Senate Rules Chair: No New Restrictions For On-Camera Interviews With Senators

Exterior view of the U.S. Capitol building at night Saturday, March 11, 2017 in Washington D.C.. (AJ Mast via AP Images)
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Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), chair of the Senate Rules Committee, on Tuesday said the panel has not imposed new restrictions on reporters conducting on-camera interviews with senators, despite reports that new barriers were put in place.

“The Rules Committee has made no changes to the existing rules governing press coverage on the Senate side of the Capitol complex,” Shelby said in a statement.

He said the committee “has been working with the various galleries to ensure compliance with existing rules in an effort to help provide a safe environment” but has not imposed new guidelines.

Reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday said they were informed of significant new restrictions for on-camera interviews conducted with senators.

NBC News’ Kasie Hunt said that “contrary to years of precedent,” reporters are no longer allowed to film interviews with senators in the hallways of office buildings, where lawmakers often make off-the-cuff remarks.

Reporters must also request permission from the Senate Rules Committee and the senator in question before conducting any interview, Hunt reported.

The Senate Sergeant at Arms and Doorkeeper’s Office referred TPM’s request for comment to the Senate Rules Committee, which did not immediately respond.

Other journalists were quick to confirm the rules change and weigh in on what the new restrictions meant for congressional coverage.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), the ranking member of the Senate Rules Committee, called for the restrictions to be removed.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) pointed out that the restrictions come as Republican senators have reportedly declined to publicly release their bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, instead sending it straight to the Congressional Budget Office for scoring.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) questioned the timing of the change.

“Maybe not the right moment to lower the secrecy veil,” he tweeted. “To whoever is trying to protect Senators – we can fend for ourselves.”

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) tweeted in solidarity with the media: “Reporters, I’m on your side.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was the first Republican to offer a typically candid comment on the restrictions.

A spokesman for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said they were unaware of the rules change until it had already been implemented.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) joked that Republicans are “worried” reporters will catch them drafting the health care bill in a “back room somewhere.”

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) expressed concern about the restrictions.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) offered the first defense of the restrictions.

Sen Ben. Sasse (R-NE) responded succinctly.

The Democratic National Committee released a statement condemning the rules change.

“Republican senators want so badly to hide their healthcare repeal that they’re barring the filming of interviews in their hallways,” DNC deputy communications director Adrienne Watson said. “This is a pathetic and disturbing attempt to silence the press.”

The Washington Post reported last week that the increasing press presence on Capitol Hill rivals the number of reporters present during the Watergate scandal or former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment.

One unnamed reporter warned the Washington Post: “We are one tripped senator away from losing our access.”

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