After a long process of moving and renovation, the Capitol Hill press corps is working in a dedicated space in the Rayburn House Office Building, replacing one that served as both time capsule and workspace.
The press area, located on the basement level across from the Rayburn cafeteria, is available to all credentialed journalists. It provides reporters with desks, wifi, power outlets and other essential elements of modern news coverage, much closer to the hearings and markups that happen in the House office buildings.
With House Democrats hammering oversight issues and forging ahead on major policy priorities, there’s plenty of off-the-floor action for reporters to cover. The new space is intended to serve members of the press covering far-flung legislative action.
On Wednesday afternoon more than a dozen reporters were camped out working on stories.
The old Rayburn press room, located on the first floor, will be renovated and transformed into office space for some future unnamed lawmaker. The bank of phone booths and obsolete technology stacked up around the room harken to days when reporters could not file the news of the day from the palm of their hand. One yellowing note tacked to the wall helpfully explains the expansion of the “telephone-paging system.” Those walls are also adorned with a large world map featuring the Soviet Union.
What’s inside the walls is more problematic than the decor. The Standing Committee of Correspondents, the journalists elected to represent the daily press galleries in the Capitol, wrote in a letter to reporters last year that the room is contaminated with asbestos (as are many parts of the House office complex), confirming a long-circulating rumor.
But the new space includes some of the old-school charm (without the toxins). Four of the wood-paneled phone booths were salvaged and installed in the new space, where reporters can make calls to sources and their editors in semi-privacy. They still bear the scars of decades one floor up, including stripes of tape from long-ago posted notices. A handful of more soundproofed booths are also in the new space, assigned to certain broadcast outlets.
Signs on the walls read “Authorized Personnel Only: Congressional Press Credential Required.” That’s a departure from the House and Senate Daily press galleries, where Capitol Police and Sergeant-at-Arms staff relax during their breaks and communications staffers drop by to give reporters a heads up about potential news. A list of rules is also on display, identifying seating as first come, first served basis and warning reporters not to leave belongings in the room overnight.