Media Banished From Democrats' Retreat

The House Democrats have banned reporters from the hotel where they are holding their annual retreat for three days this week. The Democratic Members of Congress are staying at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa and Marina in Cambridge, MD. The media, however, are staying at the Holiday Inn Express, which is almost two miles away.

The Capitol Hill press corps’ only access to the minority party is at the once daily formal press conference at the Holiday Inn and a shuttle bus to hear Vice President Biden give an address. President Obama is also attending on Friday, but the Capitol Hill press is not allowed to be at the Hyatt to hear him speak.

House Democrat aides say that the media separation was done to give the Members more privacy.

“We’d like to create an atmosphere for the Members to come together and talk in a candid way,” said a Democratic aide. “We’ve accommodated the press to the best of our abilities with leadership availabilities and providing access to the Vice President. But, first and foremost, this is a Members’ conference.”
In contrast, the Republicans allowed the media to stay in the same hotel at their retreat last weekend in Baltimore, MD. Reporters had full and free access to the GOP Members throughout the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront, except for one floor designated for the Member-only meetings.  The Republicans often talked to the press in in the hotel lobby, dining areas, and on the elevators.

“Republicans have been very open and transparent about our goals for the 112th Congress — we’re going to cut government spending so that the economy can grow and create jobs,” said Laena Fallon, the press secretary to Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.)  “As such, we were happy to have the press join us at our annual retreat in Baltimore last week.”

Also, the Democrats say that the media is not allowed at the hotel because of security concerns for the President’s visit. Obama spoke last year at the Republican retreat in Baltimore, and press access was not a security concern. So why is a presidential visit affecting press access this year?

“We have been provided with guidance by the Capitol Police and the Sergeant-at-Arms about the limitations of the logistics on the property,” said a Democratic aide. He conceded, however, that “first and foremost, this is a Members’ conference.”

The aide also said that the President is not giving a speech to the Democrats –as he did at the Republican retreat — which somehow affects the security.

The President gave a speech, at a podium, to the Republicans last year,” said the Democratic aide. “We created an agenda this year where he is going around talking to members face to face on a personal level. He’s making brief remarks, but it’s not to the extent that it was at the Republican conference.”

The Democrats and Republicans have retreats at the beginning of each year to set their agenda, determine strategy, and discuss policy issues. The relaxed setting of the retreats is emphasized by the inclusion the Members’ spouses and children.

The Democratic Caucus, which organized the retreat, put out a “press accommodations guide” for reporters. The document states that, “although accommodations for the press will not be available at the Hyatt, there are several nearby hotels available to stay.” The three hotels listed are the Holiday Inn Express, Days Inn Hotel, and Comfort Inn and Suites.

The House Republican Conference, meanwhile, put out a statement which gave all credentialed reporters full access to the hotel and the Members. “Reporters wishing to cover the event must have a Congressional press ID and are invited to attend Friday and Saturday,” wrote the GOP Conference.

Also, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) spent 90 minutes in an off-the-record meeting with about 20 reporters on Friday night. He held the same informal meeting with the press at the retreat last year. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) does not hold off-the-record meetings with reporters.

The Caucus also released a media schedule, that listed a total of four media availabilities, all at the Holiday Inn Express.

The Democratic leadership of Pelosi, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD.) and the rest of the team are only scheduled to be available to the media one time on Friday morning.

Two of the other media events are not expected to be newsworthy. Democratic Caucus Chair John Larson (D-Conn.) and the Vice Chair Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) held a “pen and pad” at the media’s hotel on Thursday afternoon. On Saturday morning, unnamed Democrats will hold a “Issues Conference Wrap-Up” for the media at the Holiday Inn.

Vice President Joe Biden’s remarks will be at the retreat on Friday and his remarks will be open to the media. The Caucus is using a shuttle bus to bring the reporters to and from the Vice President’s speech.

So what’s the real reason that the Democrats are hiding from the press on the Eastern Shore of Maryland this weekend?

“The Dems are scared what their Members might say to reporters,” said a GOP aide. “It shows a total lack of confidence.”