Advertisement

Republican senator unilaterally moves to restrict press access at the Capitol

As Republicans draft their health care bill in secret, Senate staff cracks down on reporters.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is surrounded by reporters as he leaves a briefing of the full Senate by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, amid controversy over President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, at the Capitol, Thursday, May 18, 2017, in Washington. CREDIT: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is surrounded by reporters as he leaves a briefing of the full Senate by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, amid controversy over President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, at the Capitol, Thursday, May 18, 2017, in Washington. CREDIT: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

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.

Hunt added that Senate staff said the conditions for interviewing lawmakers now include “previously granted permission from senator AND Rules Committee of Senate.”

Advertisement

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.

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.”

Advertisement

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.

Kirsten Hartman, a spokesperson for Klobuchar, told ThinkProgress she does not have any information about why the change came about.

Advertisement

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.”

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.