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Senate sets first ground rules for impeachment trial

McConnell, Schumer announced restrictions to staff and visitors

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer have detailed restrictions in Senate operations during President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer have detailed restrictions in Senate operations during President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senators and their staffs will be subject to new access restrictions and decorum practices in and around the Senate chamber starting Thursday morning, thanks to the imminent impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

Access to the Senate wing will be more limited than usual as of 10:30 a.m. Thursday.

By unanimous consent, the Senate adopted the first round of impeachment procedures late Wednesday.

Those included an invitation for House managers to present the articles of impeachment Thursday and notify Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who will preside over the trial. Measures also call for senators to set up an escort committee for Roberts, take an oath as jurors Thursday afternoon and have a photograph of them taking that oath.

In a “Dear Colleague” letter Wednesday, signed by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, senators were advised of limits on guest and staff access to the Capitol’s Senate wing.

Senators and House members will be allowed access, as will staffers with special impeachment trial credentials. (The normal hard passes will not be sufficient.) In addition, visitors to the Capitol for official business will need to be escorted through the tunnels from the Senate office buildings by staffers with the proper special credentials.

“Access to any floor of the Senate Wing of the Capitol is restricted daily, beginning 30 minutes prior to all proceedings involving the exhibition or consideration of the Articles of Impeachment against the President of the United States and daily, beginning 30 minutes prior to all times that the United States Senate is sitting for trial with the Chief Justice of the United States presiding,” the two Senate leaders wrote Wednesday.

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Also eligible for Senate-side access are people who hold gallery tickets to view the proceedings, as well as aides with floor privileges under the normal Senate rules (provided they have the impeachment trial overlay) and members of the press who have begun to receive special credentials.

Visitor gallery tickets are being allocated to individual Senate offices, and the daily passes may be used more than once on the day for which they are valid, which could make Senate offices a hot spot for handing off passes to view the proceedings.

Committees will each get two of the special credentials, and personal offices will each get one, according to the leaders.

As for the behavior of the senators themselves, a separate bulletin released Wednesday affirms that there will be no electronic devices in the chamber for use by the senators during the trial. The notice also reminds senators that they need to keep quiet during the proceedings in the chamber.

“Upon the announcement of the arrival of the Chief Justice, Senators should all silently rise at their desks and remain standing until the Chief Justice takes his seat,” the notice reads. “Similarly, when the Chief Justice departs, Senators should rise and remain standing until he has exited the chamber.”

In accordance with impeachment trial rules, requests of the chief justice, such as motions and questions for impeachment managers, are supposed to be made in writing by senators.

The letter from Schumer and McConnell also effectively includes confirmation of media access restrictions, which CQ Roll Call reported Tuesday. Senators are being told to refer questions about media access to the Senate wing of the Capitol to the Senate media gallery staff.

The executive committee of correspondents for periodical publications wrote to McConnell and Schumer on Thursday to express opposition to the restrictions on movement of journalists.

“Though we understand officials’ concerns about security, it is the responsibility of Senate leaders to conduct this chamber’s business in a transparent way,” the periodical committee wrote. “Of particular concern is the decision to place a magnetometer within the Senate Daily Press Gallery, a move that we have warned is likely to cause significant delays and disruptions for both reporters covering the trial and for anyone in the chamber.”

“Plans appear to be in place to severely restrict movement of working journalists on the second floor outside the Senate chamber, in particular the Ohio Clock Corridor,” the committee wrote. “Any attempt to pen reporters away from lawmakers can only be viewed as a move to limit public scrutiny of chamber proceedings.”

Reporter corrals were set up Wednesday evening for the transfer of the articles of impeachment to the Senate.

CQ Roll Call deputy news editor Jason Dick is a member of the periodical correspondents executive committee.

Tuesday night, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the ranking Democrat on the Rules and Administration Committee, expressed opposition to the press restrictions, which include the additional layer of screening to enter the Senate chamber and a “pen” on the second floor of the Capitol restricting the ability of members of the media to question senators.

And Klobuchar was not alone. Louisiana Republican John Kennedy criticized the proposed restrictions in conversations with reporters, and Hawaii Democrat Brian Schatz said in a statement that they were not acceptable.

“The American people deserve a full view of these proceedings. But the new restrictions imposed on the press will make it more difficult for reporters to keep the public informed about every step of this historic trial. These unreasonable restrictions must be reversed so that the press has the access they need to do their jobs, expose the truth, and keep our leaders accountable,” Schatz said.

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