A number of Capitol Hill reporters said on Tuesday that they have been told that they can no longer stake out Capitol hallways to get on-camera interviews with senators.
Kasie Hunt, NBC News Capitol Hill correspondent, wrote on Twitter that they were told to stop filming in the hallways, “contrary to years of precedent.” She said that they were told that the decision came from the Senate Rules Committee, and that they were to obtain permission from the committee before conducting interviews.
Other journalists reported being informed of the restrictions by the Senate Radio and TV Press Gallery, and that the restrictions also included obtaining permission from the interview subject in advance of conducting one.
But Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, issued a statement in which he said that the committee “has made no changes to the existing rules governing press coverage on the Senate side of the Capitol complex.”
“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 Senate offices to the Capitol,” he said.
That raised the question of whether the Senate was merely enforcing a rule that has been on the books but seldom enforced.
TV journalists have for years relied on the open hallway access as a way of catching lawmakers between hearings and other events, and their interviews are a common part of news coverage.
Word of restricted press access came as a surprise to some senators, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who is the ranking member of the Rules Committee. She called on the Senate majority “to allow reporting in the Capitol to proceed as usual.”
Later, though, she wrote on Twitter that she had talked to Shelby, who told her that “he wouldn’t move forward on change to press access without consulting me and we must hold him to it.”
Later, in a meeting with reporters, Klobuchar suggested that what was happening was “arbitrary enforcement if a rule that was against common practice on the very day that Attorney General Sessions was set to testify,” according to NBC News producer Frank Thorp V.
Some Senate Democrats connected reporters’ restrictions to Republican efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Efforts to craft legislation have been taking place behind closed doors.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote that “press access should never be restricted unfairly, particularly when one party is trying to sneak a major bill through Congress.”
Update: A number of reporters said later on Tuesday that the restrictions have been lifted, following the pushback.