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Congress Not Pushing Back on July Fourth Security Crackdown

Oh, say will you still be able to see from the Capitol? (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Hill staffers would be the people most affected if Capitol law enforcement cracks down on Memorial Day and Fourth of July parties. That might be why members of Congress do not seem to be pushing back on a March 12 letter from the Capitol Police Board. While lawmakers dismissed past proposals to limit access to the so-called "people's house," such as building a fence  around the 276-acre complex, as former Senate Sergeant-at-Arms and Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer recently suggested, this most recent recommendation might prove more popular. The House and Senate leadership offices, in the midst of ongoing briefings on ideas to better secure the summer celebrations, did not criticize the idea on Wednesday.  

“We’ll continue to consult with the Capitol Police Board and other leaders but no decisions have been made at this point,” Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said in an email to CQ Roll Call.  

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also plans to "carefully consider the Capitol Police Board's recommendations," stated spokesman Drew Hammill.  

Not even outspoken Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., who bashed the fence as "desperate, distasteful and disrespectful" to D.C. residents, is advocating on behalf of a more open Capitol campus. "We don't have a comment on this issue right now," said Norton spokesman Benjamin Fritsch in an email.  

Recommendations from the police board would limit access to the West Front Terrace and the corridors of the Capitol to the select few with offices inside the building, mainly leadership and Appropriations Committee staff. Report to Rayburn or Russell every morning? Too bad.  

Swanky post-concert receptions hosted in Statuary Hall and the Rayburn Room — events historically open to Capitol employees and their families — would be moved to the U.S. Botanic Garden, if congressional leaders agree to new restrictions.  

Senate leadership offices were mum on how the letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was received.  

The senator responsible for oversight of the Capitol Police, Senate Rules and Administration Chairman Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said he had not seen the recommendations.  

Part of the issue might be that many politicians are back home in their districts hosting campaign events during the Memorial Day and Independence Day recesses. Parades, picnics and patriotic photo ops are not to be missed.  

"I'm not here on the Fourth," Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., told CQ Roll Call. "I've not seen the specifics of what it is they're recommending, but I just think that if the Capitol Police is concerned about, you know, public health and safety, I think you have to listen carefully to what their suggestions are."  

Longtime residents of the Capitol Hill neighborhood know to avoid the hassle of heading toward the Dome on the Fourth of July holiday.  

There's plenty of patriotism and pageantry on the West Lawn — watching fireworks explode over the Washington Monument as the National Symphony Orchestra performs its rendition of Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" — but the trek is a hassle. Locals are better off finding an unobstructed view elsewhere in the District, or even Virginia, than braving the crowds camped out for the annual "A Capitol Fourth" concert.  

"I never encourage people to visit on the Fourth. I'd say it's a shame, but security has already made the Fourth pretty miserable. This just adds to it," local tour guide and author Tim Krepp stated in response to questions about access. "Security means waits to get in, lots of choke points, and hard-to-bring a picnic."  

Capitol law enforcement officials used numbers to make a more convincing argument to the cost-conscious members that control the department's budget. Capitol Police requested nearly $379 million for fiscal 2016, and appropriators already question whether the $30.9 million for projected overtime costs is necessary.  

According to the letter, the agency used a combined 12,174 hours of overtime work in 2014 for the Memorial Day and July Fourth holiday celebrations, including rehearsals and setup. The price tag, according to the police board, was $735,252. That's key to Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., head of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the legislative branch.  

"We hope that these enjoyable events can continue but need to find the right balance between ensuring safety and security, and managing limited resources," Capito spokeswoman Ashley Berrang said in an email. "She will work with Capitol Police to determine the right course of action."  

Related: Police Want to Curtail Capitol Fourth of July Festivities Gainer’s Capitol Fence Is Not a Popular Concept Former Top Cop Suggests Capitol Complex Is Too Open (Audio) The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.