House Republicans are moving quickly to address concerns about lawmaker safety after last week’s shooting incident at the GOP baseball practice, including by making fiscal 2017 funding available for security at congressional events in members’ districts.
The House Administration Committee plans to increase Member’s Representational Allowances by $25,000 per member for security purposes in their districts for the rest of fiscal 2017, which ends on Sept. 30, according to an aide to House Legislative Branch Appropriations Chairman Kevin Yoder. The allocations would not require additional appropriations and were the result of talks between Yoder and House Administration Chairman Gregg Harper.
If used, the total funds would top more than $11 million. The move marks a reversal on the prohibition on using MRA funds for security at district events. Members instead have traditionally had to rely on advance coordination between the Capitol Police and local law enforcement.
Yet this year lawmakers have grown increasingly concerned about safety in their districts, with town hall events across the country drawing crowds of protestors.
Those fears were compounded by the shooting attack last week on Republican lawmakers at a practice session in Alexandria, Virginia, for the Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game. The gunman died after a shootout with members of a security team assigned to House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who as a member of leadership had Capitol Police protection.
Scalise was seriously wounded and remains in a hospital, though his condition has improved. Four others, including two Capitol Police officers, were also wounded in the shooting.
For fiscal 2018, the Legislative Branch spending bill text released Thursday would allocate funds for MRA increases for security purposes, though the total has not yet been revealed. The bill will address use of MRA funds for security purposes in members’ districts, the aide said.
The bill would also provide $5 million for the House sergeant-at-arms to enhance district office security, such as cameras, panic buttons and other security infrastructure.
Lawmakers will have a chance to discuss the bill and funding for security protections at a subcommittee markup scheduled for Friday.
At a hearing in May, House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul D. Irving emphasized his office’s goal of standardizing security practices in main offices in each district. Irving also proposed a security awareness program for district office staff, which would include hands-on training from security and law enforcement experts on managing crowd control and handling potentially threatening situations.
Yoder earlier Thursday lauded provisions in the fiscal 2018 bill “that will ensure Members can enhance their constituents’ safety at events in their districts.”
Capitol Police would also get a significant boost under the bill to $422.5 million, an increase of $29.2 million above the fiscal 2017 enacted level, though less than what it requested. “We owe it to them to ensure they have the necessary resources to meet their mission in an increasingly polarized climate,” Yoder said in a statement.
Capitol Police Chief Matthew R. Verderosa and Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Frank J. Larkin are to meet with Senate appropriators at a hearing on June 29, one that was postponed from June 14 because of the shooting attack that morning.
Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford, chairman of the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee, told CQ Roll Call on Wednesday that spending on personal security for senators will be discussed at the hearing, which is to include a closed session that was added to the agenda.