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Senate weighs restricting reporters during Trump's impeachment trial

The limitations could include forcing journalists into penned areas and barring them from walking freely around outside the chamber.
Image: Senators Hold Media Availability After Weekly Policy Luncheons
Reporters surround Eric Ueland, the White House's legislative affairs director, as he arrives for the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon at the Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

The Senate is weighing significant restrictions on reporters covering President Donald Trump's coming impeachment trial, including limiting the movements of reporters and upping security screenings for the press.

The Standing Committee of Correspondents, an elected body of journalists that governs and advocates for print media, wrote to Senate leaders on Tuesday "vigorously" objecting to the proposed restrictions, which the group said included forcing reporters into penned areas and barring them from walking freely around outside the Senate chambers.

They said it was not clear how the proposed rules would add to safety "rather than simply limit coverage of the trial."

The group's chairwoman, Sarah Wire, a congressional reporter for the Los Angeles Times, argued against the proposed restrictions in a Twitter thread.

"Installing a magnetometer means the Senate trial will have a soundtrack of 'beep, beep, beep' as 90+ reporters walk in and out all day," she wrote. "There is no additional safety or security brought by bringing such a device into reporter work space. It also gives the impression that it is being done mostly to protect Senators from the bright light of the public knowing what they are doing in one of the country's most important moments."

Electronics are currently banned from the Senate chamber, and reporters had unsuccessfully sought an exemption to the rule for the historic trial.

Wire also said penning reporters would limit the public's access to their elected officials.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., chairman of the Rules Committee, said some of the restrictions "appear to be necessitated just by the rules" and argued that reporters were penned during President Bill Clinton's impeachment in 1999.

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The ranking Democrat on the Rules Committee, presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, said Tuesday night after the Democratic presidential debate that she did not support the change.

"I have been in contact with both sides on this issue. I've made very clear — I've talked to Senator Blunt about this — that I thought we should have open access for the press," Klobuchar, the ranking member of the Rules Committee, told CBS News. "I think this is a big mistake. ... I wanted to actually open it more to allow laptops to use in the press gallery, in the chamber."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, countered that the restrictions would help everyone manage the surge of interest in Senate proceedings.

"I think it's important that we have a process that everyone understands — not just the press that cover us every day but the press we anticipate will be coming from different parts of the country who don't really know this building. So I think it is important that they will have some kind of parameters," she told NBC News.