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$1.9B Capitol security bill passes House; bipartisan talks likely

Response to the Jan. 6 riot faces Republican opposition in the Senate, Democratic concerns

Capitol Police and National Guard troops conduct a security briefing on March 4, 2021. A leading Senate Democrat has raised concerns about a provision in the Capitol security bill that would house a proposed rapid response force within the D.C. National Guard.
Capitol Police and National Guard troops conduct a security briefing on March 4, 2021. A leading Senate Democrat has raised concerns about a provision in the Capitol security bill that would house a proposed rapid response force within the D.C. National Guard. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The House passed a $1.9 billion spending bill Thursday that Democrats hoped would pay for bills incurred since the Jan. 6 insurrection, bolster the Capitol’s police force and improve the complex’s security.

The 213-212 vote was mostly along party lines with three Democrats voting against the bill, three voting “present” and no Republicans voting in favor. The Senate will likely rewrite the bill amid objections from Republicans as well as the top Democrat on that chamber’s Appropriations committee.

Democratic Reps. Cori Bush of Missouri, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts voted against the bill. They said in a joint statement that increasing “police surveillance and force without addressing the underlying threats of organized and violent white supremacy, radicalization, and disinformation that led to this attack will not prevent it from happening again.”

Omar told reporters after the vote that she didn’t feel Democratic leaders sufficiently explained how it would increase security. “To be honest, we have not really been made to understand how the money will actually increase the safety,” Omar said. “And I could just not justify this vote.”

Democrats voting “present” included Jamaal Bowman and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib.

‘Quick reaction force’

The package would provide $200 million for a “quick reaction force” designed to support and augment the U.S. Capitol Police. Republicans during Thursday’s House floor debate voiced objections that the new unit would be housed within the D.C. National Guard, and not under the authority of Congress.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., also opposes putting the Guard in charge of such a unit instead of under the control of civilian law enforcement.

“I have a great deal of admiration for the National Guard. Our National Guard does things all over the world as well as when they have a disaster at home,” Leahy said Wednesday. “But we’re talking about trained police response. And that’s a different type of thing. I’d rather see the money going into making sure our police have all the training, money and equipment they need. That appeals to me more than having a permanent military unit here.”

Leahy didn’t rule out going to conference with the House, but said he expects negotiations between parties and chambers to continue with some “major ones early next week.”

“It’d be nice if we could be all on the same page. We’ll see,” he said.

While bipartisan talks could start quickly, the measure could nonetheless stall out for a while, according to Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a senior Appropriations panel member.

“It’s hard to imagine that anything we were going to do would happen earlier than Oct. 1,” Blunt said, raising the prospect of Capitol security funds getting lumped in with the end-of-fiscal year government funding talks.

He also echoed comments from several other Republicans that they want to see changes to the Capitol Police board and a new police chief in place before approving new funding for the department.

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, the top Republican on the Legislative Branch appropriations subcommittee, criticized House Democrats for moving forward with a bill before the Architect of the Capitol completes a full security assessment and before the House Administration Committee addresses the structure of the Capitol Police board.

She argued that the report from Ret. Gen. Russel L. Honoré was incomplete because it only looked at the House side of the Capitol, not the Senate.

“That’s part of the challenge — is that we’re funding something that is incomplete,” Herrera Beutler said. “We would be better served by holding this until the Architect of the Capitol completes their assessment on both sides of the Capitol complex and the entire grounds before allocating sufficient sums of money.”

House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said Congress “cannot wait until the report of a commission” to advance legislation that would pay bills associated with the insurrection by pro-Trump supporters and increase security throughout the Capitol complex to prevent another attack.

“Congress owes it to every single person who works in or visits the United States Capitol to provide funding to recover, rebuild and keep all who serve in the legislative branch safe,” DeLauro said.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, chair of the House Administration Committee, took objection to Herrera Beutler’s assertion that approving a spending package before a bill to overhaul structural issues with the Capitol Police board indicates a “dereliction of duty within the House Administration Committee.”

Lofgren, D-Calif., said after several hearings it wasn’t clear if there were “failings of the structure or failings of the individuals” during the Jan. 6 attack.

“We will come forward with our best analysis of what changes should be made in the weeks to come, meanwhile these officers need our support today. We can’t hold back and do nothing,” Lofgren said.

Capitol Police support

The Capitol Police, which is under scrutiny after being overpowered by rioters, would receive $80 million, of which $44 million is for the department’s response to the Jan. 6 attack. Line items include:

  • $31.1 million for salaries to backfill overtime until the department can hire and train more officers, a process that will take years.
  • $3.32 million for human and technical resources within the Intelligence Division, which was found to have serious shortcomings in the lead-up to the pro-Trump insurrection.
  • $5.04 million for USCP equipment and services.
  • $4.41 million for wellness and trauma support, including six new mental health counselors and wellness resilience specialists.

The Justice Department, which continues to investigate and prosecute the alleged perpetrators of the Jan. 6 attack, would receive $34 million for United States attorneys, $3.8 million for the department’s criminal division, and $1.7 million for the National Security Division.

The bill would also reimburse an array of law enforcement agencies for their response to the Capitol attack, including $5.5 million for the FBI; $1.5 million for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; $1 million for the U.S. Marshals Service; $1.8 million for the Federal Bureau of Prisons; and $1.4 million for the National Park Service

Of the AOC’s funding, $250 million is slated for “future needs stemming from the ongoing security assessments” including potential installation of retractable or “pop-in” fencing around the Capitol complex. The bill expressly prohibits the funds from being used to install any permanent above ground fencing.

Shattered windows remain in their frames at the Capitol, even five months after the attack, but the bill would provide $162.7 million to upgrade windows and doors across the complex.

The existing screening infrastructure for visitors and staff would get an $100 million overhaul under the bill, to install screening vestibules at entrances.

Capitol security cameras, which are currently not entirely integrated or linked, would be installed across the Capitol building and office buildings. The bill would allocate $17 million for the new surveillance systems.

Before final passage, Republicans tried a procedural maneuver that would have sidelined the underlying bill.

The GOP motion to recommit was intended to put lawmakers on record backing the addition of $500 million to the underlying bill to bolster Israeli defenses, while striking the contents of the underlying bill. Of that total $73 million would be for Israel’s “iron dome” defense system, which is used to intercept rocket attacks and has been seen widely during the last week through photos of the dome activating at night.

In the end no Democrats took the bait on the Republican motion, however, which would have sent the entire Capitol security bill back to committee. It was rejected 209-218.

Chris Marquette and Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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