Leave the cameras on
The absence of regular House rules during last week’s drawn out floor fight for House speaker produced an unexpected benefit: C-SPAN and other news organizations were able to show the country the whole dayslong battle in real time — including a near-fistfight between two congressmen — because of a pause in the restrictions that normally govern the cameras. At least one member is suggesting the House allow such ungirded coverage to continue. This being the seat of government and the heart of democracy, why not make it permanent?
C-SPAN has long carried gavel-to-gavel coverage of Congress, but there are normally strict limits on what it can show. Ever since live floor coverage of the House began in the late 1970s, the camera feeds have generally been controlled by government employees, with images limited to the speaker’s dais or wide shots of the floor without enough detail to see what’s actually going on between members.
But an exception to those rules has always been made for special events like the election of the House speaker — normally a brief, pro forma process. The chaos that gripped the House last week was, of course, the exception. For most of the week, through 15 rounds of voting and days of high political drama around Kevin McCarthy’s bid for speaker, the cameras were allowed to capture it all.
There was Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., lunging at anti-McCarthy Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and having to be restrained by other members. There was progressive firebrand Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., engrossed in an apparently civil conversation with Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., a right-winger who once tweeted an animé video depicting himself killing her. There, again and again, was McCarthy’s smile-through-the-pain real-time reaction to watching his members deny him his long-awaited speakership.
America watched this unvarnished display of parliamentary drama and emotion play out like a political thriller. There was value to that, beyond mere spectacle. Seeing the reality of how political horse trading, floor huddles and unscripted interactions affect the legislative process was no doubt educational to many viewers. If McCarthy looked wounded and powerless even as he finally clawed his way to victory — well, that too is useful information for America going forward.
We don’t normally find ourselves quoting with approval the likes of hard-right Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, but his comment over the weekend suggesting the House should consider permanently dropping the restrictions on cameras makes some sense: “What the American people were able to see unfold on the floor was a good thing for our democracy and our republic, right?”