Security crackdown on Capitol Hill hinders reporters from asking senators questions during impeachment trial

Posted January 16, 2020 5:03 p.m. EST

— Reporters on Capitol Hill are facing a security crackdown that limits their ability to question US Senators during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

Sarah Wire, the chair of the Standing Committee of Correspondents, a group that represents reporters on Capitol Hill, told CNN Business that several measures that curtail reporters' access were implemented on Thursday.

One measure prohibits reporters from walking with senators and questioning them as the lawmakers are in transit from the Capitol Hill basement to the elevator, a common practice in the US Capitol. Another measure forces reporters behind roped off lines and into pens, hindering their ability to approach senators and ask questions, another common practice.

Such restrictions, which aid senators who wish to avoid the press, were not communicated to journalists ahead of time as typically expected, Wire told CNN Business.

"Reporters [are] learning about the restrictions in real time," Wire said.

Reporters have taken to Twitter to share stories about the security crackdown:

In a letter sent on Tuesday to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the Standing Committee of Correspondents, said it "vigorously" objected to such restrictions.

"Capitol Hill is one of the most accessible places in Washington, but the proposed restrictions exceed those put in place during the State of the Union, Inauguration Day or even during the Clinton impeachment trial 20 years ago," the letter said.

In the letter, the Standing Committee of Correspondents outlined other proposed restrictions, including a ban on electronics allowed inside the Senate chamber and the installation of a magnetometer at the door "to do additional security sweeps of members of the press each time they exit or enter."

"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," the Standing Committee of Correspondents wrote in its Tuesday letter.

Multiple requests for comment asking about security measures were not returned by The Office of the Senate Sergeant of Arms, which is responsible for maintaining security. Spokespeople for McConnell's office and Schumer declined to comment.

But other senators, from both political parties, have voiced opposition to the strict measures.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat and the ranking member on the Senate Rules Committee, told CBS News that the restrictions were a "big mistake."

Sen. John Kennedy, a Republican, told reporters Wednesday that the limitations sent the "wrong message."

"It's a huge mistake," Kennedy said. "US senators are grown women and grown men. If they don't want to make a comment, they know how to say 'no comment.'"

Sen. Mike Braun, another Republican, told Politico, "I don't think you guys should ever be restricted."

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