How Scott Peters Foiled Blackout of House Sit-In

Scott Peters

Scott Peters

By Ken Stone, Times of San Diego

SAN DIEGO — Score one for Twitter over Facebook — and for Rep. Scott Peters over a blackout of House history.

The San Diego Democrat, who turned 58 on Friday, turned to a pair of twentysomething press aides to be the first and primary broadcaster Wednesday of an unprecedented Democratic sit-in over gun control in the House of Representatives.

Press assistant Quin La Capra said she and press secretary Jacob Peters (no relation) were “sort of brainstorming” Wednesday morning over how to share the Democrats’ protest.

“It really was mainly a decision of whether we wanted to go with Periscope or Facebook Live,” La Capra told Times of San Diego. “And since Scott is more active on Twitter, I think he determined that Periscope would just be the easier external app to download.”

La Capra, a Boston University journalism graduate, has been on the job since February and manages Peters’ social media accounts, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Flikr and Tumblr.

“We’re going to be here for as long as it takes,” she said late Wednesday night in a phone interview. “We’re not positive what’s going to be going on with the official House floor schedule. … But — as we’ve been saying — we have no intention of leaving.”

Peters stepped out for several interviews, but mostly he either held his smartphone steady or used a ledge to prop up the device connected to his personal Twitter account, she said.

“They did not let us bring an official tripod onto the floor,” La Capra said. “We actually have a slew of mobile chargers that we’ve been alternating throughout the night” — five different ones including a Sony. “We’ve been switching them out so that it’s charged at all times, so we can keep this stream going for as long as he’s down there.”

Peters was still live-streaming after 10 p.m. Pacific time. Neglecting to name his videos (they’re allcalled “Untitled”), he shot more than two dozen times.

Rep. Eric Swalwell of San Francisco’s East Bay area also used Periscope to air speeches. C-SPAN saidit also used Periscope or Facebook feeds from Reps. Mark Takano of Riverside, Beto O’Rourke of Texas and Don Beyer of Virginia.

La Capra said other Hill staffers were “really grateful for our leadership in initiating the Periscope live-stream.” Congressional aides were especially grateful that someone was getting a video record.

“When their bosses spoke, we were able to provide them with that footage as well,” she said. “It did a lot to amplify our united message.”

When Peters’ turn came to speak about 5:30 p.m. Pacific, he began: “We have a rule in the House that you’re not supposed to take pictures when the House is in session. We’re not. I noticed that Mr. [John] Lewis was sitting on the floor in the [House] well. I don’t think that’s in the rules either.”

The House went into recess as lawmakers sat on the House floor, and C-SPAN‘s cameras were turned off under House rules.

Peters said it was wrong that the public wasn’t being shown what was going on.

“It turns out that there’s an app for that,” he said.

A frustrated Peters was shown how to use Periscope app to broadcast live video, which later was live-streamed by C-SPAN and hailed by the likes of filmmaker Michael Moore.

Peters said if House leadership turned the cameras back on, “we’ll turn our cameras off. That’s our deal.”

The 52nd District congressman told of his now grown children being able to come home from first grade, church, movies and college.

“So far they’re coming back from” nightclubs, said Peters, one of a reported 168 House Democrats — out of 188 — and 34 Senate Democrats joining the protest. “But who should have to live in fear of that?”

Peters recounted how he’s “tired of every day” reading the names of victims of gun violence — and not just from publicized shootings.

“We’re not asking to export California’s gun laws to Wisconsin or Alabama or Pennsylvania,” Peters said. He joined others in calling for votes to close the loophole that allows firearms to be sold at gun shows without a background check. And: “If you’re a sworn enemy of the United States, and someone is willing to fight with ISIS, we’re saying: Don’t sell that person a gun.”

He concluded 3 minutes of comments by saying: “We’re not asking for much. We just want a chance to vote. We may lose, folks — we understand that. But at least we’ll have given people a chance to see their government work.”

Earlier, Peters tweeted: “No official footage at the moment. We’ve been using Periscope & Snapchat when we can until they #TurnOntheCameras.”

Democrats have been pressing for action on gun control before the House leaves at the end of this week for a planned recess.

“After the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, Congress still refuses to act. We’ll be here until that changes,” Peters tweeted.

Two other Democrats from the San Diego delegation, Susan Davis and Juan Vargas, also joined the sit-in.

Howard Mortman, C-SPAN’s director of communications, told Gizmodo.com that this was the network’s first extended Periscope broadcast.

“We’ve incorporated Periscope before as needed, for event coverage, to add color,” he was quoted as saying, but this was the “first continuous use of Periscope.” Mortman said that the network had asked for independent control of House cameras, but had been denied.

Peters told Reuters he downloaded Periscope from the House floor after it became clear that chamber cameras were not operating.

“The speaker (Paul Ryan) controls the cameras,” Peters said. “We noticed that over lunch, he turned them off – allowed them to be turned off.”

Tweets from Peters’ account with the Periscope footage were viewed over 800,000 times Wednesday night, Twitter told Reuters.

Press aide La Capra said: “We’re pretty lucky to have a boss that’s tech-savvy.”

Peters Tweet

— Chris Jennewein contributed to this report.

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