Reporters face tougher Capitol security restrictions after Trump protester breach

Reporters face tougher Capitol security restrictions after Trump protester breach
© Greg Nash
Members of the congressional press corps faced unusually heavy security restrictions on Tuesday, an apparent consequence of a protester hiding among reporters to throw Russian flags at President Trump last week.
 
Vice President Pence was on Capitol Hill Tuesday to meet with lawmakers on the eve of the House GOP unveiling its tax-reform legislation. Pence regularly attends the weekly lunch with Republican senators to discuss legislative strategy.
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But reporters who regularly cover the Senate complained of particularly onerous security restrictions that hampered their typically free access throughout the Capitol to speak with lawmakers.
 
On Tuesday, police shut down the entire second floor of the Senate side of the Capitol for about 25 minutes. Police said the floor was shut down to secure the Capitol for Pence’s arrival at the Senate GOP lunch.
 
There were also a higher number of U.S. Capitol Police officers on hand, who were checking the IDs of all reporters walking near the room across from the Senate chamber where Pence had lunch.
 
A spokeswoman for the Capitol Police maintained that officers were following established protocol for visits by dignitaries.
 
“The United States Capitol Police have not introduced any changes to the access that the media have within the U.S. Capitol. We are simply enforcing the current rules and protocols already in place to ensure the safety and security of elected officials, Members of Congress, staff, visitors, and members of the press,” Eva Malecki said.
 
Journalists on Capitol Hill viewed the beefed-up security presence as a result of a protester sneaking into the area where Trump met with GOP senators last week.
 
Capitol Police arrested Ryan Clayton, a member of “Americans Take Action,” last Tuesday for throwing Russian flags at the president and yelling “Trump is treason.” 
 
It’s still unclear how Clayton got past security checkpoints to hide among reporters, who were staking out the lunch to catch a view of Trump as he passed by with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHillary Clinton: Voter suppression has led to 'crisis in democracy' in the US New York Times authors blame Kavanaugh correction on editing error: 'There was zero intent to mislead' The Hill's Morning Report - What is Trump's next move on Iran? MORE (R-Ky.).
 
Earlier Tuesday, the Standing Committee of Correspondents, which works to maintain media access in the Capitol, sent a letter to the Capitol Police registering objections to reporters being singled out for heightened scrutiny.
 
Billy House of Bloomberg News, the standing committee’s chairman, said that Capitol Police officers were restricting reporters’ access near the area on the first floor on the House side where Pence has a ceremonial office.
 
“Capitol Police are seizing on their own inability last week to prevent one protester from getting into the building and throwing cloth at the president to crack down on reporter movements in the building,” House wrote on Twitter.
 
The Capitol Police does often restrict movement when top-level officials visit the Capitol, such as the president or foreign dignitaries. But Senate reporters said the security posture around Pence’s weekly visit was stricter than usual.
 
Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer, Pelosi push Trump to back universal background check bill Sinema says she would back Kennedy in race against Markey Democrats threaten to withhold defense votes over wall MORE (D-N.Y.) said that his office and the Senate Rules Committee are reviewing the enhanced security measures in response to reporters’ complaints. 
 
“Before I begin, I just want to say that I understand that many reporters have faced greater scrutiny when moving around the Capitol today, and obviously reporters are some of the last people who should face unwarranted restrictions. My office and the Rules Committee are looking into a remedy as soon as possible,” Schumer said at the top of a press conference.
 
It’s not the first time this year that reporters on Capitol Hill have faced new restrictions.
 
Senate Republicans briefly cracked down on media access in June by instructing reporters that they could no longer film or record audio of interviews in Senate hallways without special permission. But Republicans quickly backed off following public backlash.
 
At the time, Senate Republicans were under intense scrutiny for not holding public hearings or markup sessions on their legislation to repeal and replace ObamaCare. The health-care debate was drawing record numbers of reporters to the Capitol, leading to concerns about overcrowding.