Under consideration is a plan that would place reporters in a “pen” as senators enter and exit the chamber, a contrast to a more free-wheeling atmosphere on Capitol Hill in which reporters often gather around lawmakers to get their comments. Also being planned is an additional layer of security, so that reporters will be scanned by magnetometers at the door of the Chamber inside the Senate Press Gallery.
“Capitol Hill is one of the most accessible places in Washington, but the proposed restrictions exceed those put in place during the State of the Union, Inauguration Day or even during the Clinton impeachment trial 20 years ago,” wrote Sarah Wire, the chair of the Standing Committee of Correspondents, in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. The Standing Committee, made up of working reporters, oversees the credentialing of reporters at the Capitol and supervises the operations of the press gallery. Wire is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times
Other restrictions include limiting the ability of reporters to walk and talk with lawmakers as they exit the Senate subway and get on elevators to go up to the chamber.
“These potential restrictions fail to acknowledge what currently works on Capitol Hill, or the way the American public expects to be able to follow a vital news event about their government in the digital age,” Wire wrote.
Wire also wrote that the standing committee also had sought an exemption to a rule to allow for reporters to bring laptops in the chamber. But that looks unlikely. That will force journalists who want to report breaking news developments to exit the chamber and into the press gallery, where electronics are allowed, only to have to face security again when returning to the chamber.
“There is no additional safety or security brought by bringing such a device into reporter work space and gives the impression that it is being done mostly to protect Senators from the bright light of the public knowing what they are doing in one of the country’s most important moments,” Wire wrote.
Other reporters also decried the proposed new restrictions.
“The restrictions being placed on reporting in the Capitol during the impeachment trial are totally unacceptable,” CNN congressional correspondent Manu Raju wrote on Twitter. “Reporters need access to senators so the public knows their views about the evidence. These steps need to be reversed to allow press access of this historic event.”
The impeachment trial will be televised, but there will be moments when the Senate will go into closed session, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), the chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, told reporters on Tuesday, according to the Kansas City Star. The Senate Sergeant at Arms and the Capitol Police are implementing the new procedures as a security precaution, according to Roll Call, although Blunt also said that lawmakers had concerns over being able to navigate hallways crowded with media.
The restrictions were not in place during the House impeachment proceedings, although reporters had to obtain special credentials to cover hearings and the debate and vote on the articles.
The House will vote on Wednesday to approve a set of impeachment managers, or members who will prosecute the case in the Senate. After that, the House will transmit the articles of impeachment will be given to the Senate, in a formal ceremony in which trial managers walk from one side of the Capitol to the next. But Wire wrote that only a single pool camera with no audio is being allowed of that event. On its Twitter feed on Tuesday, C SPAN posted the moment from the 1999 impeachment proceedings of President Clinton.