Capitol Hill Press Corps Will Be Restricted During Impeachment Trial

Jan 21, 2020
Originally published on January 21, 2020 11:26 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

The U.S. Capitol building is known as one of the most open places to cover the news in Washington, D.C. Reporters can hit up lawmakers in the hallway, they can walk with them between meetings, they can even interview them in the basement of the Capitol. But during the impeachment trial, that will change. Reporters will be confined to pens. Sarah Wire is in our studio. She's a congressional correspondent for the LA Times, and she chairs the Standing Committee of Correspondents, which is the group that represents the daily print press on Capitol Hill.

Good morning, Sarah.

SARAH WIRE: Good morning.

KING: Why are reporters being confined to pens?

WIRE: Well, we're told it's a safety issue. They want to make sure that senators aren't knocked down because there's a crush of reporters chasing after them for interviews.

KING: Does that sound like something that might happen?

WIRE: You know, there were some fears after the Kavanaugh hearings because there were so much extra attention that there was an instance of a reporter getting pushed by a police officer and some shoving around a senator. But, you know, we've handled ourselves with decorum for the last two centuries, and I'm pretty sure we could do it now, too.

KING: And in fact, you pushed to have this overturned. What happened?

WIRE: Well, we did get a second pen, at least one closer to where senators are going to be walking back and forth.

KING: OK.

WIRE: But the limit is about 15 minutes before and after the trial. And we're not allowed to walk and talk with the senators for 30 minutes before and after the trial. And you know, minutes are - once those pass, that's a big deal. And so to be restricted during that time, that may be our only chance to get certain senators.

KING: OK. Reporters also won't be able to bring their equipment into the chamber, so no streaming, no tweeting, no writing, no audio recorders, I would imagine, for radio reporters. What does that mean for how people work?

WIRE: You know, their no electronics rule has been set in the Senate for a very long time. It is something we had hoped to get an exception to for the trial, but that wasn't allowed. That means that, you know, if we want to send a tweet or check in with our bosses or, you know, give Americans breaking news, we have to step out of that chamber. And then the big difference this time is there's going to be a magnetometer in the door to the chamber.

KING: A magnetometer, sorry.

WIRE: A metal detector, essentially...

KING: OK.

WIRE: ...That's going to be screening reporters every time they walk in and out of the chamber. This is a big change for, you know, 200-plus years where we've been able to walk in and cover the news of the day without being stopped by a police officer. And suddenly, we're going to have to go through a metal detector every time we walk in.

KING: OK, I feel like you've been answering this question in each of the questions I ask you, but who is losing out here? What is the thing that you're actually worried about?

WIRE: I'm worried about what the American public's losing. I mean, whether I see with my own eyes doesn't matter. But the cameras that are inside the Senate chamber are controlled by the government. There are no still photographers allowed within the chamber. There needs to be a unbiased - you know, an unbiased eyewitness to these events.

KING: OK. The Senate impeachment trial, of course, does begin today. Is this now settled - the pens are it?

WIRE: The magnetometer went in place yesterday. The pens are in place. We're still hopeful for change. We're hopeful that, you know, some things can be worked out to make it easier. But we have no guarantee that's going to happen at this point.

KING: Do you worry about this setting a precedent?

WIRE: Oh, of course. Everything in Washington is about precedent. We've been hearing that for the last two months about the precedent of the Clinton impeachment trial. And I'm afraid what's going to happen the day after.

KING: OK, and just last question, quickly - have your editors said to you stay inside the chamber, don't come out and call us and email us?

WIRE: No, we're going to be having a rotation. About every 15 minutes, we're going to be walking in and out. And that's going to be a massive disruption.

KING: OK. Sarah Wire with the Los Angeles Times, thank you so much for coming in.

WIRE: Thanks for having me.

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