Politics

House Could Allow More Spending on Member Protection

Wednesday shooting spurs interest in more security

Legislation is being drafted in the House to allow more security for members of Congress (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Language is being drafted that would allow rank-and-file House members to spend money from their office accounts on personal security expenses, in the wake of Wednesday’s shooting attack on Republican lawmakers, according to House Appropriations Committee staff.

The language is under consideration for possible inclusion in the fiscal 2018 House Legislative Branch Appropriations bill, staff said. The measure, which has yet to be made public, funds members’ official expenses, the Capitol Police, the Library of Congress and other Capitol Hill offices.

Currently, a small number of members in leadership positions receive full-time protective details from the Capitol Police, including the House speaker, majority and minority leaders of both the House and Senate and whips in both chambers. Other members may receive added protection in response to specific threats, but otherwise spend much of their time outside the Capitol complex, including in their home districts, without bodyguards.

The subcommittee’s ranking member, Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, had yet to look at any new security language on Wednesday, staff said. The subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., has yet to schedule a markup.

Security of lawmakers is under a renewed spotlight following the shooting at a Congressional Baseball Team practice for Republicans, where Majority Whip Steve Scalise was shot along with four others. Capitol Police officers detailed to protect Scalise, R-La., in his leadership position, took down the gunman and two officers were injured.

If Scalise and his detail had not been at the field, lawmakers who witnessed the shooting said it could have been much worse. “He probably saved everybody else’s life because if you don’t have a leadership person there, there would have been no security there,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, who was at the baseball practice, told MSNBC. “Had they not been there, it would have been a massacre.”

Limits on Security Spending

Presently, members can only hire personal security using their official accounts, known as Members’ Representational Allowances, on a limited case-by-case basis, with approval by the House Sergeant at Arms, according to Legislative Branch Subcommittee staff.

MRAs are used for official staff, travel, mail, office equipment and district office rentals, but there are strict limitations on use of the funds, which are doled out in each annual Legislative Branch spending bill.

Even before the shooting, with district town hall meetings flooded with protesters inside and outside of venues, members were asking about other security options.

“You know, in many cases, when members of Congress attend events, sometimes the local city police will be there just to, you know, have a presence. Do you coordinate in that in any way? Is there anything in your budget request that would reflect some of the additional concerns members have with district office security?” Yoder asked Capitol Police Chief Matthew R. Verderosa at a committee hearing in May.

The Capitol Police request of $426.6 million for fiscal 2018 would be 8 percent more than current enacted spending levels. The request would pay for 72 more officers. No official breakout is made available for the amount spent annually on protection of leaders and individual members.

The Capitol Police offers analyses of district offices and events at the request of members, but the department also reaches out to local law enforcement without being asked to coordinate, Verderosa told the panel. He said that requests for Capitol Police coordination related to district safety have increased and also emphasized that district staff can be trained in security awareness via webinar.

“In just thus far this year we’ve done 184 member-related law enforcement liaisons with district offices and that also includes reaching out to the local law enforcement. We do it for both House and Senate. We, unsolicited, reached out to 178 offices when we found something that was occurring, that was planned to be occurring at either at a district office or a member’s event,” Verderosa told the panel. He said that requests are coming in at a “much greater rate” than pervious years.

While the House Members’ Handbook says that “ordinary and necessary expenses associated with security measures necessitated by official duties are reimbursable,” it only details building security measures, such as installing a security system or bulletproof glass, not hiring security personnel. The handbook also says that for official town hall meetings, security is another reimbursable expense, but urges members to “coordinate any security needs with the House Sergeant at Arms.”

Senators are not permitted to use their Senators’ Official Personnel and Office Expense Account for personal security, according to Senate committee aides. It is not yet clear if Senate appropriators will follow suit with language to permit use of SOPOEA funds to pay for personal security.

Verderosa was scheduled to appear Wednesday on fiscal 2018 issues before the Senate Appropriations Legislative Branch Subcommittee, with Senate Sergeant at Arms Frank Larkin, but that hearing was postponed to a later date after the morning shootings.

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