ACLU, Reporters, Condemn Senate Republican Move to Restrict Press Access

Defending the First Amendment, again

For years, reporters were allowed to roam the hallways of the Capitol in hopes of recording an impromptu interview with a senator, an admirable feature of a healthy democracy whose legislators do not fear a free, and free-roaming, press.

A new rule that The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports was introduced solely by Senate Rules Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, a Republican, would have upended that tradition in favor of an extremely restrictive policy, as Bolton explains:

Television reporters will need permission from senators, the Senate Rules Committee, the Senate Sergeant at Arms or the Senate Radio and TV Gallery, depending on location, before conducting an on-camera interview with a senator anywhere in the Capitol or in the Senate office buildings, according to a Senate official familiar with the matter.

Shelby, based on what Sen. Amy Klobuchar told Bolton, says that this isn’t a change, but merely an inquiry. Regardless, the ACLU and the press have made their thoughts on the matter extremely clear, to the point where, as NBC News Capitol Hill correspondent Kasie Hunt reported, the Senate Rules Committee has had a course change.

Here’s a look at some of the criticism that may have moved the committee:

“Preventing the press from informing the public about the workings of their own government goes against the core values of our democracy. For decades, the Capitol building has been open for recorded interviews, which provide a critical window into the legislative process,” said American Civil Liberties Union political director Faiz Shakir in a statement. “Closing the shutters now, while Congress is secretly considering a bill that would cause over 20 million people to lose health insurance, is utterly unreasonable and flies in the face of the First Amendment.”