The Senate Rules Committee reportedly moved Tuesday to change its enforcement of the Senate’s rules on press access, according to NBC News Capitol Hill correspondent Kasie Hunt:
ALERT: Reporters at Capitol have been told they are not allow to film interviews with senators in hallways, contrary to years of precedent— Kasie Hunt (@kasie) June 13, 2017
CONDITIONS for any interview: Previously granted permission from senator AND Rules Committee of Senate— Kasie Hunt (@kasie) June 13, 2017
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
According to Hunt and tweets from other Hill reporters, journalists seeking hallway interviews with senators were told to seek permission from both the senators in question and the Senate Rules Committee’s chief counsel, an obviously burdensome requirement. A number of Democratic senators have tweeted objections to the change, including Rules Committee ranking member Amy Klobuchar, who called for a reversal:
As ranking member of the Senate Rules Committee I call on the majority to allow reporting in the Capitol to proceed as usual.— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) 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
Maybe not the right moment to lower the secrecy veil on Congress. To whoever is trying to protect Senators - we can fend for ourselves. https://t.co/YSbTuaIZKV— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) June 13, 2017
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
Amid the outcry, Rules Committee Chairman Richard Shelby released a statement clarifying that no actual changes to the rules on press access had been made. “The Committee has been working with the various [press] galleries to ensure compliance with existing rules,” it read. Hunt says that the changes to the enforcement of the rules nevertheless contradict long-standing norms on the Hill:
What matters is whether decades of precedent will be broken— Kasie Hunt (@kasie) June 13, 2017
So far we have not been told we are allowed to resume hallway interviews https://t.co/kP0lq8Xowq
Klobuchar has told reporters that Shelby assured her that changes wouldn’t have been implemented without consulting her and that enforcement had been altered as the result of a “staff inquiry.”
The change comes as Republican talks on their health care bill, which could jeopardize insurance coverage for millions of Americans, seem to be moving forward behind closed doors—no public hearings on it have been held, and the legislation has reportedly been sent directly to the Congressional Budget Office. Senate GOP aides have been telling reporters that there are no plans to make the bill available to the public. “We aren't stupid,” one told Axios’ Caitlin Owens.
Update June 13, 6:54 PM: Sen. Shelby told reporters this afternoon that the changes had been reversed. From the Hill:
Shelby told The Hill that his committee staff had acted without his knowledge after receiving complaints from other senators who sometimes feel hounded by reporters.
He instructed them to “stand down” and drop efforts to limit reporters’ activities.
“I know some of the staff talked to the people in the gallery and I think the Rules Committee talked to the Sergeant at Arms, not me,” Shelby said. “When I found out about it, I said stand down."
“We’re not going to change any rules, not unless we hold committee hearings,” he added.
Shelby said he hopes no additional restrictions will be placed on reporters, noting, “We all benefit from you, as long as you act civil.”