The “streaking” phenomenon reached its zenith in the mid-1970s. People would head to shopping malls or sporting events, strip, and then sprint like a scalded dog, au naturel.
There were no airs about streaking. No façade.
It was just a naked attempt to get publicity.
TV networks soon tired of streakers running across ball diamonds and football fields. Streaking wasn’t a part of the game. It was all spectacle. The networks elected to cut away from the streakers. The director in the truck would call for shots of the on-deck circle or dugouts while security guards pursued the streakers like something out of Benny Hill. Regular coverage resumed once order was restored.
Things work a little differently in politics. On Capitol Hill, it’s hard to ignore the spectacle.
It’s clear why a squadron of House Republicans barged into the secure House Intelligence Committee suite on Capitol Hill this week. It was a publicity stunt. Nearly the entire Capitol Hill press corps and a full battery of TV photographers have camped outside of the Intelligence Committee offices for weeks. Lawmakers and witnesses come and go for depositions in the impeachment investigation at all times of the day and night. But news crews are a constant.
It’s a little like what Willie Sutton said when asked why he robbed banks. “That’s where the money is,” said Sutton. So, if you crave publicity and want to command the news cycle for 24 hours – go where the cameras are.
The caper helped GOPers varnish their narrative that Democrats were conducting clandestine sessions “behind closed doors” as though there was something to hide. A few days ago, multiple Republicans began sprinkling their soundbites with the word “bunker.” That would describe the secure office suite, three levels underground, in the bowels of the Capitol. The new description bolstered the Republican portrait that Democrats were up to no good. It sounded sinister and nefarious. If things were on the level, Democrats wouldn’t have to hold such covert conclaves in a subterranean fortification.
Never mind that the Intelligence Committee conducts its business in a hardened, underground facility so it can protect some of the nation’s foremost national security secrets.
But the protest aligned with the central GOP reservation about how Democrats are handling impeachment: they abhor the process. Republicans believe they can sway public opinion if they frame Democrats as gaga over impeachment and listless when it comes to legislation. It’s the same approach Republicans took when Democrats authored Obamacare. Republicans asserted that Democrats wrote the bill “in a smoke filled room.” Never mind that a “smoke-filled room” was the last place House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and then Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) would ever meet if anyone considered their views on tobacco products.
Republicans knew exactly what they were doing when they stormed the GOP House Intelligence Committee Wednesday morning: they would score a lot of press.
And, as a value-added byproduct, the average American learned what a SCIF is: “Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility.” That’s the ultra-secure room where Democrats planned to interview Pentagon official Laura Cooper Wednesday. GOPers knew Democrats wouldn’t start the interrogation once they bull rushed the SCIF.
Here’s the problem:
The House divvies up committee assignments. Many lawmakers hold two committee assignments, and, in some instances, three. A few serve on just one committee because some panels are such plum assignments. It’s up to committee chairs to conduct committee business how they see fit. Under House rules, committee chairs are given great latitude as to who they allow into an interview or hearing. It is at the discretion of the chair. It is not unheard of to have members from other committees attend hearings or interviews conducted by another panel. But, they only do so when there is an agreement with the chair.
Members are given committee assignments for a reason. They’re not supposed to barge in on other committees.
It’s considered poor form on Capitol Hill for members of one committee try to impede the business of another committee. Members are typically respectful of this practice.
The idea is that if you gore someone’s ox today, they may gore yours tomorrow.
Moreover, there could be a problem with summoning a witness with the understanding they will speak with one set of investigators – only to have another group of people show up to listen A witness may then be unwilling to deliver testimony.
But the bigger issue may have been with members who don’t serve on the triumvirate of committees, charging into the SCIF, armed with phones and electronic watches.
Some Republicans argued they never violated the secure area rules. But Fox is told they did, actually sitting in the room where the committees intended to interview Cooper.
U.S. Capitol Police never threatened to arrest the members in the SCIF. However, Fox is told some lawmakers asked to be arrested. With all of the reporters stationed out front, Republicans pined for the optic of being frog-marched in handcuffs out of the SCIF. The tableau would epitomize the GOP sketch that Democrats ran amuck with impeachment.
But Republicans aren’t the first to hope to curate such a political diorama.
House Democrats commandeered the House floor for more than 26 hours in June, 2016 with a sit-in over Republican inaction on guns. Republicans were apoplectic that Democrats would seize the House chamber, breaking decorum. This was a stunt as well. Of course, Democrats not-so-secretly hoped Republicans would flip out and demand arrests – namely civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). Democrats knew the press would lap this up.
The gun sit-in continued, unabated. Democrats streamed the sit-in live, via Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat. The use of electronic devices on the House floor for such purposes violated House rules. Naturally Republicans, then in the majority, instituted new rules to fine members if they used electronic devices to stream video from the floor.
Oh, the irony.
Would the press ever lift a page from the playbook of the TV networks in the ‘70s and ignore the “streakers” when they ran out onto the field? It’s easier to demarcate things in sports. There are balls and strikes. Stolen bases. Diving catches on the warning track. Pitchers heating up in the bullpen. All of those events are clearly part of the game. It’s harder to separate substance from folly in politics.
But what’s clear are naked attempts to score publicity.