Senate restrictions on impeachment press coverage draw backlash

Reports of a planned crackdown on media access to the upcoming Senate impeachment trial of President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden campaign: Trump and former vice president will have phone call about coronavirus Esper: Military personnel could help treat coronavirus patients 'if push comes to shove' Schumer calls for military official to act as medical equipment czar MORE is drawing fierce criticism from members of the press.

The Standing Committee of Correspondents, a group of reporters who represent and advocate for credentialed media in the Senate daily press gallery, sent a forceful letter Tuesday to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Health Care: Trump resists pressure for nationwide stay-at-home order | Trump open to speaking to Biden about virus response | Fauci gets security detail | Outbreak creates emergency in nursing homes McConnell: Pelosi trying to 'jam' Senate on fourth coronavirus relief bill On The Money: House Dems push huge jobs project in wake of coronavirus | Trump leans on businesses in virus response | Lawmakers press IRS to get relief checks to seniors MORE (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerMcConnell launches ad touting role in passing coronavirus relief Joe Biden can't lead the charge from his home in Delaware Texas man arrested for allegedly threatening Democrats over coronavirus bill MORE (D-N.Y.), decrying the possible restrictions. 

The restrictions, which the committee said potentially include confining reporters to a single press pen on the second floor of the Senate, threaten to curtail reporters' access to senators during a historic impeachment trial.
 
On a normal day, reporters are free to try to talk with senators outside the Senate chamber, in the basement, or in the hallways of the Capitol. 
 
"Capitol Hill is one of the most accessible places in Washington, but the proposed restrictions exceed those put in place during the State of the Union, Inauguration Day, or even during the Clinton impeachment trial 20 years ago," the committee wrote.
 
 
The gallery committee said they had tried to work with the Rules Committee and the Senate's sergeant-at-arms, but every suggestion they made was rejected “without an explanation of how the restrictions contribute to safety rather than simply limit coverage of the trial.”
 
“These potential restrictions fail to acknowledge what currently works on Capitol Hill, or the way the American public expects to be able to follow a vital news event about their government in the digital age,” the letter said.
 
In 2017, Senate Republicans faced similar criticism for a sudden crackdown on media access, right in the middle of their effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. 
 
As crowds of reporters swelled to record numbers, the Senate Rules Committee put restrictions on the movements of reporters in the basement of the Capitol. In addition, TV reporters were no longer allowed to film or record audio of interviews in the Senate side hallways of the Capitol without special permission.
 
The restrictions were quickly lifted after pushback from lawmakers and reporters alike. 

Roll Call first reported on Tuesday that the Senate sergeant-at-arms and Capitol Police are adding restrictions on members of the press during the trial, including additional screening and new constraints on reporters' freedom of movement in the Capitol. 

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The decision reportedly came after a meeting between the Capitol’s chief security officials, Blunt and the standing committees of correspondents. 

The restrictions allow just one video camera and no still photography or audio recording in the trial. Credentialed reporters, who go through security screening to enter the Capitol, will be screened a second time to enter the Senate chamber to watch the trial proceedings to ensure no restricted materials enter the trial.

Senate press gallery staff, who fall under the Senate sergeant-at-arms and opposed the restrictions, will have to enforce the media restrictions.

Seung Min Kim, a White House reporter for The Washington Post, said in a tweet that “Excessive restrictions like these only hurt the public who are rightfully seeking up-to-date information on an incredibly historic event such as the third impeachment trial of a U.S. president in history.”

“I am floored,” Kim added. 

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Meanwhile, Niels Lesniewski, a Senate reporter with CQ Roll Call, tweeted that “United States senators aren't exactly huge fans of the free press, it turns out.”

 

— Updated at 6:50 p.m.