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Security Debate Hits Home

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer will brief Senators today on security.

Three days after the attempted assassination of one of their colleagues, some Members are calling for legislative remedies, while others are amending their own behavior to ensure security in their work meeting with constituents.

Other Members said they’re not going to change much, calling instead for balance between security and constituent access in the wake of the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger said he met Monday with staff in his Maryland and Washington, D.C., offices so they could air concerns and discuss ways to improve security.

One staffer who was hired recently to open mail was particularly shaken, Ruppersberger said, thinking that any postal threats would put him in direct danger. Other staffers were concerned about the openness of the district office, he added.

“I think the district offices are very much exposed,” the Maryland Democrat said. “Maybe there needs to be a holding area where if somebody comes into your office, you’re not exposed.”

The five-term lawmaker also suggested Members could have a dedicated staff member for security.

“You might want to have people in law enforcement who can work on your staff and be responsible for” security, the former appropriator said. “Unfortunately, that’s all going to cost money.”

Assistant Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.) asked over the weekend that leadership rethink the 5 percent cut to House operating budgets passed last week to accommodate heightened security needs.

Rep. Mike Honda, the only Democrat so far announced as a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, said he would advocate for increased security spending.

“I will continue to push, as I have always done, for increased support and funding to ensure that every single person coming to work for, or visit, a Member of Congress is equipped with the systems, knowledge and awareness necessary to safely avoid, and if need be escape, all emergency situations,” the California legislator said in a statement.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw, the subcommittee’s new chairman, told Roll Call on Sunday that he is open to increasing funding for the Capitol Police and security if necessary.

“I think we have to say that the safety and security of all our Members, that’s paramount, and we ought to do whatever’s necessary,” the Florida Republican said. “I think that from the standpoint of the Capitol Police, we ought to take whatever steps are necessary to make sure of the safety and security of our Members.”

Crenshaw and House Administration Chairman Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) have called for a reappraisal of security protocol for Members, with Lungren adamant about an “A-to-Z review,” according to a spokeswoman.

On Wednesday, House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood and the FBI will brief House Members about their security needs. Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer will brief Senators today.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who is a friend of Giffords, said Members should stop being “cavalier” about their own security and said she is looking forward to hearing what the law enforcement professionals suggest.

“I’d like some guidance on what the security experts think are the appropriate steps we should be taking,” the Florida Democrat said. “My local law enforcement and sheriff here have asked me and provided security over the last couple of days. They keep asking me what I need and I can tell you, I don’t know what I need.”

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) predicted Members would “keep an extra eye out for precaution for something that might happen,” but that most Members would not want to significantly alter security protocols or the way they interact with constituents.

“We’re all struck with this awful event Saturday as we think about our own schedules,” he said. “But in reality, it would really change the way that we operate if you imposed such a new set of restrictions. For the most part, I think most of us would balk at additional security things. I know that that’s not who we are.”

Rep. Steve Israel said he also rejects the notion that Members should ramp up security. But he said he can take steps to make sure his staff and constituents are safe when he’s in public.

“I have decided to increase the safety and comfort of my constituents by holding future congressional community meetings in local volunteer fire departments,” the New York Democrat said in a statement. “Our local firefighters lead us in safety and security and I appreciate their willingness to host these meetings in the future.”

Rep. Jack Kingston, an appropriator who suggested cutting security details around the Capitol to save money last month, said there is likely no appetite to do that anymore. But he said he’s suggested more training for his district staffers.

“We do have panic buttons, so I asked our district director to ask that all our district staff review the procedure of using the panic button,” the Georgia Republican said.

Rep. Barbara Lee needed a security detail in 2001 after she became the only Member of Congress to vote against the resolution to go to war in Afghanistan. She’s not changing anything right now.

“No way will I shy away from public events with my constituents,” the California Democrat said. “You can’t let fear stop you from doing your work.”

Kathleen Hunter contributed to this report.

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