Senate rules on Tuesday became a source of speculation and confusion after many reporters learned that they would no longer be able to record video and audio in the Senate hallways.
On Tuesday, some Capitol Hill reporters were told they were no longer allowed to record senators in the hallway, breaking with a longtime practice that allows reporters to question lawmakers in hallways in Capitol Hill buildings.
WHAT HAPPENED: Reporters were in hallways this morning per usual. Gallery staff were dispatched to issue verbal directive: Stop filming
— Kasie Hunt (@kasie) June 13, 2017
Reporters quickly condemned the decision, which was at first believed to be the result of a Senate Rules Committee change.
Senate Rules Committee and @SenateSAA trying to SHUT DOWN press access in halls. No more staking out hearings without permission. Not OK.
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) June 13, 2017
This includes the public office buildings, which are open to anyone. This is a very bad policy, designed to restrict coverage. Period. https://t.co/BBTThAEJ8F
— Phil Mattingly (@Phil_Mattingly) June 13, 2017
If you’re rooting for politicians to do their work without anyone watching or asking tough questions, congrats — you’re being played.
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) June 13, 2017
A number of senators also condemned the apparent move.
Senators shouldn’t need to hide. We serve the people & they have a right to know what we are doing. https://t.co/HqGadvoQQu
— Kamala Harris (@SenKamalaHarris) June 13, 2017
Huh? Maybe worried you will catch the group of guys writing health care bill in back room somewhere. https://t.co/tp5u2dFldh
— Claire McCaskill (@clairecmc) June 13, 2017
JOHN MCCAIN just told me that “of course” he opposes banning hallway interviews
“It wouldn’t be the same!” he says
— Kasie Hunt (@kasie) June 13, 2017
Sen. Richard Shelby attempted to slightly clarify the move, denying that the rules were changed.
“The Rules Committee has made no changes to the existing rules governing press coverage on the Senate side of the Capitol complex,” 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 for Members of Congress, the press corps, staff, and constituents, as they travel from the senate offices to the Capitol.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the ranking Democrat on the Rules Committee, confirmed that Shelby told her the rules about recording would not change without consulting her.
Just spoke with Senator Shelby. He said he wouldn’t move forward on change to press access without consulting me and we must hold him to it
— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) June 13, 2017
Klobuchar issued another statement further explaining what had happened.
“A few hours ago we heard – from reporters – that TV journalists were being kept from reporting in the Senate hallways,” she said in the statement. “As the ranking member on the Rules Committee, I had not been consulted and I immediately called on the Republican majority to follow common practice and allow the reporters to do their jobs.”
“Then I talked to Senator Shelby, who is the chairman of the Rules Committee. He said he wouldn’t move forward on a change to press access without consulting me. We must hold him to it. This is no time for limiting press access in the U.S. Senate – with Russia hearings, Attorney General Sessions testifying, and what appears to be the secretive drafting of a healthcare bill. We have to preserve freedom of the press.”
But even Shelby’s statement didn’t seem to quell concern about potential curtailing of camera access in Senate hallways.
Some reporters pointed out that the committee might be enforcing rules already on the books, although current rules allow videotaping and recording.
To be clear: Sen. Shelby isn’t necessarily backing down. He’s simply saying he’s not changing the rules, just enforcing the existing ones. https://t.co/IuIEroE0yV
— Dylan Byers (@DylanByers) June 13, 2017
Some Republicans and members of the press gallery in the Capitol have warned about safety concerns at a time of high news volatility, when that many reporters aggressively pursue lawmakers for quotes reacting to bombshell news reports and President Donald Trump’s statements.