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Members’ Security Gets Renewed Focus

Bill Clark/Roll Call
A Capitol Police officer stands guard outside Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' Congressional office Saturday inside the Longworth House Office Building.

While security at the Capitol complex is not expected to change dramatically, the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has generated a larger discussion about the level of security Members should have when they're not in Washington, D.C.

After the Democrat was gunned down in her Arizona district over the weekend, the Senate's top security official said Members and staff should be more attentive to security needs at district events, a process he said he'd assist with.

"I don't think you'll see dramatically different steps. I don't think you'll see dignitary protection teams with every Member of Congress. I don't think that's the way we should spend limited law enforcement resources," Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer, a former Capitol Police chief, said. "I think it will force the Members and staff to think differently about their events."

Gainer said he circulated a document to chiefs of staff with "concrete things you can do" to "minimize risk" and Congressional security officials are reviewing their own operations.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Sunday that he has asked the Sergeant-at-Arms, Capitol Police and FBI to do an in-depth security overview for Members on Wednesday. There will also be a security briefing for district directors.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw, who on Friday was appointed to chair the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, said he plans to review security procedures and is ready to increase Capitol Police resources if necessary.

"But it would be a sad day in America if we had to wall off our elected Representatives from the people that elect them. This is a reminder that if you have a form of government like ours that's based on freedom of assembly and openness and access, that's not without risk," the Florida Republican said.

"Members could be encouraged to hold events where there already is security, maybe a library or a public building."

Security was increased at the Capitol after the 1998 shooting deaths of two Capitol Police officers there. And the department's budget has grown by about 400 percent since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
But when Members go home to their districts, "in a very real sense, they're on their own," House Administration Chairman Dan Lungren said.

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