Heard on the Hill

Full-Body Scanners Appear Outside House Chamber’s Gallery

Capitol Police are tightening security measures

Two security points on the third floor of the Capitol now feature full-body scanners like the one above at the Capitol Visitor Center in 2016. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Capitol Police is working on increasing Hill security, and one obvious addition includes two new, large body scanners on the third floor of the Capitol.

The third floor is usually occupied by tourists, journalists, Capitol Police officers, and the occasional member of Congress escorting tourists. There are a few security points on both the House and Senate sides from where tourists can enter the respective chamber’s gallery but must walk through metal detectors. 

Two of those metal detectors on the House side were replaced this month with the type of full-body scanners used in the Transportation Security Administration’s non-Precheck lines at airports. They were relocated from the Capitol Visitor Center, where they were installed in spring 2016.

[Capitol's Screening Worked as Designed]

Capitol Police Chief Matthew R. Verderosa told a House Appropriations subcommittee in May that as an “open campus,” security is always a balancing act: “We don’t want disruption on the floor. We want to be able to detect things that the regular magnetometers can’t.” 

That was one month before the attack at the Republican baseball practice in Arlington, Virginia, which left House Majority Whip Steve Scalise badly wounded and heightened safety concerns.

[House Majority Whip Steve Scalise Will Need Additional Surgeries After Shooting]

“Working in close coordination with the Capitol Police Board, the Department has determined that additional screening of various means must be employed,” Capitol Police spokeswoman Eva Malecki said about the scanners.

“This means deploying security measures, screening and pre-screening at various building access points, and utilizing enhanced screening portals,” she added. “This includes the full-body scanners, which have been in use in the Capitol Complex for several years and are merely being relocated.”

Eventually, full-body scanners will be installed at all entrances on both the House and Senate sides, Malecki said.

So far, in the first weeks back from the August recess, the lines to enter the House chamber appear to be about the same as before, despite the few extra seconds it takes to go through the full-body scanner. The true test will come during peak tourist months, which are traditionally in the summer.

[Congressional Security Details Remain Murky]

To enter the chamber’s gallery, tourists drop their phones and bags off in the hallway. The only instances of disruption on the floor recently have been yelling, and in one case in July last year, protesting tourists threw money onto the Senate floor.

To enter into the Capitol as a tourist, one either goes through the Capitol Visitor Center — where there no longer are full-body scanners — a Capitol office building, or directly into the Capitol if they are being escorted by a staff member. There are standard metal detectors at all of those entrances.

House members often escort their own visitors and sit with them in the chamber’s gallery to watch the floor proceedings. In those cases, members don’t go through the metal detectors to enter the chamber but wait for their visitors to do so.

On the Senate side, where the most frequent visitors are spouses and families, this happens less often.

The first test prior to peak tourist season next year will come during the next State of the Union address, and any potential joint sessions of Congress. Each member’s guests will have to enter through the full-body scanners to sit in the gallery.

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