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Lawmakers prepping supplemental appropriations for Capitol security

Capitol Police are on 12-hour shifts, and members are purchasing security equipment

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks during her weekly news conference in the Capitol Thursday.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks during her weekly news conference in the Capitol Thursday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that a legislative branch appropriations supplemental bill will likely be needed to boost spending on Capitol security, and a key Senate appropriator confirmed the legislation is already being drafted.

“I do believe — and I have said this all along — that we will probably need a supplemental for more security for members when the enemy is within the House of Representatives, a threat that members are concerned about in addition to what is happening outside,” Pelosi said at her weekly press conference.

Asked to clarify what she meant by “the enemy is within,” the California Democrat 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.”

Pelosi’s comments come three weeks after supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. Many of the rioters have since been indicted on a variety of charges, some of which include threatening violence against lawmakers.

Capitol security has increased significantly since Jan. 6, with Capitol Police working 12-hour shifts and thousands of National Guard troops deployed to protect the complex. The National Guard presence has decreased since President Joe Biden’s inauguration Jan. 20, but some troops are are expected to remain in place at least through Trump’s impeachment trial.

Congress funds the Capitol Police through the Legislative Branch spending bill, and it is their enhanced security measures, including magnetometer screening of members entering the House floor, that has Pelosi calling for a supplemental.

But Pelosi also suggested she would like to provide dedicated funding for various security equipment members may need for themselves, so they don’t have to spend money from their personal office budgets, known as Members’ Representational Allowance.

“I do think though that while it’s appropriate that they use their MRA for their security,  they shouldn’t have to because that money is there for them to meet the needs of their constituents,” she said.

‘Lack of clarity’

Dedicated security funding for lawmakers will be welcome news to a large coalition of Democrats who have requested it.

Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal told reporters on a press call Thursday that there has been a “lack of clarity” among members about how they can use their MRA funds for security. Some members have used campaign funds instead since the rules were changed last cycle to allow for increased use of those funds for security, the Washington Democrat said.

“It is increasingly a very large part of our expenses, whether it’s the security of home cameras, monitoring security that we actually have to get when we’re traveling, that we have to hire,” Jayapal said.

A group of Democrats, which included Jayapal, had sent Pelosi a letter requesting clarity on the use of their MRAs for security and requesting an increase in those funds for that purpose.

Pelosi said most of the security items members raised questions about in the letter are already authorized MRA expenses.

“Perhaps they were not aware, and I take responsibility for them not being aware in terms of use of their MRA funds and some of the other issues that are in there,” she said.

After the the violence on Jan. 6, House members were reminded in a memo of their ability to use office funds to buy a bulletproof vest. Some wore them to the inauguration.

The Members’ Congressional Handbook was updated to allow vest purchases in February 2018 — less than a year after the congressional baseball shooting that wounded five members, including GOP Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

Along with ballistic vests, the House also allowed members to hire security personnel for events such as town halls, to guard their district offices during business hours, and to accompany them on official business. Paying a security detail for those reasons was classified as “an ordinary and necessary reimbursable expense.”

In 2017, the Legislative Branch bill provided $5 million in new funding for the House sergeant-at-arms to enhance district office security, such as cameras, panic buttons and other security infrastructure.

‘Significant costs’

Sen. Christopher S. Murphy confirmed Pelosi’s announcement that a bill to boost funding for Capitol and member security is in the works.

“There’s there’s obviously significant costs attached to the security footprint,” the Connecticut Democrat told CQ Roll Call Thursday. “We’re working through a supplemental request from Capitol Police and sergeant-at-arms right now.”

Murphy served as the top Democrat on the Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee last Congress. It’s not yet clear whether he’ll continue in that role this Congress, but with the Senate not yet organized, he seems to be continuing to take the lead on Legislative Branch spending.

House Appropriations Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro said in an interview Wednesday that the many reviews underway of security protocols, communication and leadership failures on Jan. 6 — and even reviews of mental health resources for Capitol Police and congressional staff — will reveal what additional resources might be needed.

“We need to be gathering more information and material,” the Connecticut Democrat said.

DeLauro said a briefing earlier this week, where top security officials admitted there was a lack of preparation despite intelligence, was “stunning.” But she said the briefing didn’t provide answers to her questions.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, whom Pelosi tapped to conduct a review of the Capitol security posture, will help provide lawmakers with answers about what resources will be needed.

The review Honoré is conducting goes beyond security in the Capitol complex.

“He is looking at members here, members at home and in between,” Pelosi said at her press conference.

Honoré briefed Pelosi later Thursday on the status of his security review, which began Jan. 22 and is expected to last at through at least March 5. Pelosi said in a statement that his initial assessment “covered operational readiness, interagency cooperation, security infrastructure and the morale and readiness of institutional staff.”

“As we consider the need for an emergency supplemental funding bill to meet institutional security needs, I want to thank the General for reviewing what is necessary for the Capitol Police to do their jobs,” she said.

The speaker also noted that the House sergeant-at-arms, which oversees Capitol Police, will be sending a letter to members Thursday outlining initiatives it hass taken since Jan. 6, including coordinating with air marshals to provide security on members’ flights to and from Washington.

Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.

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