Well, nothing to worry about here, probably. The Republicans in the Senate briefly restricted press access on the Senate side of the U.S. Capitol with no good reason, then just as quickly backed off the idea after the backlash they certainly couldn’t have seen coming. Can’t imagine why they might have put that rule change in place at a moment when Republican senators are working on their completely secret Obamacare repeal, which they intend to cram through with no hearings or amendments. For a few brief shining hours of what looked like a flirtation with autocracy, here were the New Rules:
Reporters were told they would no longer be allowed to film or record audio of interviews in the Senate side hallways of the Capitol without special permission.
Television reporters will now 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.
NBC congressional reporter Kasie Hunt broke the news this morning; her Twitter feed has been very, very busy today:
The Hill reports the decision to restrict press access was made unilaterally by Senate Rules Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican. While the the Senate was at it, it also issued new rules restricting all reporters’ access — from all media — in the Senate’s basement levels, where it’s often easiest for reporters to find lawmakers between votes of at lunch meetings.
Gosh, this isn’t disturbing at all, is it? Needless to say, Senate Republicans took the restrictions on the press in public areas of a government building (isn’t there some law mentioning that stuff?) with all the seriousness you’d expect. Politico reporter Burgess Everett got this steadfast defense of the First Amendment from Lindsey Graham:
Buzzfeed’s Capitol Hill correspondent heard from South Carolina’s Sen. Tim Scott:
That’s some pretty good trolling! Also, fuck you, Tim Scott.
Minnesota Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar, the Rules Committee’s ranking member, didn’t sit still on this, and said this aggression would not stand, man:
Democratic leaders of the Senate and House both had a feeling they knew what was up with the sudden crackdown on the press:
Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill was suspicious about the timing, too:
Wonder where they’d get a ridiculous conspiracy theory like that? Oh, maybe from Orrin Hatch, who explained Senate Republicans aren’t primarily concerned with whether the public sees the healthcare abomination they’re working on:
After a while, Shelby’s office released a statement clarifying there hadn’t been a rules change — not yet at least — and that the Rules Committee was simply discussing what to do about all the reporters wandering the hallways, because the Capitol is just packed with reporters these days, good heavens. Which is nice, but pretty inconsistent with the Senate staffers telling reporters to knock it off or they’d be in big trouble.
Still, a little press ban is probably better than a body slam. That’s what the House is working on, we guess.
Now all the Senate has to figure out is a way to take away health insurance from tens of millions of people without any of the voters finding out, ever.
Now you crazy kids get to OPEN THREAD-ing, will ya? Until the Senate shuts you down, at least.
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[The Hill / CNN / The Hill]