“Most of what happens in committee hearings isn’t oversight, it’s showmanship. Senators make speeches that get chopped up, shipped to home-state TV stations, and blasted across social media. They aren’t trying to learn from witnesses, uncover details, or improve legislation. They’re competing for sound bites,” the first-term lawmaker wrote in an op-ed, floating proposals he said would “make the Senate great again.”
The only committee that often operates without cameras, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, sees the benefits, Sasse said.
“Without posturing for cameras, Republicans and Democrats cooperate on some of America’s most complicated and urgent problems. Other committees could follow their example, while keeping transparency by making transcripts and real-time audio available to the public,” he added.
The first television broadcast from the Senate chamber took place on Dec. 19, 1974.
The audience watched as Nelson Rockefeller, the former New York governor, took the oath of office to become vice president following Gerald Ford becoming president after Richard Nixon’s resignation.
Regular television coverage of Senate proceedings didn’t start until 1986.
Some recent hearings have attracted millions of viewers, such as last year’s vetting of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Sasse told Fox News the Senate is meant to deliberate, thinking carefully about the country’s longterm future, but lawmakers have become too concerned about getting retweets on Twitter.
“The average Senate committee hearing today is a theater competition; whoever puts on the best show wins. The incentive structure around the Senate is upside-down. Short-term posturing is rewarded, and long-term problem-solving is penalized,” he said.
Removing cameras would create an atmosphere for substantive and candid conversations, the senator alleged.
“Let’s be clear, too: Eliminating cameras does not mean eliminating transparency. That’s a false choice. We can ensure the public’s right to real, radical transparency through readily available audio recordings and written transcripts,” he said.
Sasse clarified that recordings and transcripts should be made available “immediately” to ensure transparency if cameras were taken out of hearings.
Sasse’s other ideas included limiting senators to a single 12-year term and encouraging senators to live, eat, and work in dormitories when the Senate is in session.
Most colleagues expressed support for the overarching idea that the Senate is broken and needs to be fixed following the publication of the op-ed, the Nebraskan asserted.
“Now is the time for out-of-the-box ideas. Once upon a time, the Senate was the world’s greatest deliberative body. Let’s make it great again,” he said.