Politics

Threats Against Jeff Flake and Chuck Grassley Prompt Additional Security

Move comes amid contentious debate over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh

Sen. Jeff Flake is under additional security in response to threats against him. (Photo By Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

At least two key Republican senators who found themselves in the center of a firestorm last week over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court have been assigned special protection due to threats as well as crowd control issues. 

Multiple Capitol Police officers confirmed Friday that teams of uniformed officers were moving with Sens. Jeff Flake and Charles E. Grassley. The latter chairs the Judiciary Committee, which heard testimony Thursday from Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused the nominee of sexual assault decades ago when both were in high school. Flake, a Judiciary member, helped broker a deal to delay a floor vote on Kavanaugh to allow for an FBI investigation into allegations against him by Ford and others. 

Neither Grassley nor Flake are in leadership and thus do not usually move with their own Capitol Police protections. Lawmakers who receive full-time protective details from the Capitol Police include the speaker, majority and minority leaders in both chambers, as well as the whips in both parties.

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.

Flake spoke on the Senate floor on Sept. 26, before the next day’s blockbuster hearing, about threats against him.

“One man, somewhere in the country, called my office in Arizona and left a message saying that he was tired of my ‘interrupting our president’ and for the offense of allowing Dr. Ford to be heard — for this offense, my family and I would be ‘taken out.’ I mention this with reluctance, but only to say that we have lit a match, my colleagues. The question is, Do we appreciate how close the powder keg is?” the Arizona Republican said.

Specifics threats made against the lawmakers were not made public.  Protective details in recent years have included plainclothes Capitol Police officers, but those flanking the two Senate Judiciary Republicans were in their regular uniforms.

Flake was confronted Friday morning by two women who said they were survivors of sexual assault and criticized him for announcing his support for Kavanaugh. 

“Don’t look away from me. Look at me and tell me that it doesn’t matter what happened to me, that you will let people like that go into the highest court of the land,” Ana Maria Archila, 39, told the senator while he was in a Dirksen Building elevator, blocking his movement toward the Judiciary Committee, which was gearing up to vote on the nomination.

At that point in the day he was not accompanied by Capitol Police, but there were many lining the hallway where the altercation took place. 

Recent history

There is precedent for lawmakers getting additional protection.

Sen. Marco Rubio was put under a protective detail in the summer of 2017 following intelligence that one of Venezuela’s most powerful leaders might have put out an order to kill the Florida Republican. Capitol Police officers accompanied him around Washington, and according to the Miami Herald, his protection in Florida included at least one Miami-Dade County Police officer in addition to other law enforcement.

Security of lawmakers has been in the spotlight since last year’s shooting at a Republican practice for the Congressional Baseball Game, in which House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was shot along with four others. Capitol Police officers detailed to protect the Louisiana Republican took down the gunman, and two officers were wounded during the shooting.

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,” Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul, who was at the baseball practice, told MSNBC last year. “Had they not been there, it would have been a massacre.”

Friday marked one year since Scalise returned to Congress after the shooting His colleagues in the House gave him a round of applause and a few speeches in his honor.

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