Reporters at the U.S. Capitol were shocked to learn on Tuesday that they’re not allowed to film interviews with senators in the halls of the U.S. Capitol, as they have done for years. Hallway interviews are allowed only if reporters get permission—not only from the senator, but from the Senate Rules Committee as well.
A senior Democratic aide told Roll Call’s Bridget Bowman that the decision was made unilaterally by Senate Rules Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, a Republican from Alabama. Shelby issued a statement saying the committee “has made no changes to the existing rules” but rather is enforcing “compliance with existing rules.” (The rules posted on the Senate Radio & Television Correspondents Gallery website confirm as much.)
The rules may not be new, but it the precedent certainly is. And this move comes just as Senate Republicans are preparing to pass a bill that repeals Obamacare and replaces it with—well, we don’t know because the legislation is currently being crafted in secret. A senior GOP aide told Axios that’s because the new health care bill is in a “premature” stage; Republicans aren’t sure yet what the final bill will look like, either.
As The Washington Post recently reported, the Capitol has been extremely overcrowded in recent weeks, as reporters swarm lawmakers with questions about James Comey, Jeff Sessions, Obamacare, and every other piece of Trump-era news drama. “We are concerned someone may get hurt,” officials who oversee the Senate press gallery wrote to news organizations last month. Journalists believe that “someone” may be a lawmaker. “We are one tripped senator away from losing our access,” one reporter told the Post. But if we’re going by precedent, it’s reporters who are in the most physical danger when pressing lawmakers in person.
Update: The Senate Rules Committee appears to have backed down.