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On To The Senate And Its New Press Restrictions

There were no votes — the time that reporters usually gather by the chamber or in the basement (where senators typically enter the Capitol) to grill members about any given topic.

While we still haven’t seen the resolution that will dictate the Senate trial procedures, by mid-day the biggest questions about it were answered: there will be no provision in it guaranteeing a motion to dismiss vote early in the trial; however, it will include a step in the proceedings for voting on witnesses, according to Senate Republicans who reporters did manage to catch occasionally in the halls.

The day instead was about ceremony, and particularly the symbolic gestures signaling that the impeachment case was moving from the House to the Senate.

On this matter, there was a little bit of fuss that ultimately amounted to confusion over semantics pertaining to the evening’s events. A House clerk, trailed by the newly selected House managers named by Speaker Pelosi Wednesday morning, physically carried the articles of impeachment to the Senate. Technically, however, the clerk was merely delivering a message to the Senate — under the process laid out by the Senate rules — informing the Senate that the House was ready to present the articles of impeachment, once the Senate gave the House a time do so.

After receiving the message, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced that the Senate had agreed unanimously to receive that presentation of the articles at noon ET Thursday — meaning there will be whole other ceremonial procession across the Capitol by the House managers on Thursday as well. At 2 p.m. ET on Thursday, Chief Justice John Roberts will be sworn in as the presiding officer over the trial, McConnell announced, and Roberts in turn will swear in the 100 senators.

But underneath Wednesday’s rather staid pomp and circumstance was a burgeoning controversy that could come to boil on Tuesday, when the Senate impeachment trial starts in earnest.

Senate leadership has okayed a crackdown on press access during the trial that will severely limit reporters’ ability to grill senators before and after each day’s proceedings, while placing other obstacles in the way of covering the trial.

Normally journalists have almost total freedom to move about the Capitol and position themselves in places where they’re likely to run into lawmakers — including lawmakers trying to avoid the press — and walk with them to ask them questions.

For the trial, reporters won’t be allowed in many of those areas around the time senators are expected to enter or leave the proceedings.

Additionally, a request by journalists that we be allowed to bring electronic devices into the chamber was denied. (The House allows reporters to bring laptop and cellphones into the chamber balcony for journalists, but the Senate does not and has decided not to relax that restriction for the trial). Furthermore, reporters will be forced to go through magnetometers before entering chamber — a requirement not typically in place in the Senate — which will severely delay their ability to report any insights they see from being in the room that aren’t visible on the televised feed.

Wednesday’s ceremonial proceedings gave reporters a taste of what these heightened restrictions will look like, as reporters were penned in while watching the House bring its impeachment message to the Senate.

But the effort to relax those restrictions hasn’t ended, and representatives of the Capitol Hill press wrote to Senate leaders on Wednesday seeking that the Senate reconsider the limitations.

After the calm of this week’s ceremony, the Senate will move next week towards the substantive impeachment trial against the President. Whether journalists will be able to easily cover every in-and-out of that trial — and how the substance of it is affecting the thinking of the senators who will vote to remove or acquit President Trump — remains to be seen.

About The Author

Tierney_profile2019

Tierney Sneed is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked for U.S. News and World Report. She grew up in Florida and attended Georgetown University.