By: Debra Gersh Hernandez
A PROPOSAL TO televise press briefings on the Senate floor prior to convening the day’s session was approved by the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.
The committee voted 10-2 to approve Senate Resolution 24, which would allow the Senate-controlled cameras already in place to air “dugout” briefings by the Senate majority and minority leaders or, in their absence, their deputies.
Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), who along with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) voted against the plan, noted that Senate leaders can hold the televised press briefings in their offices or in the radio/TV gallery.
“We ought to have some respect for the Senate and the Senate chamber,” he said, adding that the next thing would be for the network cameras to be allowed in.
“The press already has too much to do with the operation of the Senate now,” Byrd continued.
“Senator, you’ve got the votes, but I think you’re making a mistake,” Byrd said to committee chairman Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who introduced the amended resolution.
Byrd indicated he would fight the resolution on the Senate floor.
“I may be outvoted [in committee], but I don’t know how I’m going to be outtalked” on the floor, he said.
During the markup, Stevens noted that the original resolution was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), who had been holding their briefings in the hallway, obstructing the public and witnesses.
“These briefings go on, anyway,” Stevens said. “This is a very slight deviation.”
After the committee vote, Stevens explained to reporters that the resolution is very limited. Only the cameras already installed in the Senate can be turned on, and they must be off by the time the Senate is ready to convene for the day. Regular coverage would then begin.
The briefings, which have a long history, have been used as a matter of convenience, allowing the leaders to discuss things such as the schedule and answer technical questions.
Today, Stevens said, the briefings are done on the record, although the parties are strictly prohibited from using anything recorded there for political purposes, such as running an excerpt from a briefing videotape for a campaign ad.
Over in the House of Representatives, a new rule allowing for cutaway shots ? those that show the chamber and members while someone is speaking ? has met with some resistance.
In the past, cameras were allowed only to focus on whoever was speaking. Critics argued that was misleading, since viewers often were unaware that a speech was being given before a near- empty chamber or to members who were paying little or no attention.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) recently gave camera operators the ability to show the scene from other angles, and since then has received nearly 50 letters from members of both parties, complaining about the new rule.
According to one report, Gingrich is considering modifying the rule to require cameras to stay on a congressperson while speaking, but at other times allowing the cameras to cut away.
A House committee also was set to consider allowing still cameras on the floor the day before the House recesses on April 7.