Republicans Break Precedent, Limit Press Access to Senators


Conditions for any interview must now include "previously-granted permission from senator and Rules Committee of Senate", a panel run by Republican Richard Shelby of Alabama, NBC News reported on Twitter.

Confusion took over the Capitol on Tuesday as rumors swirled that the Senate Sergeant at Arms and Rules Committee were restricting media access to members on Congress and staff around the Capitol complex. "Once in the dark, the government can hide and do whatever it wants, without either prior scrutiny or peeks [into] the process by the press". Yet a Senate Democratic aid told The Hill that the decision had been made unilaterally by Senate Rules Committee chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). Maybe you can tell them there's a draft of the health-care bill inside. "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 office to the Capitol".

Many noted that the change comes as Senate Republicans are trying to keep private the details of a health care bill.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told HuffPost that while reporters "are kind of a pain in the ass", he didn't mind them hanging around to ask questions.

In a statement, ACLU Political Director Faiz Shakir said the rules violate "the core values of our democracy". The Senate Press Gallery sent out a letter earlier in the year saying, "collectively, the press following Senators has become large and aggressive", warned that Capitol officials may be more vigorous with their crowd control, and set up ropes to cordon off reporters by the trains where senators move between their offices and the Capitol building.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of SC said journalists are "pretty down on the list" of problems in the USA, according to a Politico reporter. Shelby says no new rule has been enacted; they're simply enforcing existing rules.

The Senate Rules Committee didn't answer a phone call seeking a copy of the new rules and didn't immediately return a message seeking comment.

Word of restricted press access came as a surprise to some senators, including Sen.

"We're a press friendly operation around here", Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insisted to reporters. She declined to give her name and hung up.

Some reporters who spoke on the condition of anonymity also told CNNMoney that when they tried to schedule stakeouts, which would enable them to wait outside senators' offices to ask questions, on Tuesday, they were asked a series of questions to justify the request, including why they wanted permission and who they meant to speak with.

- CNN's Deirdre Walsh and Jeremy Herb contributed reporting.