Republican lawmakers have proposed fining Congressional representatives who stream live video or post photos from the House floor, in an apparent attempt to stop a repeat of last year’s Democratic live-streamed sit-in protest. NBC News reports that the new policy would fine representatives $500 for the first offense of broadcasting video, audio, or photos, and rise to $2,500 thereafter. In order to take effect, the proposal would need to be approved by the House when its next session starts in January.
In a statement, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) spokesperson Ashlee Strong said that “these changes will help ensure that order and decorum are preserved in the House of Representatives so lawmakers can do the people’s work.” But they’re widely seen as a response to an incident last year, when Democratic lawmakers protested Congress’ failure to pass gun control legislation by staging a sit-in protest. Because a Republican representative declared a recess after the protest began, the House refused to turn on its official cameras for C-SPAN, which normally broadcasts footage. Instead, it began picking up a Periscope stream from Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA), then a Facebook Live video from an unnamed source.
Private photography and video was already banned as a breach of decorum at the time of the sit-in, and cutting cameras or microphones during a recess is standard practice. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) instigated a similar cutoff during a Republican protest in favor of offshore drilling in 2008, before the rise of live-streaming.
But Democratic lawmakers have protested Ryan’s move to punish members who take broadcasting into their own hands, especially as media outlets worry about having limited access to the White House under Trump. “Bring. It. On,” tweeted Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), who spearheaded a request to amend the ban and give C-SPAN direct camera control earlier this year. And others used the proposal to criticize the original Republican blockade on gun control reform. “1st action of new Congress will be to attack Dems who protested Republican inaction on mass shootings,” wrote Keith Ellison (D-MN), a contender for DNC chair, “but NO action to stop mass shootings.”