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 McConnellTrump signs executive orders after coronavirus relief talks falter Coronavirus deal key to Republicans protecting Senate majority Coronavirus talks collapse as negotiators fail to reach deal MORE (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerWhite House officials, Democrats spar over legality, substance of executive orders Schumer declines to say whether Trump executive orders are legal: They don't 'do the job' Schumer: Idea that 0 unemployment benefit keeps workers away from jobs 'belittles the American people' 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 TrumpTrump suggests some states may 'pay nothing' as part of unemployment plan Trump denies White House asked about adding him to Mount Rushmore Trump, US face pivotal UN vote on Iran MORE

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

Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Senate Democrats push to include free phone calls for incarcerated people in next relief package Lobbying world 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 BluntSkepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal GOP expects Senate to be in session next week without coronavirus deal House Republicans introduce legislation to give states 0 million for elections 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.