People For the American Way

GOP Press Crackdown in the Heart of Democracy

News and Analysis

Senate Republicans today initiated a shocking clampdown on freedom of the press. Without consulting any of the Democrats, Sen. Richard Shelby, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, imposed a dangerous prohibition on reporters’ ability to gather and report news from the Senate, before reversing course hours later under intense pressure.

As reported in The Atlantic:

“Reporters at Capitol have been told they are not allow [sic] to film interviews with senators in hallways, contrary to years of precedent,” Kasie Hunt, a Capitol Hill correspondent for NBC News tweeted. “Conditions for any interview: Previously granted permission from senator and Rules Committee of Senate.”

The committee’s ranking member was as surprised as the reporters who were being shut down by Senate staff. Democrat Amy Klobuchar issued a tweet on what may have driven the GOP to initiate their free press crackdown today:

This is no time for limiting press access in U.S. Senate. Russia hearings, Sessions testifying & (secret?) health care bill being drafted!

Indeed, the muck and mire of the Republican president and Congress is dangerously anti-democratic, to say nothing of how bad it is for the American people. When a party has abandoned its commitment to democratic norms, it is no surprise to see it stifle press coverage that shows them in a bad light (i.e., accurately reporting on what they’re doing).

Today’s move indicates the congressional GOP’s willingness to stand with President Trump in his war against the media. Candidate Trump infamously declared that he wanted to “open up our libel laws” so he could retaliate against critical media coverage (and, with the threat of litigation, effectively frighten many from criticizing him in the first place). He has called the press an “enemy of the people,” the term used by Josef Stalin (among others) to isolate and destroy any and all dissenters.

But rather than stand up to their party leader in defense of the quintessentially American value of freedom of the press, it appears Senate Republicans will instead join him. Even the few Republicans critical of the press crackdown are muted in their statements. Ben Sasse, for instance, tweeted that “This is a bad idea.” He’s right, but this situation merits something far stronger.

Sen. Klobuchar has said she’s spoken with Shelby, who claims he won’t move forward on changing press access without consulting her. And Shelby subsequently sent out a statement saying there wouldn’t be any rules change, but only a discussion about how to ensure safety when Senate corridors are so crowded with journalists.

We have seen a dark and frightening side of the GOP today, and Shelby notably said only that he would “consult” Klobuchar, not withhold action that didn’t have bipartisan support.

This is America under Donald Trump and the Republicans, and they’re only just beginning. Only the united resistance of the American people will stop Trump and preserve our democracy.