- The Washington Times - Monday, January 29, 2007

Even by Congress’ standards, things got rowdy outside the Capitol building this weekend. On Saturday, amid an anti-war protest numbering in the tens of thousands, the Capitol Police were ordered by superior officers to break a security line against a mob that subsequently vandalized the west-front steps with spray-painted graffiti and drawings of “anarchy” symbols. ” To get that close to the Capitol building, that is ridiculous,” an unnamed source told The Hill. And indeed it is highly irregular for things to get so out of hand. What’s going on in the new Congress?

Historically, the speaker of the House is a close collaborator with the Capitol Police on security matters. The speaker and aides play a substantial role that includes both real-time decision-making in response to incidents at the Capitol, as well as the drafting of security procedures and policies. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi couldn’t have been much involved in this particular incident: She was out of the country Saturday en route to Afghanistan to meet President Hamid Karzai. But she undoubtedly has a decisive hand in whatever security arrangements the 110th Congress has formulated.

In the best-case scenario here, Mrs. Pelosi now has in hand a great example of how not to handle out-of-control protesters, whose right to speak their minds is as involatile as their acts of violence or property damage are felonies and misdemeanors. Viewed properly, this episode gives Mrs. Pelosi some leverage to establish tough ground rules for future incidents — in which case, the whole episode could be wrapped up as a miscommunication and end there.

Things are not always so simple in the party of Cynthia McKinney, however, which has a history of friction with the Capitol Police and a less-than-ideal record on policing and crime. In a charged political environment like the present, Democrats have a hard enough time fending off their anti-war base’s charges of sheepishness and insufficient anti-war ardor without seeming to muzzle protesters. It would be easy enough to imagine them relaxing the rules a bit to avoid that perception.

We don’t know who gave the order to let the vandals approach the Capitol, although it was reportedly issued by Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse and his deputy. But if this policy comes from the Democratic leadership, it would be quite a shabby thing. At least we know we’ll hear about it if that is the case. Lax security would infuriate officers, undoubtedly to the point of creating whistleblowers among them.

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