elected serial liar George Santos, ostracized by fellow Republicans, sitting alone and picking his nose.
On the Democratic side, who can forget seeing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, engaged in conversation with Paul Gosar, who once posted an anime video in which he killed her; or California’s Katie Porter, sitting quietly during the hours of debate absorbed in the perfect book – Mark Manson’s 2016 bestseller “The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck” – which she picked up at a little free library box, while walking from her basement apartment to the Capitol.
Seriously, C-SPAN’s open-ended coverage was worth the price of admission. It proved to be so popular, in fact, both inside and outside the Chamber, that when it was over, members of both parties said let’s keep it that way. Asked if C-SPAN should be able to maintain roving cameras in the Chamber, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise told CNN: “I think that’d be great. I think it’s great that the public’s going to be able to see more about the way government works.”
In a rare form of bipartisan agreement, conservative Freedom Caucus member Matt Gaetz and Progressive Caucus leader Mark Pocan both moved to change the rules by allowing C-SPAN cameras to broadcast floor proceedings of the House, like they did during the Speakership challenge. Gaetz introduced an amendment to House rules, while Wisconsin Democrat Mark Pocan, who called C-SPAN’s coverage “worthy of an Oscar,” tweeted his introduction of legislation requiring House cameras “to continue to capture the full Chamber & not just what the Speaker wants.” “If this is truly the people’s house,” Pocan added in an interview, “Americans deserve to see the inside of that house.”
C-SPAN itself, meanwhile, has made its own formal request to Speaker Kevin McCarthy to continue to operate independent cameras in the House Chamber. “We do not propose replacing the existing House Recording System or its output,” C-SPAN’s co-CEO Susan Swain wrote McCarthy. “Instead, we request to install a few additional cameras in the House chamber.”
It’s an offer Speaker McCarthy will be hard-pressed to deny. After all, as Pocan told me, “there’s nothing wrong with more transparency and sunlight.” After enjoying so much sunlight in the House last week, it would be a tragedy to go back to legislating in the dark. Free the C-SPAN cameras!
(Bill Press is host of The BillPressPod, and author of 10 books, including: “From the Left: My Life in the Crossfire.” His email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org. Readers may also follow him on Twitter @billpresspod.)
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