Members of Congress say they have faced death threats, want more security
One widespread point of agreement in Congress after Wednesday’s baseball practice shooting was that the toll would have been much worse had Republican Whip Steve Scalise’s security detail not been at the playing field.
Top congressional leaders are protected around the clock by the Capitol Police, a practice that was bolstered after several incidents, including a 1998 shooting at the Capitol and the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
But now, in today’s intensely polarized political environment, more members want to reconsider their own security needs.
“Everyone’s getting a bunch of death threats right now,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) as lawmakers exited a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill with law enforcement officials. “A lot of members were asking for changes.”
Lawmakers feel particularly vulnerable at rowdy town hall events or when traveling unprotected away from the watchful eyes of police patrolling the Capitol complex. One lawmaker involved in Wednesday’s shooting noted that his great concern was that none of the ballplayers was armed and able to stop the shooter.
“They saved our lives,” Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.) said about the Capitol Police.
Without Scalise’s security detail, “it would have been a very, very bad situation,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)
Lawmakers peppered officials at the briefing with requests for increased security and suggested they should be allowed to dip into campaign funds for protection.
No new procedures were announced after the morning shooting that left Scalise and others hospitalized. Security appeared particularly tight Wednesday at the Capitol.
Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), a former Air Force fighter pilot, said she has received death threats this year in her Tucson-area district that once was held by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head at a meeting with constituents outside a grocery store in 2011. She urged Americans, and colleagues, toward civility.
“For all the noise and all the fury, we are one family,” Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said on the House floor. “Let’s just slow down and reflect, to think about how we’re all being tested right now. Because we are being tested right now.”
Two leaders of the congressional baseball teams, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Penn.), were taking stock of security.
Barton said he may think twice about again taking his son, Jack, to congressional events, never having expected shooting violence at the 6 a.m. baseball practice.
Doyle said “perhaps we should” reconsider security at events where many lawmakers are present, but he said “most members will tell you they feel fine and are not seeking an increase in security.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) noted that, other than former President Obama, she probably has had more threats on her life than any member of Congress.
“You may not know this, my colleagues, but every time I pray, which is frequently, and certainly every Sunday, I pray for all of you,” Pelosi said in remarks in the House.
Early on, she said she used to pray that lawmakers could work together, citing former President Kennedy’s inaugural address to do God’s work.
“But in more recent years, I have been praying not only for that, but for our safety,” she said.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) (Facebook and Cliff Owen/Associated Press) James Hodgkinson protests outside the U.S. Post Office in Belleville, Ill. (James T. Hodgkinson/Facebook) (Evan Vucci / Associated Press) (Dmitry Lovetsky / Associated Press)