The Senate on Tuesday began banning members of the media from interviewing lawmakers in the halls of the U.S. Capitol, according to multiple reporters.
As GOP senators draft their signature health care law in secret, refusing to share the text of the bill with the public or the media, TV reporters said they were approached in the halls by Senate staff who said they could no longer film interviews with lawmakers.
The reporters, who typically stake out members of Congress in the halls as they head to and from hearings, were not given prior notice.
NBC News’ Kasie Hunt and Marianna Sotomayor and Bloomberg TV’s Kevin Cirilli all said they were told to stop filming.
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
NBC's coverage teams & other TV outlets were waiting to get reactions from senators at several hearings when we were told to evacuate halls https://t.co/69dR5ouUk7
— Marianna Sotomayor (@MariannaNBCNews) June 13, 2017
I was just told I cannot stand outside of the Budget Committee hearing room to interview lawmakers. https://t.co/gBdkztGLfO
— Kevin Cirilli (@kevcirilli) June 13, 2017
Hunt added that Senate staff said the conditions for interviewing lawmakers now include “previously granted permission from senator AND Rules Committee of Senate.”
But Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, denied that any changes had been made. His statement did not explain why the enforcement of the alleged long-time rule began on Tuesday.
— Dylan Byers (@DylanByers) June 13, 2017
Last month, the officials who oversee the Senate press gallery wrote a letter to news organizations warning that “the Capitol has reached its capacity for reporters,” according to the Washington Post.
“Collectively, the press following Senators have become large and aggressive,” the letter continued. “We are concerned someone may get hurt.”
There have been no reported injuries of lawmakers or journalists in the Capitol. But Greg Gianforte, a Montana Republican who was sentenced to community service Monday for assaulting Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, will soon serve in Congress.
When a reporter asked Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) about the rules change, Graham told him that “of all the problems in America, y’all are pretty down the list.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), the ranking member of the Senate Rules Committee, said she opposed the change in procedure.
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
Kirsten Hartman, a spokesperson for Klobuchar, told ThinkProgress she does not have any information about why the change came about.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) also responded on Twitter, saying that now is “maybe not the right moment to lower the secrecy veil on Congress.”
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
The decision comes at a time of increased secrecy in the Capitol in general.
An aide for a Senate Republican told Axios on Monday that the GOP wouldn’t be releasing to the public text of its Obamacare replacement, which would likely take coverage away from millions of Americans. “We aren’t stupid,” one of the aides said.
Last week, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) delivered a three-minute scolding to the GOP during a committee meeting, claiming that “group of guys in a back room somewhere” are shaping the health care bill without input from Democrats or any female lawmakers.
UPDATE: The Senate Rules Committee reversed course Tuesday afternoon, telling Hunt that she “may continue to follow the rules as if it were yesterday,” when filming lawmakers in the hallways was permitted.
NEW: Senate Rules Committee reverses course on hallway interviews. "You may continue to follow the rules as if it was yesterday."
— Kasie Hunt (@kasie) June 13, 2017