Tancredo’s Plan for Hearing Coverage Gets Little Support

Posted May 14, 2004 at 6:24pm

Lawmakers across Capitol Hill voiced disagreement late last week with Rep. Tom Tancredo’s (R-Colo.) proposal to ban live television coverage of certain committee hearings, with one House Member calling the idea a “disservice” to the American public.

In a May 11 letter to House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio), Tancredo called for a ban on television cameras from oversight and investigations hearings in both chambers, asserting that “opportunistic politicians” use such events for grandstanding and partisan rhetoric.

While several House and Senate lawmakers acknowledged such a prohibition could reduce potential posturing by Members, all of those queried suggested a ban on live coverage — which would not impact print media — is not feasible.

“You’d have less grandstanding but it’s impossible to do,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). He added that the general public has “a right” to access Congressional hearings.

Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), who serves as ranking member on the House Administration Committee, said it would be a “disservice” to remove television cameras.

“Government is best served when we let as much light shine in as possible,” he added.

House Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) said his panel is able to balance the need to hold public hearings — such a recent hearing with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld cited in Tancredo’s letter — with the ability to hold closed-door meetings for high-security issues.

“We have a balance of closed and live hearings,” Hunter said. “I think our balance is fine right now.”

Several Members who oppose expelling cameras did express support for a review of security measures to restrict the potential for protesters, like those who interrupted Rumsfeld’s appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 7.

Tancredo cited that incident in his letter — also sent to House Rules Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) and Senate Rules and Administration Chairman Trent Lott (R-Miss.) — asserting live coverage created “an atmosphere more conducive to a political rally or street demonstration than to one of genuine oversight and investigation.”

The Mississippi Senator objected to banning cameras — “I’ve always been a supporter of live coverage” — but agreed that security policies should be reviewed.

“We should do all we can to make sure hearings are not interrupted,” Lott said.

He acknowledged, however, that screening spectators is not a fool-proof mechanism. “A protester may not be carrying anything but a loud mouth,” Lott said.

Similarly, a spokesman for Ney said Thursday that the lawmaker — who opposes “shutting down access to the Congress for millions of Americans” — would review security measures.