Capitol Police bolstering travel security for lawmakers

Politics

WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — The Capitol Police are boosting security at Washington-area transportation hubs and taking other steps to fortify travel security for lawmakers in response to the fallout from the Capitol riots.

Capitol Police will be stationed at area airports and Washington’s Union Station railway hub on busy travel days, the House’s chief law enforcement officer wrote in an email obtained Friday by The Associated Press. Timothy P. Blodgett, the acting sergeant at arms, wrote that officials were setting up an online portal so lawmakers can notify them of travel plans and urged legislators to report threats and suspicious activity.

“Members and staff should remain vigilant of their surroundings and immediately report anything unusual or suspicious,” said the email, which was sent late Thursday.

Blodgett’s letter said lawmakers have previously been advised that they can use office expense accounts to pay for security to protect their offices and events in their districts and protect themselves while they are performing official duties. It also cited a 2017 Federal Elections Commission opinion that they can use campaign contributions to install security systems at their homes.

President Joe Biden is in “close touch” with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., about congressional security, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

Also Thursday, the acting chief of the Capitol Police said “vast improvements” are needed to protect the Capitol and adjacent office buildings, including permanent fencing.

Such barricades have ringed the complex since the Jan. 6 riots, but many lawmakers have long resisted giving the nation’s symbol of democracy the look of a besieged compound, and leaders were noncommittal about the idea.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif. speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The message was sent the same day House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters that lawmakers face threats of violence and said money would be needed to improve security. Pelosi’s comments were a startling acknowledgment of escalating internal tensions between the two parties over safety since the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

Pelosi focused her comments on the anxiety and partisan frictions that have persisted in Congress since Trump supporters’ breach of the Capitol. She told reporters she thinks Congress will need to provide money “for more security for members, when the enemy is within the House of Representatives, a threat that members are concerned about.”

Asked to clarify what she meant, Pelosi said, “It means that we have members of Congress who want to bring guns on the floor and have threatened violence on other members of Congress.”

Some lawmakers who voted for this month’s House impeachment of Trump have reported receiving threats, and initial moves to enhance safety procedures have taken on clear partisan undertones. Some Republicans have objected to having to pass through newly installed metal detectors before entering the House chamber, while Pelosi has proposed fining lawmakers who bypass the devices.

Pelosi did not say whom she meant by her reference to an “enemy” within the House, and a spokesperson provided no examples when asked.

First-term Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., has also come under scrutiny this week for social media posts in recent years before she took office that supported violence against Democratic politicians, including Pelosi.

Members of the National Guard work outside the U.S Capitol building on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Asked to comment, Greene sent a written statement accusing Democrats and journalists of attacking her because she is “a threat to their goal of Socialism” and supports Trump and conservative values.

Yogananda D. Pittman, acting chief of the Capitol Police, said in a statement that based on security assessments by her agency and others, some changes should be lasting.

“In light of recent events, I can unequivocally say that vast improvements to the physical security infrastructure must be made to include permanent fencing, and the availability of ready, back-up forces in close proximity to the Capitol,” said Pittman, whose agency provides security for Congress.

Pelosi took no immediate stance about Pittman’s proposal for permanent fencing. Drew Hammill, the speaker’s spokesperson, said she would await a Capitol security review led by retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré “to understand what infrastructure changes are necessary.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., took the same approach, telling reporters he would “defer to the experts.”

Others panned the permanent fencing suggestion. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., said she was “adamantly opposed” and had heard no justification for its need. First-term Rep. Jake Auchincloss, D-Mass., a former Marine, said it would be wrong to turn the Capitol into a ”fortress.”

The public is barred from carrying firearms on Capitol grounds. Members of Congress can keep guns in their offices or transport them on the campus if they’re unloaded and securely wrapped.

The Associated Press contributed to this article: Reporting by Alan Fram.

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