In the past 180 days, the White House has held four official press briefings — the last one held a record 59 days ago.
A new White House policy, however, requires that, for journalists to maintain their “hard pass,” they must have been in the building at least 90 of the past 180 days, counting weekends — resulting in a major change to the White House press corps and its ability to do its work.
To meet the new standard, a reporter would need to be physically present at the White House seven out of every 10 workdays, a high expectation for an administration that hasn’t delivered a formal briefing in two months. That’s according to Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, who shared Wednesday that the White House had revoked the credential he’d held for 21 years.
By Milbank’s estimation, the new rule would likely purge many members of the current White House press corps were it not for “exceptions” to the policy, such as for “senior journalists” or for “special circumstances” like maternity leave. That means, as Milbank put it, “they all serve at the pleasure of press secretary Sarah Sanders,” and could, in theory, “have their credentials revoked any time they annoy Trump or his aides.”
Disturbingly, the White House has provided no rubric for how it might determine who qualifies for these exemptions. It’s unclear how many other journalists might be immediately impacted by the new rules.
Many of those who are not offered hard passes, which are valid for two years, will be demoted to using either daily, weekly, or six-month passes. To obtain these passes, reporters have to undergo a rigorous clearance process every time they want to return to the building. This not only creates new obstacles for journalists to obtain the same access they previously had, but provides the White House with another opportunity to deny that access.
The new policy was first introduced in March, but implemented only recently.
The White House has pushed back on claims that the administration is attempt to curtail press freedoms. “No one’s access is being limited,” Sanders assured the Post Wednesday night in response to Milbank’s column.
Sanders insisted the changes were prompted by security concerns.
The current White House has in fact handed out more hard passes than past administrations — as many as 1,000 according to the Post. Many far-right conservative outlets that provide Trump with favorable coverage — including The Gateway Pundit, Breitbart, and One America News Network — received credentials for the first time after he took office.
Downplaying Milbank’s concerns, Sanders claimed to have consulted the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) in developing the new rules. WHCA president Olivier Knox issued a statement in March confirming the organization had “raised concerns” objecting to the policy on behalf of its members. A Washington Examiner story from when the policy was first introduced featured numerous members of the press corps — including past WHCA presidents — expressing qualms about how restrictive it was.
The WHCA declined to comment to ThinkProgress for this story.
Sanders has also denied that the new policy was in any way connected to an incident last November when the White House attempted to revoke CNN correspondent Jim Acosta’s credentials. During a rare press conference with the president days earlier, Acosta had challenged Trump for inciting violence against the press, prompting Trump to double down, calling CNN the “enemy of the people.”
The White House justified revoking Acosta’s credentials by relying on a doctored video to claim Acosta had assaulted an aide who was trying to take his mic away from him before he was done asking his questions. Acosta’s pass was only reinstated following an order from a federal judge.
Despite Sanders’ claims this week, that incident did prompt the White House to issue new guidance about appropriate “decorum” for the press corps. Trump himself threatened at the time that if reporters weren’t nice enough to White House officials, they would cut briefings short.
In some sense, the White House has walked away from tradition. Press briefings, which used to be held daily, now largely cease to exist. Trump himself announced on Twitter in January that he had told Sanders not to hold them anymore because he didn’t like the coverage he was receiving.
Instead, both Sanders and Trump have relied on impromptu “gaggles” outside in the White House driveway. And now, in order to have access to those unreliable and unscheduled outdoor substitute briefings, they expect reporters to have logged a certain number of hours on White House grounds before they’re approved.