Behind the Scenes: US Senate Daily Press Gallery

Inside the gallery where credentialed writers, including Mark Twain, have reported scoops for more than a century.

Photograph by Ron Blunt.

Reporters no longer slip into a phone booth to dictate scoops to the rewrite desk—except on Capitol Hill, where traditions die hard. In the US Senate Daily Press Gallery, a row of wooden phone booths stands proud, even if they’re only to keep cell-phone conversations private. The suite of rooms on the third floor of the Capitol, overlooking the Supreme Court, replaced the Reporters Gallery, seats above the old Senate chamber that were allotted to the press in 1841. Today 80 seats are parceled out to reporters, including magazine and broadcast correspondents, who have their own offices. The Daily Press Gallery—with its floral-patterned Moroccan-tile floor and now unused fireplaces—was added during a vast expansion of the Capitol in the mid-1800s. Mark Twain was among the gallery’s thousands of credentialed correspondents, as was Frederick Douglass, who was one of the very few African-American members of the gallery in 1870, as owner of the post-abolition newspaper the New National Era. Neither man may have imagined publications with names like BuzzFeed, but they would have recognized the reporters snoozing on the gallery’s sofas during Texas senator Ted Cruz’s recent filibuster, part of a grand old tradition.

This article appears in the July 2014 issue of Washingtonian.