House approves $1.9B for post-Jan. 6 Capitol security

By | May 20, 2021

The House on Thursday passed a $1.9 billion emergency security funding package after a group of progressive members forced a last-minute scramble to resolve concerns that the money for Capitol Police did not include new accountability measures.

The 213-212 vote came after some eleventh-hour drama on the floor, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her top leadership working the floor to appease concerns on the caucus’ far left. The group of liberal lawmakers, known as “the squad”, had objected to millions more dollars for the Capitol Police budget without more knowledge about whether some officers were indirectly complicit in the Jan. 6 riot.

Three progressives registered their discontent by voting present — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) — while three voted no: Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.).

Omar said in an interview that she saw failures in “police preparedness and procedures and the lack of political will to engage, to protect the Capitol on January 6, and it is not clear to me how the supplemental addresses that. And I am frankly tired of any time where there is a failure in our system of policing, the first response is for us to give them more money.”

Democrats had some warning that there would be issues with the bill, with the whip team once again checking their count on Wednesday night. Progressives also sought to ensure that Capitol workers outside of congressional offices were fairly paid.

The bill, one of Democrats’ biggest steps to date to respond to the insurrection, would bolster the Capitol Police, a force that’s long been understaffed even before getting battered by the attack. The measure also includes long-term crisis planning elements, such as the creation of a new quick-reaction team that would essentially create a standing force of the D.C. National Guard, many of whom have been stationed at the Capitol for months.

Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, chief Democrat on the subpanel that funds the Capitol Police, acknowledged the importance of “reform” to the force’s structure but defended the importance of boosting its preparedness, particularly in the wake of Jan. 6.

“We can’t have an exodus of our cops who are getting beat upside the head by a lead pipe,” Ryan said, referring to a weapon used by insurrectionists against Capitol Police officers.

All but three Democrats voted for the bill with all Republicans voting no, as recommended by their leadership. The bill is unlikely to quickly advance in the Senate, where GOP leaders have disputed some of its provisions and complained that Democrats drafted the bill without enough input from their party.

“We all sit in this chamber and we live with the violent assault on our democracy and our lives. We must act now to fulfill our obligations and our oath of office,” House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said ahead of the vote.

One of the GOP’s chief complaints is that Democrats are moving too quickly on the bill. Several Republicans have also complained that the new quick-reaction team would fall under control of the Guard rather than the Capitol Police.

“By choosing to forge ahead with this bill today, I’m concerned that my colleagues are more interested in making headlines instead of headway,” said Texas Rep. Kay Granger, the top Republican on the appropriations panel.

Democrats counter that they must move quickly to secure the Capitol, where a massive fence has surrounded the inner perimeter since the Jan. 6 attack. But they say that few other necessary security upgrades — such as stronger doors and windows or more cameras — can be made without more funding.

The bill also includes roughly $22 million to help protect members of Congress, who have seen personal threats against them more than double in the wake of the insurrection. Many, particularly Democrats and Republicans who have publicly clashed with former President Donald Trump, have paid out of pocket or with campaign funds to upgrade their personal security.

In addition, the legislation would offer back pay for Capitol Police and National Guard troops who have helped secure the Capitol and set aside millions of dollars for future security upgrades. It would also bolster and rename the Capitol Police’s wellness center for the late officer Howard Liebengood, who died by suicide in the days after the attack.

In response to lawmakers’ criticism of the fencing around the Capitol, the legislation bars the use of its security funding for any permanent barrier, though it allows the creation of retractable fencing in the future.

Architect of the Capitol Brett Blanton said in Wednesday written testimony before the House Administration Committee that his office would be issuing “initial recommendations in the coming weeks” from their assessment of the Capitol Complex’s needs. That assessment would include an evaluation of “physical security” needs like fencing.