Ranking Member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) tonight released a video of the entire Senate Foreign Relations Committee business meeting that took place earlier today. Taken by Menendez’s team, the footage comes after Committee Chairman Jim Risch (R-Idaho) unilaterally prevented the press and public from viewing the controversial meeting by refusing to allow an official Senate live-stream video recording, Menendez said.
The agenda centered on voting on a controversial political nominee, Michael Pack, whose nonprofit is being actively investigated by the District of Columbia’s Attorney General, including potential self-dealing. Earlier in the week, the entire Democratic bench of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee sent a letter to Chairman Risch requesting he reverse his dangerous decision to prevent members of the press and the American public from watching the proceedings. Their multiple requests went ignored.
Live stream video is consistent with the Senate ‘sunshine’ rules and with normal committee practice when the public is allowed into the Committee room in the Capitol to both see and hear their Senators, New Jersey’s senaior senator noted. On April 30, Senate Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Ranking Member Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) issued bipartisan guidance to the Senate emphasizing the importance of technology that allows the American people to view congressional proceedings during the coronavirus pandemic. The guidance issued by the Rules Committee says that following discussions with the Parliamentarian, “a live stream would meet the requirements for a public hearing. We have directed the SAA to provide a solution to the Senate community…that will offer virtual hearings that can be easily viewed by the American public.”
On May 20, the Senate’s Press Gallery Standing Committee of Correspondents also wrote a letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member to express their objections to the plan to block a video livestream of the Business Meeting, writing: “While we understand a print pooler will attend the markup in the Kennedy Caucus Room and an audio recording of the markup will also be made available, that still leaves much to be desired in terms of press accessibility. An audio feed can be hard to follow along for those unable to recognize the voices of committee members.”
After Chairman Risch flouted Senate Rules Committee guidance, Ranking Member Klobuchar issued the following statement: “Today Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee took an action contrary to the guidance that Chairman Blunt and I issued regarding Senate hearings. The COVID-19 crisis has forced the Senate to adapt in order to continue its work on behalf of the American people, and we worked to ensure that committees could hold hearings that can be viewed by the American public. Today, Chairman Risch blocked a video livestream of the Foreign Relations Committee meeting, and Ranking Member Menendez was forced to record footage of the meeting with an iPhone. Forcing a Senator to resort to capturing committee proceedings with a homemade video is an embarrassment to the Senate, and should not happen again, or the Rules Committee should take further action.”