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Next Majority Leader Should Bring Back Pen-and-Pad Sessions | Commentary

To the next Majority Leader,

We are writing to encourage the next majority leader of the House to bring back the tradition of weekly pen-and-pad media availabilities.

For years, if not decades, majority leaders from both parties have participated in the time-honored tradition of holding a “pen-and-pad” session once a week to interact with, and answer questions from, the Capitol Hill press corps. Both candidates for majority leader list “transparency in government” as an ideal they strive to achieve, and we believe interfacing regularly with the Capitol Hill press corps is an important step towards that goal.

In November 2011, after holding pen-and-pads for less than a year, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., ended the practice, claiming that as a result of complaints from a number of outlets they were “evaluating the usefulness of this venue to members of the press heading into the new year.” Members from each of the news galleries urged his office to bring pen-and-pads back, but the majority leader’s staff did not believe it was in their interest to do so.

These meetings are crucial to our ability to follow the agenda of the majority party of the House, as the majority leader must not only have a keen understanding of his or her members, but also must set the legislative schedule from week-to-week.

Former House Majority Leaders Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, both held regular pen-and-pads, and former House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., held them when Democrats had the majority from 2007 to 2011. Hoyer has continued the practice now as minority whip, but unfortunately, the current House majority no longer has a member of leadership who interfaces with the press in this way.

We are united as the elected representatives for the Daily, Periodical and Radio & Television galleries in our call for the next majority leader to bring back pen-and-pads in the name of transparency and access. These sessions are an invaluable resource that we believe should be reintroduced as a weekly ritual.

We look forward to working with, and covering, the next majority leader as we strive for the transparency in government that both members of Congress, and the press who cover them, work every day to achieve.

Siobhan Hughes is a Capitol Hill reporter for the Wall Street Journal and chairwoman of the Daily Press Gallery Standing Committee of Correspondents. Heather Rothman covers tax legislation at Bloomberg BNA and is chairwoman of the Periodical Gallery Standing Committee of Correspondents. Frank Thorp V is a Capitol Hill producer and off-air reporter at NBC News. He is also chairman of the Radio and Television Correspondents Executive Committee.