December 19, 1974
The first television broadcast from the Senate Chamber occurred at 10:00 p.m. on December 19, 1974. That broadcast had nothing to do with C-SPAN, which did not yet exist, but it had everything to do with the scandals that rocked the Nixon administration and resulted in the resignations of both the vice president and the president. Federal prosecutors had investigated Vice President Spiro T. Agnew for accepting kickbacks while governor of Maryland. In October 1973 Agnew resigned as vice president after pleading no contest to a charge of failing to pay federal income taxes on the money he had received. Under the provisions of the 25th Amendment, President Nixon nominated Representative Gerald Ford to become vice president, and both houses of Congress quickly confirmed him. He took the oath on December 6, 1973.
Then on August 9, 1974, Nixon resigned as president to avoid impeachment and removal because of his role in the Watergate coverup. Now president, Gerald Ford nominated former New York governor Nelson Rockefeller as his vice president on August 20. Unlike Ford’s speedy confirmation, Governor Rockefeller’s hearings bogged down with questions over his presidential ambitions and his financial dealings. Rockefeller’s confirmation dragged on until the end of the year, and congressional leaders intimated that they might delay a vote until the new Congress convened in January. “You just can’t do that to the country,” President Ford complained to House Speaker Carl Albert and Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield. “You can’t do it to Nelson Rockefeller, and you can’t do it to me. It’s in the national interest that you confirm Rockefeller, and I’m asking you to move as soon as possible.” The Senate finally acted on December 10, and the House on December 19, 1974.
Two hours after the House voted, Rockefeller took the oath of office in the Senate Chamber before a live television audience. Why was that the first TV broadcast from the Senate Chamber? When President Nixon was under threat of impeachment, the Senate had quietly prepared to hold a trial. The leadership concluded that the American public needed to be able to view those proceedings, and that the public galleries would be inadequate to meet the demand. The Senate approved a resolution authorizing television coverage of an impeachment trial, should it be held. Television cameras were being installed just as President Nixon voluntarily resigned. No trial was held, but the cameras remained and were turned on to record the swearing in of the new vice president on December 19. The public thus caught a fleeting glimpse of the Senate Chamber, but once that ceremony ended, the cameras were removed. Not until 1986 did the Senate permit regular television coverage of its daily proceedings.