Senators from both parties have criticized the Senate as it prepares to put in place strict limitations on reporters covering the impeachment proceedings, which would restrict the media from questioning lawmakers, limit reporters’ movements, and ban laptops and cellphones inside the Senate chamber.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) of the Senate Intelligence Committee and chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, announced the restrictions launched by the Senate sergeant-at-arms and Capitol Police on Jan. 14. Blunt explained that under its impeachment rules, the Senate would enter a closed session at certain times during the debate.
“I mean closed session. I mean there will be nobody there but senators and essential staff. No cameras, no C-Span, no coverage, what the rules say happened last time,” Blunt told reporters, referring to the 1999 trial of former President Bill Clinton.
C-SPAN does not control cameras in the Senate.
READ: C-SPAN letter to Leader McConnell requesting our cameras be allowed into the Senate Chamber to cover the Senate Impeachment Trial. https://t.co/SSCXROyC8v
Senate leaders say no decision has been made. pic.twitter.com/Os8tdTTBqe
— CSPAN (@cspan) January 15, 2020
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) condemned the proposed press restrictions, writing on Twitter that they “go against the constitutional right of freedom of the press.”
The rules “have absolutely nothing to do with ensuring security,” Warren continued. “The American people need and deserve transparency and accountability during the impeachment trial.”
These restrictions on the press go against the constitutional right of freedom of the press, and have absolutely nothing to do with ensuring security. The American people need and deserve transparency and accountability during the impeachment trial. https://t.co/OrZoU4zsJ4
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) January 15, 2020
A preliminary security plan would significantly limit the movement of credentialed media members. Journalists would be restricted to a designated area and could only speak to senators who approached them. Under normal conditions, credentialed journalists can informally approach lawmakers in the hallways or on the way to the elevator or the Senate subway.
Members of the press corps are also asking for a waiver of the traditional ban on laptops and cellphones, which would enable them to file breaking news updates from gallery seats inside the Senate chamber, but that request has apparently been rejected. The security plan would also place a magnetometer at the door of the gallery seats to scan journalists as they enter and prevent them from bringing in electronics.
According to NBC News reporter Julie Tsirkin, Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA.) slammed the plans as “bone-deep stupid.”
“I don’t understand why we’re doing it. I’ve expressed my feelings, majority rules,” Kennedy reportedly said.
.@SenJohnKennedy, R-La., on restricting press access during impeachment trial: “It’s bone deep stupid. I don’t understand why we’re doing it. I’ve expressed my feelings, majority rules.” Via @julietsirkin
— Kasie Hunt (@kasie) January 15, 2020
Blunt told reporters on Tuesday that keeping senators from being mobbed in the hallways was “a legitimate concern” and that legislators need to be able to handle their historical duties “without having to fight their way onto an elevator.”
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) meanwhile said on Twitter that a free press “is essential to any democracy.”
“The impeachment trial is an important moment in our nation’s history. As we prepare to do our jobs and uphold the Constitution, the press should have the access needed to do theirs,” he wrote.
A free press is essential to any democracy.
The impeachment trial is an important moment in our nation’s history. As we prepare to do our jobs and uphold the Constitution, the press should have the access needed to do theirs. https://t.co/YFxRfvZ3Dd
— Sen. Cory Booker (@SenBooker) January 16, 2020
“We should not restrict press access during the impeachment trial. Period,” added Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) on Twitter.
Reporters covering the trial have also warned that restrictions on media access will cripple their ability to do their job.
Sarah Wire, a Los Angeles Times reporter who heads the Standing Committee of Correspondents, wrote a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y stating press concerns.
Here is the statement that the Standing Committee sent to Senate leadership pic.twitter.com/i3qXbGqVNz
— Sarah D. Wire (@sarahdwire) January 14, 2020
“The Standing Committee of Correspondents vigorously objects to restrictions being considered on press access during the upcoming Senate trial of President Trump,” the letter states.
Between the magnetometer and the constant need for journalists to leave and reenter the chamber to file stories, Wire
wrote on Twitter that “the Senate trial will have a soundtrack of “beep, beep, beep” as 90+ reporters walk in and out all day.”
Members of the press corps met last week with representatives from the office of the Senate Sergeant at Arms, seeking clarification on how the proposed restrictions would enhance security. Wire said the meeting ended inconclusively and that the journalists’ requests have been largely ignored.
“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 said.
The Epoch Times reached out to the Capitol Police and the Senate Sergeant at Arms but did not immediately hear back.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.