House Speaker John Boehner orders CSPAN's cameras switched off during contentious House debate

House Speaker John Boehner's office ordered CSPAN to switch off its camers during a fellow Congressman's scathing dressing-down over the Speaker's refusal to entertain further debate on unemployment benefits. The Speaker asserts control over CSPAN's cameras and has made it clear that Americans can only expect to see their government in session when he believes it is in their interest to do so.

“We regret, Mr. Speaker, that you have walked off the platform without addressing the issue of critical importance to this country, and that is the continuation of the middle class tax cut, the continuation of unemployment benefits for those at risk of losing them, and a continuation of the access to doctors for all those 48 million seniors who rely on them daily for help.”

And that’s when the audio cut out. Seconds later, footage faded to a shot of the capitol from outside.

Moments later, someone at C-SPAN took to Twitter and explained: “C-SPAN has no control over the U.S. House TV cameras – the Speaker of the House does.”

It’s for reasons just like this, one might infer, that Boehner told C-SPAN back in February it would not be allowed control its own cameras.

Boehner’s office cuts off C-SPAN cameras as GOP takes verbal beating (via Reddit)


  1. I called my Congresscritter this morning (a Republican), and told him if he and his fellow Repubs didn’t pass the Senate bill, I would be holding they all responsible when the payroll tax cuts expire in January.

    1. So with an 11% approval rating does this Congress really want to make it worse?  You know there’s a guy in Syria right now who doesn’t allow cameras either.  This Congress is such a joke.

  2. Cutting off the feed is completely unacceptable and may very well violate sunshine laws, if any such thing exists in the federal code. 

    Legal experts?

    1. If you look at the clip closely, the Speaker (pro tem) had adjourned the House before Hoyer began his statement. Technically, the House was no longer in session & coverage should have ended. This was a pro-forma session where the House came into session, Van Hollen said the pledge and then the House adjourned. While substantively, I am completely with the Democrats on this issue, procedurally – and I am a lawyer who served as chief counsel to a House committee – Hoyer’s statements took place after the House had adjourned.

      Historically, the rule that the Speaker controls the cameras was established by Tip O’Neill. Newt Gingrich (then in the minority) staged shows wherein Republicans would make speeches to an empty chamber (after legislative business was over) making harsh charges against Democrats & challenging them to respond. Since no one but the speech-maker was present, no one responded. The impression was given that Democrats were unable to counter the arguments.

      Tip then directed C-Span to pan the empty chamber.

  3. Anybody know if  this has happened before?  If so, esp. with a Democrat, than it cannot be used to any advantage.  If not, well it could very well be used in the upcoming elections against the better judgement of the GOP and its current pre-eminent member, the Speaker of the House.

    1. Ha, you think something can’t be used for political advantage just because the other party’s done the exact same thing in the past?

  4. I thought the Speaker’s control over the C-SPAN cameras was relatively new. I remember reading about it (I thought in the context of it being new) when the makeup of the House changed last fall.

    *edit: Okay. So C-SPAN does not control any cameras in the House or (I assume) the Senate. They’re all government-owned cameras that the Speaker, as head of the body, ultimately has control over, and this was the case even before Boehner moved up. C-SPAN has requested permission to install their own cameras but has been denied by the last two Speakers.

    So the Speaker having this sort of control doesn’t seem to be new at all. The Speaker exercising it, though, is (I think). Troubling, regardless of how new it is.

    1. That’s right. In 1994, then-Democratic Speaker of the House “Tip” O’Neil used CSPAN
      camera control to embarrass Newt Gingrich by ordering them to pan back and show that Gingrich was haranguing an empty House chamber (which is fine. And kind of funny.) But both sides muck about with the feeds, I’m sure, and I’d be willing to bet that much of the time it doesn’t make the news.

      1. If anything, that’s adding more “sunshine,” not less. Gingrich used to go into the empty house to make bold speeches, knowing that the CSPAN cameras would make it seem like he was addressing them to the whole house. (And this child wants to be president?) Pulling the cameras back allowed people to see the truth.

        This, on the other hand, is hiding the truth.

        But I see your point, and when people bring this incident up, yours will be the ready-made answer. This follows the tradition that there can never be any valid criticism of anything in the government so long as the other side can accuse you of a past hypocrisy, whether or not it’s equivalent.

        1. If you have ever actually visited the floor of the House or Senate you’d know that almost all debate and floor speeches are addressing an empty room…clerks, the Speaker pro tempore, party representatives, various USCP, and a few DC tourists are about all that show up  mostly. Standard business….

      1. Okay. I wasn’t aware of previous occurrences (as I said I first heard about it at all when Boehner was coming into the Speaker role). It doesn’t make it any less troubling or wrong that Boehner or anyone else would exercise this kind of authority to stifle the disclosure of what should be public proceedings.

  5. Oh, how quickly we forget… August 1, 2008:

    “Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the Democrats adjourned the House, turned off the lights and killed the microphones, but Republicans are still on the floor talking gas prices….

    C-SPAN, which has no control over the cameras in the chamber, has stopped broadcasting the House floor, meaning no one was witnessing this except the assembled Republicans, their aides, and one Democrat….”

    1. Which just goes to show it’s wrong with anyone does it, regardless of party affiliation.

      I hope that was the point you were trying to make.

      (And if this is a repost, sorry. My internet connection seemed to hang on my last attempt. Spotty service, and all.)

    1. C’mon Bret it’s obvious that the speaker pro tem gaveled the proceeding closed in near record time when he saw Steny approaching to speak. Technicalities don’t change the egregious nature of what happened – and yes, the other side had done the same before… and was equally egregious

      1. C’mon Kevin it’s obvious that it was a _pro forma_ proceeding. Both parties use them all the time… that’s how the House works, according to its own (weird and inane) rules.

          1. If the House goes out of session long enough, The President can make recess appointments.

            That always makes me think of the cabinet meeting between the swing set and the jungle jim.

          2. Incorrect. Only the Senate has the authority to advise and consent to presidential appointments and therefore a House recess would not allow the President to make recess appointments.

            Pro forma sessions are a normal practice in both chambers and allow for certain legislative functions to be performed such as introductions of bills, speaker appointments and other mundane day to day business of each chamber.

            There was nothing nefarious in the cameras being turned off or the quick gavel. As much as I think the House R’s should stop trying to be combative on everything, this was by no means some conspiracy. More importantly I think it was a little disingenuous to post this in the first place. The House was clearly no longer in session and there was no reason for the cameras to remain on.

            Just because a congressperson continues to talk after the gavel doesn’t change the fact that the House was no longer in session. Trust me, capitol critters love to talk – especially when a camera is around.

  6. Taken from  “The CSPAN revolution”: “Control over the House feed raised a related question concerning the substance of access. In 1988 when Representative Robert Dornan (R-CA) refused to relinquish the microphone at the end of is one minute grant of time, the acting Speaker of the house ordered the sergeant of arms to cut off Dornan’s microphone. The Republicans cried censorship when they realized that the C-SPAN signal was going out with video only. After heated debate, the House passed a resolution that the “audio and visual broadcast of House proceedings not be interrupted”

    I’m sure Boehner will argue that since proceedings had been gaveled closed, then shutting off the feed didn’t violate any resolutions, etc. – the putz

          1. It is when people cite the “it” as either unprecedented or in violation of procedural rules in order to score political points….

        1. Yeah, it’s all fun and games until taxes go up on the middle class and unemployment benefits are cut off, putting our economy back in to a tailspin… very amusing.

          1. I think you misunderstood my post:  That “Mean Old Lady Pelosi” did this or that is irrelevant to the actual issue.  It’s especially irrelevant if you’re say…a progressive and not a fan of the leaders of either party.

            You might as well try to justify Obama’s recent civil rights violations by saying: “bbbbut mommmy George Bush…..”

          2. No, I got what you were saying. My point was that it would be amusing if it weren’t such a sad statement about politics in this country, or if the consequences weren’t so serious.

          3. Fair enough, “sadly amusing” would have been more apt.  Gallows humor.

            I always think it’s sad/amusing that Pelosi is so often trotted out as some kind of ‘liberal’ figurehead. “Your hero Pelosi did x” huh? whut?

  7. “A free and open press is a cornerstone of our democracy…I agree that enhancing opportunities for media coverage can make the House more open and transparent to the American people.”

    –John Boehner
       February 3, 2011

  8. Or, its obvious that Steny knew no business was going to be allowed, and did it anyway.  There is nothing egregious about this. “The House gaveled in Wednesday for what had been announced by GOP leaders as a pro-forma session with no legislative business scheduled.”

  9. As they always say about surveillance cameras:  “if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to worry about”.

    1. On the contrary, that the Dems did the same thing in 2008 turns it into a bigger story. Our representatives are flagrantly (and now repeatedly) refusing to be transparent about how they represent us. This is not about whether the donkeys are worse than the elephants, it is about the shamelessness of those in power.

      1. Then the original story should have included a link to Pelosi’s action.

        As it is, this looks like a  story about the GOP’s censorship.

    2. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Saying, “Oh, but the democrats do it too” translates into “EVERYONE practices selective censorship.” This isn’t better, this is far far worse.

  10. I am under the impression that adjournment requires either a passed motion, unanimous consent, or formal observation of lack of a quorum. Now, once the adjournment is a fact, I get turning off the C-SPAN cameras. It’s these “pro forma” (recess appointment blocking only) sessions that seem to me to violate all parliamentary procedure, and possibly even US law.

  11. Thank god the internet is still controlled by us, so we can learn about these things. Boehner is a salivating supercilious slimy sack of snot, and we all know it even without hearing what needed to be heard anyway. He proved that himself. What a complete tool.

    1. This very post demonstrates what is actually most wrong about politics these days: the absolute demonization of those who disagree with one’s politics, so that “discourse” becomes just name-calling and out-of-hand dismissal of other positions.

      1. I think we’re all pretty aware of Boehner’s positions by now…….

        Tax cuts for the wealthy, social programs cut for everybody else.

        1. But that’s not true, because it is only part of the truth. Boehner wants tax cuts not just “for the wealthy”, but for everyone; and he wants to cut not just “social programs”, but to cut government spending broadly. You may or may not agree that those are good policies, but describing them misleadingly like this to score political points only serves to feed the beast of political posturing and partisanship. How can we even begin to find consensus when people can’t even be truthful about what the various positions actually are?

          1. “broadly” meaning a broad swipe of programs that mean nothing to the wealthy.

            The fact that the GOP is so worried about paying for tax cuts undermines one of their sacred cows:  That any kind of tax cut pays for itself and spurs growth.

            Of course, god forbid Obama or the Democrats actually point that out.

          2. No, what N_J says is the whole truth. Boehner wants the payroll tax cuts to expire to pay for keeping the top bracket’s cuts. He wants to slash gubmint spending–but not in corporate subsidies and defense, just in departments and programs that administrate social programs.

            The problem isn’t partisanship. The problem with modern American politics is that the political center is defined by the Democrats on one side–which are, at best, moderately liberal but more likely moderately conservative–and the Republican Tea Party set on the other–radically right-wing.

            It’s the fetishization of centrism that’s screwing things up. Maybe when centrists stop crying about “partisanship” and realize that the middle between sane and crazy only serves to legitimize the crazy, we can move forward.

          3. You’re right. Boehner is not the baddest guy here. Unfortunately for him he’s got a rambunctious repub party house that he cannot make see reason and they are constantly giving him a hotfoot hoping he will disappear. And let me tell you, they are cwazy. Doesn’t Cantor and his voice remind you of Roger Rabbit?

  12. Hey!  That was my Congress critter they cut off!  He’s not perfect, but he’s the only Representative my district has.  Pisses me off to no end.

  13. What a day! –  The NY Times  gets an “eff-you” note from the Department of Justice regarding a FOIA request they made asking what are the military rules of engagement with a US citizen. The Electronic Frontier Foundation posting guidelines how to keep your blog going if imprisoned for actually blogging.  More news on SOPA and finally C-Span told to get lost from the public hall of congress because they might hear something they shouldn’t. 

    Yes, Matt Damon is correct,  we really do have a eunuch for President.

  14. In 2008  Republicans were shut out, but doesn’t anyone care what they were standing there for?  They were wanting to increase Off-shore drilling and in 2 years the largest off-shore spill in the world occurs wrecking the Gulf coast economically and environmentally.   They were wrong to stand up for the oil-industry then and are wrong to hold up middle class tax cuts now. 

  15. One of these days, I hope more Americans quit thinking all Democrats are the exact same as all Republicans.

    Look at the fucking voting records.  Open your eyes.

  16. Wow! -The picture of the video before you play it has these Fascist symbols–an etruscian weapon of sticks with axe. These sticks in Itali were called ‘fascini’ and thus the origin of the name Fascist. What do they have these in the US senat (or whatever this hall in the picutre is…)?? Can anyone explain?

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