After being so badly humiliated over a plan to gut the independent Office of Congressional Ethics that they had to scrap it, Republicans decided to plunge ahead with a rule that would fine members of Congress for livestreaming any protest activity on the floor. The new rule means that members of Congress can be fined up to $2,500 for breaking it.
The rule states, in part:
“The Sergeant-at-Arms is authorized and directed to impose a fine against a Member, Delegate, or the Resident Commissioner for the use of an electronic device for still photography or for audio or visual recording or broadcasting in contravention of clause 5 of rule XVII and any applicable Speaker’s announced policy on electronic devices.”
Basically, that gobbledygook just means that lawmakers can’t pull out their phones or tablets to record, either through pics or video, certain things that happen on the floor. Democrats blasted this as unconstitutional, and they may well be right. They also protested this briefly by, you guessed it, whipping out their phones and taking pictures from the floor. Some even took selfies with tape over their lips.
Many of them aren’t afraid of the fines. Democratic Representative John Lewis, of Georgia, said:
“I’m not afraid. I’ve been fined before. Many of us have been fined before. We cannot and will not be silenced.”
That doesn’t mean this is okay in any way, shape or form. In general, Congressional proceedings are supposed to be open to the public. C-SPAN broadcasts from the floor, but not everyone has access to C-SPAN, and obviously C-SPAN doesn’t catch every last detail. A short video or photo from a member of Congress could give the public insight into something that nobody else catches.
And Republicans want to limit that. Why? So they’re less likely to be caught doing things they shouldn’t be doing? This isn’t like worrying about invasion of privacy when it comes to cameras everywhere because Congress is supposed to be open and public. So we have to wonder what it is they want to do that they don’t want recorded.
Regardless, since there’s no invasion of privacy going on, threatening to punish lawmakers for using their phones to transmit footage from the floor is likely a serious violation of freedom of speech. And for a party that’s so overly concerned about freedom and adhering to the letter of the Constitution, Republicans sure like to try and limit it when it allows things they don’t like. We need to write to our Representatives and Senators and tell them to shuck this rule, too. Republicans won’t stop with this.
Featured image by Mark Wilson via Getty Images