Updated, 1:25 p.m. | A planned Democratic hearing on an unemployment benefits extension was quickly transformed into a news conference Tuesday, with Democrats blaming Republicans for the stalled legislation and a spat erupting over meeting space.
Democrats changed their plans to hold a Democratic Steering and Policy hearing on the unemployment insurance issue Tuesday after Republicans balked, saying that Democrats were using the committee room improperly. Democrats accused Republicans of "kicking House Democrats out of a room" and attempting to "silence the voices of Americans" who are without unemployment benefits.
But according to documents obtained by CQ Roll Call, Education and the Workforce Committee ranking Democrat George Miller of California requested the committee room for the hearing, but called it a "members meeting" and suggested press would not be in attendance.
The documents to use the committee room showed that under subject matter, Democratic aides wrote: "Mr. Miller would like to hold a Members meeting." The box asking if media would be present for the meeting was checked "no."
When Republicans learned that Democrats had issued releases saying they were holding a hearing in the room, with press and cameras welcome, they balked. Still, committee spokeswoman Alexandra Sollberger told CQ Roll Call that "at no time" did the Republicans "deny their request to hold an event."
She added, "In fact, we have communicated to Democrat staff that we are more than willing to accommodate the event they now wish to hold – all they have to do is ask." She said the Republican staff director was willing to let it slide following a phone call with the Democratic counterpart Tuesday morning.
Julia Krahe, a spokeswoman for committee Democrats, confirmed Republicans made that offer, but, "By the time we got that information, it was too late to move the hearing back to the committee room."
A spokesman for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, Drew Hammill — who said Democrats amended their request — offered a similar remark.
"They changed course so late in the day that it was logistically impossible to move the event back to the Rayburn office building," Hammill said. "I think silencing seven people who came to testify about the plight of the unemployed is shameful."
Sollberger called the spat "petty" and "partisan political shenanigans at its best" and a spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio dubbed the situation "faux outrage."
Democrats decided it was best to hold a press conference anyway, given that the hearing was designed, of course, to pressure the Republicans in an election year.
Pelosi's office told reporters in an email that the scheduled forum would instead take place on the front steps of the Capitol. Pelosi will join Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland and a handful of Democrats at 2:30 p.m.
A Pelosi release complained: "Please be advised that due to House Republicans kicking House Democrats out of a room that was scheduled for today’s Steering and Policy hearing on the GOP’s failure to extend UI, we’re now holding a press conference in lieu of the hearing that will take place on the House East Front Steps."
Editor's note: This post was updated and headline was changed from "Unemployment Extension Hearing Scrapped, Democrats Cry Foul," to the current headline after CQ Roll Call examined documents shedding more light on the hearing room situation.
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