January 10, 2011 in Nation/World

Lawmakers briefed on security

Capitol Police chief holds conference call with 800
David Lightman McClatchy
 
Associated Press photo

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, speaks Sunday during a news conference condemning the attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
(Full-size photo)

WASHINGTON – Grief-stricken lawmakers, their spouses and staffers were briefed Sunday on their own safety after the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

About 800 members of Congress, staff and spouses discussed security in a conference call with Capitol Police Chief Philip Morse, FBI officials and other congressional security staff.

During the call, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he had asked security officials to “conduct an in-depth security review” for members of Congress when they meet Wednesday. A briefing will also be held for lawmakers’ district office directors.

At the White House, President Barack Obama called on Americans to observe a moment of silence at 11 a.m. today. He called it “a time for us to come together as a nation in prayer or reflection, keeping the victims and their families closely at heart.” The president plans to observe the moment with his staff on the White House South Lawn.

Obama has spoken with Giffords’ husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, and expressed his “deep concern and full support,” said White House spokesman Nick Shapiro.

The president postponed his previously scheduled Tuesday trip to a General Electric plant in Schenectady, N.Y., where he had planned to talk about clean energy and job creation.

Giffords, a third-term Democratic congresswoman from southern Arizona, remained in critical condition at the University Medical Center in Tucson.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson, D-Conn., said during the conference call that new members of Congress and spouses were especially concerned about security.

“We want to make sure that spouses know how to connect,” he said. Officials talked about “coordination with local security and how we should go about that.”

Congressional leaders are accompanied by plainclothes Capitol Police officers. Rank and file members typically don’t get protection outside the Capitol, and there was no indication that policy will change.

The Senate was previously scheduled to be out of session this week. The House has postponed a Wednesday vote to repeal Obama’s health care law, and no votes will be held this week. Instead Wednesday, the House plans a tribute to Giffords and others killed or wounded during Saturday’s rampage.

“We are just taking some time,” said Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., a member of the House Republican leadership team.

McMorris Rodgers said that working to repeal the health care law “continues to be a high priority for the House Republicans and the new majority,” and a House vote is expected soon.

Lawmakers made it clear that the Arizona shooting shouldn’t affect the way they conduct constituent business. House members, who face election every two years, often pride themselves on frequent town meetings and informal events like the one Giffords was hosting Saturday outside a grocery store.

“We must, in a democracy, have access to our constituents,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo.

Still, the Arizona incident “needs to be a wake-up call for members who have treated their own personal security in a cavalier way,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., who noted that she always has officers present when she holds town meetings.

“Not a cavalry of officers,” she said, “but at least a show of law enforcement so that we can make sure my staff is protected.” She and Cleaver spoke on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., a top Democrat, speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” said that rather than cut spending for congressional security, as had been discussed earlier, “we ought to look at whether or not we may need to beef up the funding … so that Congress people can work with their state and local law enforcement officers.”

Not everyone seemed to agree.

Freshman Republican Rep. Vicky Hartzler of Missouri, elected last fall with tea party backing, said no changes are needed.

“This is an isolated incident by a deranged person similar to other tragic shootings at post offices, schools, places of work,” she said. “I don’t believe extra security measures are warranted, nor that political rhetoric had anything to do with it.”


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