GOP Conference Closed to Most Staffers

Posted September 3, 2003 at 6:22pm

Attention, House GOP aides: If you want to start scheduling breakfast meetings, or even sleeping a bit later, on Wednesday mornings, here’s your chance — because most of you won’t be going to Republican Conference meetings anymore.

Starting with this morning’s gathering (scheduled on a Thursday because of Labor Day), staffers’ attendance at Conference meetings will be tightly restricted. Only a select group of leadership aides will have regular access, while others will need a good reason to get past the doorkeepers.

Kathryn Lehman, the Conference chief of staff, sent an e-mail to leadership offices Wednesday afternoon spelling out the new policy.

“Starting this Thursday, in an effort to better control staff access to meetings of the House Republican Conference and guarantee that all approved and appropriate staff are able to attend Conference meetings (and to keep the Democrats and interns from crashing), the Conference will establish a Permanent Access List to be used by the Conference doorkeepers,” the message explained.

The mention of Democrats refers to a July incident when a Democratic Ways and Means staffer walked into a GOP Conference meeting. Republicans alleged that he was spying; Democrats said it was an honest mistake.)

The Permanent Access List will include an “appropriate number of slots” for each leadership office. The e-mail did not define “appropriate,” but aides said Speaker Dennis Hastert’s (Ill.) office would get the most, Majority Leader Tom DeLay (Texas) would be next, and so on down through the leadership ranks.

A Daily Access List will be distributed to doorkeepers as well. That list will include leadership policy staff “when an issue they handle is being discussed” and leadership press staff “where their presence is necessary to assist in post-conference stakeout or other communications activities.”

Committee aides, meanwhile, will be put on the Daily Access List only when “their Member is on the agenda to present information to the Conference.”

Beyond keeping the enemy out of the room, the new policy is seen as a way of reducing an ever-growing group of aides who show up at the meetings. Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce (Ohio) regularly admonishes staffers to be quiet during the gatherings.

“This is an effort to restate what has always been an understood rule,” said Conference spokesman Greg Crist. “This is a way to streamline and make sure we have the right staff in the room to discuss the issue.”

But the new policy will also have its critics, particularly among committee staffers who feel it is important that they be present every week.

“I understand the need for Members to be able to have an open and honest discussion [but] at the end of the day the staff are the ones who have to implement what Members want done,” said a panel aide. “They’ve gone from one extreme to the other. They’ve gone from having too many people there to not the right people.”