New Bill Seeks to Make On-Camera White House Press Briefings the Law

White House Briefing Room - Getty - H 2017
Chip Somodevilla/Getty

The congressman behind the proposed "Free Press Act" is concerned about "a withdrawal of the White House's commitment to briefings."

Rep. Jim Himes, a Connecticut Democrat, has long been disturbed by what he called "the vilification of the media" during the presidential campaign and during the first few months of the Trump administration. So, on Thursday, he introduced a piece of legislation — the "Free Press Act of 2017" — that would require the White House to hold at least two on-camera press briefings a week.

"As a politician, I know the media can be annoying, and sometimes they can get it wrong," Himes told The Hollywood Reporter on Friday. "But it's a really critical part of our democracy."

In the early days of the administration, the White House regularly held on-camera briefings conducted by press secretary Sean Spicer. But, over the last few weeks, those briefings have been much more infrequent, and cameras have generally been barred. Himes noticed what he said has been "a withdrawal of the White House's commitment to briefings."

The White House is not constitutionally required to hold press briefings, which are generally seen as a time-honored and nonpartisan tradition. Passing legislation to require briefings, he said, is "really the only way to make sure it happens."

Having the briefings on-camera is also important to Himes, who talked up the importance of non-verbal communication. Being able to bring cameras into the briefing room is also extremely important for the television networks, which have often interrupted regular programming to go live to the briefings and have been more hesitant to air audio-only editions.

With the House of Representatives controlled by the Republican Party, Himes knows his bill is a long shot. "I don't think my Republican colleagues are going to be anxious to annoy the White House with something like this," he said. But, he hopes the bill will bring more attention to the issue of press access.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the deputy White House press secretary, has of late become the de facto press briefer, even as she hasn't formally been given the role from Spicer. Spicer's last on-camera press briefing was in June. "Ever since Saturday Night Live struck gold with Melissa McCarthy, I suspected they might put him in the background a little bit," said Himes.

Sanders did not respond to an email request for comment on the bill.