Impeachment hearing room ready for TV close-up

The House Ways and Means Committee hearing room, the largest hearing room in the House, is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The first nationally televised public hearing in the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump will be held Wednesday in the House’s largest hearing room, an ornate space built in an era when TV was still years away from being beamed into most Americans’ living rooms.

But many will also remember it for the closely watched 2015 hearing in which former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified about the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

The House Ways and Means Committee hearing room in the Longworth Office Building served as the temporary home of the full House of Representatives while the House Chamber underwent renovations between 1949 and 1951. The spacious room includes large curtains behind the seating area for lawmakers, as well as space for 150 leather chairs for those in attendance.

The big space will allow for seven cameras to be set up in the hearing room, whereas a lower-profile hearing might have three, said Jon Kelley, assignment desk manager for C-SPAN, which will be the video pool to the networks for the historic hearing.

Kelley and his experienced staff have been busy planning for the hearing and fully understand the historical weight it will carry, since only two previous impeachment proceedings have taken place in the television era, those of former President Richard Nixon and former President Bill Clinton.

“We recognize the historical significance of this and will be ready for it,” Kelley said.

He pointed out that most of the crew has decades of experience working for C-SPAN, which began televising Congress 40 years ago, starting with floor action in the House.

“We really count on our people that have done this for years,” he said. “We have the people that know the players, that know the story lines we should be following and are prepared to bring the right shot.”

Some members of the crew were among those who covered the Clinton impeachment proceedings more than two decades ago. Kelley was one of them.

Kelley also said the staff is also acutely aware of the need to show the hearing as straightforwardly as possible, with no hint of political bias.

“From our perspective, we work very hard — and it is a daily conversation here — about how we can make sure we’re covering all sides of an issue and present things evenly,” Kelley said.

The hearings begin Wednesday at 10 a.m. will stream them live.

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