The shooting at a baseball field that critically wounded a Republican congressman and injured several others is forcing lawmakers to ask what more should be done to ensure the safety of themselves and their staff.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday she favors more money for the U.S. Capitol Police, which is seeking an 8 percent increase to nearly $427 million for next year. Pelosi said more money would help the agency enhance its presence when members of Congress, staff and others congregate away from the Capitol.
“It’s security for other people who are there, too,” she said. “If somebody is coming after a member of Congress, you don’t want to be anywhere nearby.”
Members of the U.S. Capitol Police engaged in a shootout with the assailant on Wednesday, and lawmakers said their presence probably prevented many deaths. Two police officers were injured; the shooter, James Hodgkinson, later died.
The Capitol Police were at the ballfield in Virginia because Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., is the majority whip and member of the leadership. Other members of Congress are not afforded the same security as congressional leaders.
“It seems self-evident that when the teams are practicing, there should be security there,” Pelosi said.
Even before the shooting, Speaker Paul Ryan and Pelosi had begun talking about changes that could improve members’ safety, said Ryan’s spokeswoman, AshLee Strong.
Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, who was at the baseball practice when the shooting happened, said one of the lessons lawmakers learned from the shooting of Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in 2011 was to consult closely with local law enforcement. He said political passions have only increased since then, particularly in recent months.
“All of that heat is different than what it was when Gabby got shot, so yeah, I think we’ll take a hard look at it,” Conaway said. “We don’t need to be knee-jerk reactionaries. We need to assess what the real risks are.”
He was struck by the fact that the attacker was armed with a rifle while the police officers only had pistols. He said the officers “might have put the guy down quicker if they had been able to use a long gun instead of just pistols.”
“One of the things I think we need to look at is what they have available for them should something like this happen in the future,” Conaway said.
While the officers did not use rifles in responding to the shooting Wednesday, it is common for them to carry rifles while patrolling the Capitol grounds.
Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., is among lawmakers who have received death threats in recent months. He has reported them to Capitol police.
“Many, many members have reported the same thing,” said MacArthur, who was influential in moving a health overhaul bill through the House. “I’m not just talking about the general, ‘I hope you die,’ ‘I hope you get cancer.’ We’re all getting those, too, but some of those are more threatening, and you have to take those seriously.”
MacArthur said local law enforcement has helped with protection at public events in his district. He said some 15 officers attended a May town-hall meeting where many in the angry crowd blamed him for helping to revive the GOP’s health care bill.
“That gives me some comfort,” he said, of the local police presence.
Before the shooting, Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., said he had asked Ryan about increasing budgets for members’ offices so they can pay for more security.
“In the grand scheme of things you’re only talking about a million or so dollars and you’re talking about saving lives,” Richmond said. “I think it’s well worth it.”
Currently, the office allowance cannot be used for home security. Congress would have to approve a change in policy.
The House sergeant-at-arms is also in touch with the Federal Election Commission about the possibility of allowing the use of campaign funds for security, Strong said.
Some lawmakers are talking about carrying a gun with them, although weapons are prohibited in the Capitol and the District of Columbia has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation, with carrying a firearm generally prohibited. Metropolitan Police also require that all firearms be registered with them.
Still, Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., who has a permit in his home state, said, “It’s going to be in my pocket from this day forward.”
Asked about carrying a gun, Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, said: “Sure, I mean I’m from Texas.” And Ralph Norman, a South Carolina Republican running for Congress, said he has a concealed carry permit and thinks members of Congress should be able to protect themselves.