Posted: 3:00 am Monday, December 26th, 2016
By Jamie Dupree
Covering the Congress is about a lot more than just sitting up in the press gallery and watching the floor debates of the U.S. House and Senate, as many of the more accomplished reporters instead spend much of their time roaming the historic hallways and back corridors of the U.S. Capitol, in order to chase down lawmakers of both parties.
Join me as we pull back the curtain a little.
Next week marks thirty years since I started work as a reporter on Capitol Hill; the Capitol building itself is a great blend of a regular office, a tourist destination and living museum as well.
One thing that I try to do most days is stop for a minute before I go in the building, and snap a few photos from outside, like this one.
Once I’m inside, I have two small broadcast booths to work from in the Capitol; one on the House side, one on the Senate side.
Both booths are jammed with all sorts of TV monitors, radio broadcast equipment and history from the stories I’ve covered in Congress.
Up above my head right now as I type this in my Senate booth are reports from some of the biggest stories I have covered in the last 30 years – from the bottom up, there is Nine Eleven, Iran Contra, and President Clinton’s impeachment trial, many years later still filled with my colored sticky notes, sticking out of five fat volumes of evidence.
Also still up on my shelf, the infamous tape recorded conversations of Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp.
That’s just part of what’s in my broadcast booth in the Senate, which is about the size of a couple of phone booths:
Our work space on the Senate side of the Capitol is tucked up just under the roof – when there is a big thunderstorm in the summer, you can hear the rain pelting down from above.
There is nothing fancy about it, the biggest booths going to CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox and CNN; while others get smaller booths like mine.
Down below our feet is the Senate Radio-TV Gallery studio – this is where Senators can hold news conferences inside the Capitol.
While we can wait for lawmakers to show up at news conferences like that, it is much more fun to chase Senators in the hallways, and it makes at times for an interesting game of cat and mouse.
“How did you find me?” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said to me many years ago, when I tracked him down one day.
It’s not as easy as you might think.
On the Senate side of the Capitol, many of us wait for Senators just off the floor, out by the elevators that take Senators down to the tunnels going back to three different Senate office buildings.
Here is a group of reporters interviewing Sen. John McCain (R-AZ); this was from a few weeks ago, when McCain got aggravated with questions being fired at him about President-Elect Trump.
Just over from McCain a few minutes later was Sen. David Perdue (R-GA). If you look at the picture of him below, you can see in the back right of the picture that there is another group of reporters chasing after a Senator over there – all under the watchful eye of the bust of former Vice President Walter Mondale.
Sometimes a Senator will linger in the hallway and take our questions, other times we try to get in a few quick queries before the elevator door closes, like in this photo of Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), answering questions about repealing and replacing Obamacare.
Toomey was at a separate elevator over by what’s known as the Ohio Clock Corridor, a grand open area just off the Senate floor, which is often jammed with reporters on days when Senators hold their respective party lunches.
It’s an easy way to catch a Senator and try to get a quote – but as you can see, a lot of other people are around as well.
Down the hall, you can see a very bright light – those are the television lights where the leaders of each party regularly hold a weekly news conference with reporters.
For those not involved in such news conferences, we sometimes find them under the gaze of former Vice President Spiro Agnew; here is Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) talking to a group of us by the Agnew bust.
Sometimes a Senator does not want to chat on the second floor of the Capitol, so one of your backup spots is down in the basement, where the small subway trains run to and from the three Senate office buildings.
Below is a photo of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) talking to one reporter, while walking down a hallway lined with other journalists, just waiting for someone else to appear.
Often you see reporters running after a Senator as he or she goes down the escalator to the subway, like in this photo with Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
At the time, Corker’s name was still being floated for the job of Secretary of State; reporters quizzed him at length about what it was like to be interviewed for a job by President-Elect Trump.
What does it look like from their perspective? Here is a picture of reporters looking for something from Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ).
If a Senator just misses the one of the subway trains, sometimes they have to wait for about two minutes for the next one – and that’s when we move in quickly with questions.
Below, Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) speaks to a few reporters; in the background, you can see Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) in a wheelchair. Kirk suffered a stroke in early 2012.
Over on the House side of the Capitol, unfortunately they have many more restrictions on where you can use a camera – and so I have no photos to offer of the ornate room known as the Speaker’s Lobby, where reporters are able to interview lawmakers when the House is in session.
But, thanks to C-SPAN and the Curator of the House, here is a wonderful video that takes you inside the Speaker’s Lobby.
Honestly, when I saw this video, my mouth dropped open. This is an area where cameras are not allowed. As she says, this is not a place where most people can go.
For male reporters to get into the Speaker’s Lobby, you must wear a jacket and tie. It is by far the best place to hang out in the Capitol in terms of being a reporter; you can send cards in to ask lawmakers to come off the floor for an interview, or just wait to see who walks through.
Below is a picture (from the Library of Congress) of the Speaker’s Lobby from the opposite side, which is the Democratic side of the Speaker’s Lobby; you can see the portrait of Speaker Tip O’Neill (D-MA) on the right.
Since we are not allowed to take photos on the second floor around the House chamber, we have to find other places to catch House members – and mainly that is down in the bowels of the Capitol, where Republicans and Democrats have their weekly caucus meetings.
The picture below is in a hallway outside the room where the House GOP meets, and is often lined with reporters on a Wednesday or Thursday morning, waiting for Republicans to talk about their strategy session.
In the middle there is Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY), the top liaison in the House for the Trump Transition.
From the basement, we can now go up to the third floor and the House Radio TV Press Gallery, where I have a second broadcast booth.
If you thought my work space in the Senate was small, this is even tighter – basically, I’m working out of a window well. But it’s worth it.
From the outside, you can see that there is no room for me to have a chair – so there is just a stool – in this spot. It’s small.
In fact, things are so small my House booth, that I used velcro to attach a tape recorder and other gear to the wall, in order to give myself some extra room.
But as I mentioned, there is a payoff – and that is the view down the National Mall.
This is where I have been for the last eight inaugurations, and I will be there again on January 20, looking out my window at President Trump.
As on the Senate side, radio and TV reporters are crammed into a small area in our House work space, with all the major networks and others on top of each other. It is so small that all the doors simply slide open, rather than pull out or push in.
So, there’s a little look behind the curtain at how we do our jobs inside the U.S. Capitol. It’s a great place to work.
About the Author
Jamie Dupree is the Radio News Director of the Washington Bureau of the Cox Media Group and writes the Washington Insider blog. A native of Washington, D.C., Jamie has covered Congress and politics in the nation’s capital since the Reagan Administration, and has been reporting for Cox since 1989.