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Fight escalates over planned impeachment press restrictions

The fight over potentially major restrictions on press access to the upcoming Senate impeachment trial escalated Wednesday as a second group of reporters formally asked Senate leaders to intervene.

“Speculative security worries must not override the ability of journalists to perform their jobs on Capitol Hill,” the Executive Committee of Periodical Correspondents wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHarris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year Feinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight MORE (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration Voters say Biden should make coronavirus vaccine a priority: poll New York City subway service could be slashed 40 percent, officials warn MORE (D-N.Y.).

The committee is a group of reporters who represent and advocate for credentialed media in the Senate periodical press gallery.

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The letter represents the latest pushback from reporters over a potential crackdown on press access during the Senate’s impeachment trial of President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSAID administrator tests positive for COVID-19 Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year DOJ appeals ruling preventing it from replacing Trump in E. Jean Carroll defamation lawsuit MORE

The Standing Committee of Correspondents on Tuesday also sent a letter to McConnell and Schumer protesting the planned restrictions.

Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: YouTube suspends OANN amid lawmaker pressure | Dems probe Facebook, Twitter over Georgia runoff | FCC reaffirms ZTE's national security risk Democrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff YouTube temporarily suspends OANN account after spreading coronavirus misinformation MORE (Minn.), the top Democrat on the Senate Rules Committee and a 2020 presidential candidate, told CBS on Tuesday night that she opposes the restrictions and has made her concerns known to Rules Committee Chairman Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntMcConnell wants deal this week on fiscal 2021 spending figures Graham becomes center of Georgia storm Republicans start turning the page on Trump era MORE (R-Mo.).

"No, I don't support it, and I have been in contact with both sides on this issue," she said. "I made it very clear, I talked to Sen. Blunt about this: I think we should have open access for the press."

The letter from the Periodical Committee said the plans, which include confining reporters to a single press pen and placing a magnetometer – which will require reporters to enter the chamber one by one after being screened by Capitol Police – within their primary workspace “will hinder journalists’ ability to fully and fairly perform their duties to inform the public of this historic event.” 

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“Any plan that blocks reporters from continuing conversations with senators is an unacceptable break from normal operations,” the committee wrote. “Any attempt to pen reporters away from lawmakers can only be viewed as a move to limit the public scrutiny of chamber proceedings.”

The Senate is not expected to hold a formal vote on the press restrictions as part of its process for establishing the impeachment rules, and not every Republican is on board with the restrictions. 

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) on Wednesday called the plans a "huge mistake,” adding that he does not "support" the proposed restrictions. 

"If the media is limited to a specific geographical area so people can avoid them — we're not children. We're grown men and grown women. ... I just think that sends the wrong message," he said.