The Senate Rules Committee is stepping up oversight of the number of TV cameras in the halls of the Capitol, and media outlets and Democratic senators are worried about press access.
Reporters tweeted on Tuesday that a new rule in the Senate will call for reporters to get approval before filming interviews with senators in hallways, a fixture of the fast-paced media environment on Capitol Hill. Reporters regularly grab senators for quick comment as they walk between meetings and hearings.
A source from the Senate Rules Committee, which made the directive, said that the change was not an effort to hinder press access, but that the committee wants to gather interview requests so that the Senate Radio & Television Correspondents Gallery — which organizes media access in the Capitol — can audit the approval process.
Sen. Richard Shelby, a Republican who chairs the Rules Committee, said in a statement that the committee had not made changes to the existing rules. A spokesperson for Shelby told BuzzFeed News that reporters should operate as normal as the committee reviews the rules.
There have been complaints about the hectic media frenzy in the Capitol recently, with reporters and members of Congress stuffed shoulder to shoulder in the halls.
But reporters and some Democratic senators are arguing that forcing reporters to get approval for every interview would seriously obstruct news outlets' abilities to report from Capitol Hill, and relay information to the public.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the top Democrat on the Rules Committee, tweeted calling on the majority to "allow reporting in the Capitol to proceed as usual."
Other Democratic senators accused Republicans of trying to skirt transparency, especially in the midst of the debate over repealing Obamacare.
Republican Sen. Bob Corker told reporters that his office was inquiring as to the exact nature of the rule. On the optics of the move, which coincides with senators putting together their own health care bill behind closed doors, he said "I understand in tandem it's maybe not so good."
But, he said, "As you know I'm always happy to talk to y'all."
Klobuchar later tweeted that she had spoken with Chair Shelby, who "said he wouldn't move forward on change to press access without consulting" her. "We must hold him to it," she said.
Sen. Tim Scott suggested one justification for cracking down on TV cameras was that they could catch the PINs of senators using ATMs.
But North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, chair of the intelligence committee, shut down the idea that the change had anything to do with reporters speaking with him at an ATM on the day James Comey testified before his committee.
Asked about the new rules, he said, "I don't know what they are, what are they?"
"I don't have a concern," he said, when asked about talk that Republican senators' concerns about the press had prompted the changes.
"It's not coming from me," he said.
Alexis Levinson, Emma Loop, and Paul McLeod contributed reporting.
Steven Perlberg is a media and politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. His PGP fingerprint is 0ACB FA3B AC49 D43C 79C4 8DE5 3C06 7521 F4EC 3AA5
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