Democratic senators expressed outrage Tuesday after reporters covering the Senate were told they can no longer film interviews with senators in the hallways outside their offices.
Staff members of the Senate Radio and Television Correspondents Gallery told reporters late Tuesday morning they would not be allowed to film interviews with senators without prior permission from that senator’s office and the Senate Rules Committee.
Democratic lawmakers quickly took to Twitter to slam the move. Many noted that the change comes as Senate Republicans are trying to keep private the details of a health care bill.
Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, the Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, said Tuesday that the Committee had “made no changes to the existing rules governing press coverage,” but that it was “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.”
Hours later, Shelby’s spokesperson told CNN that the decision has been suspended while his committee reviews the matter.
“As of now, the Rules Committee is simply examining what the rules are,” the spokesperson said. “While the Rules Committee is reviewing the rules, reporters should continue to operate as they were operating yesterday.”
On Tuesday, Democrats cited the move as an attempt to cover up what exactly is happening with the health bill.
“Press access should never be restricted unfairly, particularly not when one party is trying to sneak a major bill through Congress,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted.
“Senators shouldn’t need to hide. We serve the people & they have a right to know what we are doing,” Sen. Kamala Harris tweeted.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the decision a “shame.”
More than a dozen other Democratic senators blasted the move on Twitter.
As of mid-Tuesday afternoon, only a handful of Republicans had spoken out against the new restriction.
“I can’t answer questions all day long and these stakeout things need to be better regulated, but I want you to have access to us, inform your readers inform your viewers of what we’re trying to do,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told reporters. “Of all the problems in America, ya’ll are pretty down on the list.”
Republican Sen. Ben Sasse simply tweeted, “This is a bad idea.”
Buzzfeed reporter Paul McLeod said Sen. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican, tried to explain the decision by suggesting that press cameras could capture senators’ financial information when they use the ATM machines.
This is apparently a reference to when Republican Sen. Richard Burr was questioned by reporters while withdrawing money from an ATM last week — but he was in an area where cameras are already not allowed. There were no cameras around as he spoke to reporters.