WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate issued a brief ban on journalism in its hallways on Tuesday.
The short-lived crackdown on media access — which drew fire from Minnesota's Sen. Amy Klobuchar and others — would have blocked reporters from videotaping or recording interviews with senators in public corridors. Television crews trying to set up their equipment in the halls Tuesday morning raised the alarm on Twitter, as staffers informed them that Senate Republicans had issued new rules: No interviews in the halls without prior permission from the senator, the Senate Rules Committee, the Senate sergeant-at-arms or the Senate press gallery.
Journalists, long accustomed to roaming the halls and grilling lawmakers as they moved between hearings and floor votes, have been staking out — among other things — the closed-door meetings where Republicans are rewriting the Affordable Care Act.
"Reporters were in hallways this morning per usual. Gallery staff were dispatched to issue verbal directive: Stop filming," tweeted NBC Capitol correspondent Kasie Hunt. "Gallery staff told us the decision was from the Senate Rules Committee and to call them for future interview permission."
That was news to Klobuchar, the ranking Democrat on the Rules Committee.
"As ranking member of the Senate Rules Committee, I call on the majority to allow reporting in the Capitol to proceed as usual," Minnesota's senior senator tweeted, following it up with: "This is no time for limiting press access in U.S. Senate. Russia hearings, Sessions testifying & (secret?) health care bill being drafted!"
The crackdown was also apparently news to Senate Rules Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., who responded "What the heck?" when a Bloomberg reporter asked him about the ban.
"The Rules Committee has made no changes to the existing rules governing press coverage on the Senate side of the Capitol complex," Shelby said in a statement. "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 offices to the Capitol. Once again, no additional restrictions have been put in place by the Rules Committee."