GOP Retreat Offers Limited Access (Updated)
Posted at 11:46 a.m. on Jan. 30, 2014
Updated 2:04 p.m. Jan. 31 | When Republicans decided to take their annual retreat to Cambridge, Md., they weren’t just retreating from Washington, D.C. — they were retreating from the Washington press corps as well.
Sequestered in a hotel restaurant called the Blue Point, the press looks poised to enjoy limited access to members as the GOP takes up major policy proposals that could shape Congress and elections for years to come.
As Thursday morning began, a Capitol police officer warned members of the press that if they went near the hotel where Republicans were meeting, they could have their press credentials revoked for the remainder of the retreat.
Instead of talking to members and recording organic reactions to the meetings, reporters were expected to sit in a detached restaurant about 400 yards away from the hotel where Republicans were meeting and were forced to rely on Capitol police to bring GOP leadership and select members to them for occasional press conferences.
The strategy reduces the chances that members such as Rep. Steve King of Iowa will air his grievances with the GOP immigration plan before leadership can put a lid on him, and it means the press, assembled from various Capitol Hill and national publications, will likely report similar stories after covering the same press conferences and hearing from the same members.
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden of Oregon was expected to make an appearance Thursday afternoon, as well as a group of GOP women.
If a reporter wants to meet with a different lawmaker, the protocol is to email a GOP leadership press aide, who would then forward that request to the member. Nate Hodson, the communications director for GOP Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, said this was nothing out of the ordinary.
“The member retreat has always been an off the record conversation for our conference — an opportunity to talk candidly about the problems they want to solve without reporters in the room,” Hodson said in a statement to CQ Roll Call.
Update 2:04 p.m. Jan. 31
On Friday, Republicans canceled their scheduled news conference with GOP leaders and provided no access to members. That means the final news conference at the GOP retreat was held on Thursday afternoon with six Republicans under the age of 40, and the only news conference with GOP leadership was held on Thursday morning before much of the discussion at the retreat took place.
In a statement to CQ Roll Call, GOP conference spokesman Nate Hodson downplayed the lack of access.
“The most important conversations here are the member-driven discussions about the problems they want to solve on behalf of the American people not banter with reporters,” Hodson said.