TipSheet: Covering Congress from Both Sides of the Beltway
We are heading into a period when a lot of environmental news may be coming out of the U.S. Congress. But today’s environmental journalist does not have to live inside the Beltway to cover it. This TipSheet shares handy resources usually open to any journalist following our elected representatives in Washington, D.C.
- Congress.gov Bill Tracker. Much of what happens in Congress is actions on bills (which become law if both chambers pass them). You can follow the action and status on any bill using the online database at congress.gov. It is run by the Library of Congress. It is usually up to date, although updates may lag a bit during busy end-of-session chaos. Explore it and practice using it before you need it. Take a look at the committee reports accompanying bills you are interested in; they can be informative and help decode legislative language. It also links to the Congressional Record, which turns all words spoken on the floor into text.
- C-SPAN. C-SPAN is a TV network that covers Congress — mostly live, without partisanship and more fully than almost any other outlet. While much of the video feed comes from (and is controlled by) Congress, the distribution network (and some content) is run by the cable industry. You can also get it via livestream online here.
U.S. Capitol. Image: © Clipart.com
Committee TV Channels. Much of Congress’ work is done in committees, and many committees livestream their own hearings and business meetings (markups). The setup will vary among committees. Find out which committees are handling the bills of interest to you, then check the committee’s schedule online (every committee has a web page; Google it by name). That schedule will often link you to the panel’s livestream page. After the meeting ends, video archives may remain available.
- Cloakrooms. Cloakrooms are the operational hubs where leadership decisions are communicated to the party ranks. There is one for each party in each chamber. Often helpful are the recorded cloakroom phone-message lines which update floor action (both upcoming and completed) in considerable detail in near-real-time. They’re also a good source for floor schedules. And good to know they also use Twitter.
Senate GOP hotline: 202-224-8601, @senategopfloor, website.
Senate Democrat hotline: 202-224-8541 @DSenFloor, website.
House GOP hotline: No recording, @RepCloakroom, website.
House Democrat hotline: 202-225-7400, @DemCloakroom, website.
Press Galleries. Galleries are the places from which journalists watch the chambers and do their work. There are separate galleries for House and Senate and each chamber has galleries for daily media, periodical media and radio-TV. As a general rule, you must have a Congressional press credential to use them as workspaces. They are sometimes helpful to uncredentialed media online or on the phone. Often members of Congress announce pressers via the galleries. Gallery websites link to many handy information resources.
Phone Directories. Various Congressional offices compile phone directories which are very handy in a pinch. Emails are often included. You can also call the House Switchboard (202-224-3121) or the Senate Switchboard (202-224-3121).
Senator personal press contacts.
Senate committee press contacts.
Senate member offices.
House member personal press contacts: Note that the simplest way to reach a House member’s press contact is to call the member’s office and ask for the press person. Alternatively, you can use the free online staff directory here, narrowing it down to “press secretary.”
House committee press contacts (majority only).
House member offices.
* From the weekly news magazine SEJournal Online, Vol. 2, No. 34. Content from each new issue of SEJournal Online is available to the public via the SEJournal Online main page. Subscribe to the e-newsletter here. And see past issues of the SEJournal archived here.