Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer looks down on the Cannon Rotunda on Wednesday as Members, staff and visitors sign condolence books for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others. He participated in a security briefing for Senate staff later in the day.
As lawmakers gathered in the House Wednesday to reflect on the assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, grief was beginning to give way to frustration over a lack of security not only for themselves but also for their staffs.
Party leaders gathered in the morning in the House chamber to begin an emotional daylong tribute to the Arizona Democrat and the other victims.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) set the tone, giving an emotional speech praising Giffords and Gabe Zimmerman, her outreach director who was killed in the attacks, and he called for the nation to come together.
But the somber floor speeches were a contrast to some of the anger and fear expressed in closed-door security briefings for Members, after which some began reverting to their partisan ways.
During the meetings with Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse, House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood and FBI representatives, some lawmakers expressed concerns that the Capitol Police did not adequately investigate threats against them.
“There are other Members of Congress who are now speaking, suggesting incidents that have happened to them that have not been thoroughly investigated,” Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) told reporters after the meeting.
Several Members expressed concerns about how to better secure district staffers and whether they could spend their Members’ Representational Allowance on doing so.
“Some Members inquired about being able to use Members’ reimbursable allowance to maybe hire an off-duty policeman to be at an event, if that’s an appropriate use of funds,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said. “The answer was ‘Yes.’”
Rep. G.K. Butterfield said he will spend some of his allowance on tighter security in his district office.
“I’m going to make sure we have a bulletproof entrance, and we’ll probably do some other things, simple things, like putting the chief of police on speed dial,” the North Carolina Democrat said.
But Jackson said the currently appropriated funds aren’t enough and in the meeting intensified his call to roll back the 5 percent House budget cuts and increase MRAs by $150,000 per Member — a call he said Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) ensured him he will take seriously.
Jackson was incensed that Congressional districts remain unsafe, even after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when Washington, D.C.’s monuments, the White House and national parks across the country were secured and the Capitol was turned into what the Illinois Democrat called a “fortress.”
“We bunkered down around the Capitol and made it impossible to drive round this complex,” he said. “We’ve done all of that. We simply did not feel it politically possible to do it for our district staffs. And as a result of that, today they are vulnerable. Members in their districts are vulnerable. Our government at the district level is vulnerable and something needs to be done about it.”
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