WASHINGTON — The White House is imposing a brand new $170 COVID-19 testing fee on reporters who need to entry the West Wing, in what critics say is the newest step that constrains press protection of President Biden.
The Biden administration already imposed sweeping restrictions, together with capping at 80 the variety of pre-approved journalists who’re in a position to entry White House grounds on a given day — every of whom should take a COVID-19 speedy check earlier than 1 p.m.
Under former President Donald Trump, any reporter with a “hard pass” was in a position to breeze previous the White House gates at any time and with out taking a coronavirus check. But few abused the privilege on account of peer stress to restrict visits.
The newest restrictions have been introduced in an on-the-record electronic mail from White House Correspondents’ Association President Zeke Miller, who’s a reporter for The Associated Press.
“The White House has informed us that it has determined that budgetary constraints limit the government’s ability to provide the daily COVID-19 testing that the White House has required for journalists on campus,” Miller wrote.
“After all the steps we as a press corps have taken to abide by the new health and safety protocols, we share your frustration that these procedures are changing yet again.”
Miller wrote that the correspondents’ affiliation believes it’s unsuitable to cost reporters for entry. Even throughout the pandemic, reporters on the White House can confront spokespeople with questions, cowl driveway press conferences with officers and work from desks that media organizations pay to keep up behind the briefing room.
“It is, of course, well-established that news organizations pay for reporters’ use of certain resources, like seats on government planes or the meals journalists are served while in pool holds. But it is our belief that the establishment of the unique security infrastructure that surrounds the White House, to include this new daily testing requirement, should fall on the government, not journalists working to inform the public,” Miller wrote.
“The WHCA has expressed the fear that the cost could be prohibitive for some journalists covering the White House, which may ultimately harm the public’s right to know.”
The White House received’t impose charges on reporters who’re within the presidential or vice presidential “pools” that relay information from reside occasions, or for journalists whose retailers have a seat at a press briefing that day.
The new fee is more likely to have the most important influence on TV crews, who make up a lot of the 80-person press contingent allowed day by day, and the small handful of print reporters who win a “lottery” to entry the White House grounds on a given day.
Some outdoors exams shall be allowed if it’s decided they meet White House requirements.
Even although the testing guidelines are strict, Biden White House protocols aren’t foolproof. After taking a speedy check outdoors the entrance gates, reporters instantly stroll into the West Wing earlier than the outcomes are recognized. On Wednesday a reporter examined optimistic, however the outcomes weren’t recognized till they doubtlessly contaminated inside areas — requiring a cleansing crew in hazmat fits.
For the Trump White House, COVID-19 exams have been solely required for pool reporters more likely to come into shut contact with the president or reporters headed to the Oval Office for interviews. Reporters who attended Trump’s prolonged White House briefing room occasions typically weren’t examined for the virus.