Concern over member security muted

Most lawmakers silent on issue, but some call for protective measures

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Some Capitol Hill lawmakers are speaking out about what they say is the need to beef up security measures for congressmen, bucking a general trend from members of both parties to remain silent on the matter so soon after the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona.

Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. on Tuesday proposed legislation to increase spending to protect lawmakers, saying congressional offices are “vulnerable” to future attacks like the shooting rampage Saturday that killed six and injured 14 others, including Ms. Giffords, a Democrat, in her Tucson district.

Mr. Jackson, Illinois Democrat, wants a 10 percent increase in member budgets for security measures because “members should have the resources and the latitude to take the appropriate security measures in order to protect themselves and their staffs.”

The money could be used for such purposes as hiring security personnel for public events, installing surveillance cameras at district offices and improving locks and entry systems in district offices, he said.

“I do not feel that fear should grip us, but since 9/11, we’ve secured every federal facility with the exception of our district offices,” he said. “After the events of last weekend, it is clear that our district staffs are vulnerable.”

Costs for improving safety for members of Congress would vary from member to member, with the total amount potentially topping $100 million in the upcoming budget, Mr. Jackson’s office said.

To help defray the cost, Mr. Jackson wants to restore last week’s 5 percent cut in House-member budgets - a move pushed through by Republicans - which the GOP estimates will save $35 million.

Mr. Jackson isn’t the only Capitol Hill lawmaker who called this week for improved security measures.

House Assistant Minority Leader James E. Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat, said he supports extending the legal bar against threatening the president or the vice president to threats made against members of Congress.

“I think we reached the point where that may be necessary,” Mr. Clyburn said Monday on NPR. “I understand such legislation is going to be introduced. And if it is, I will support it.”

The South Carolina Democrat added he also would consider supporting a measure to prohibit a person from carrying a loaded gun within a certain distance of candidates running for a federal office.

However, most party leaders on Capitol Hill have been reluctant to discuss the issue of increasing member security - at least for now.

“At the moment the leader’s thoughts and prayers are with Congresswoman Giffords and those who were killed and injured,” said Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

Katie Grant, a spokeswoman for House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said, “There will be discussions in the days ahead about how to respond and how to help prevent a similar attack in the future.”

Republicans have been even less eager to bring up the matter.

“I think as a general policy, security measures should be left up to the Capitol Police, the sergeant-at-arms and other law enforcement agencies,” said Brad Dayspring, a spokesman with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican.

A spokesman with House Speaker John A. Boehner’s office said the Ohio Republican has no plans to increase security budgets on Capitol Hill.

At least two House members who own firearms - Reps. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican, and Heath Shuler, North Carolina Democrat - say they intend to carry a gun while attending certain events in their districts.

But Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance W. Gainer has asked lawmakers to avoid taking security matters into their own hands and to refrain from carrying firearms.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Mr. Gainer, a former Capitol Police chief, said Tuesday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “I think we ought to leave the law enforcement security to those professionals.”

Mr. Gainer said 49 threats were made against senators in 2010, an increase from the previous year.

“When you think of the tens of thousands of interactions that members of the Senate or House have with the public, it’s actually very low,” he said.

Mr. Gainer said he doesn’t see a need to increase security on Capitol Hill.

“I think we have been on guard, especially since 2001,” prompted by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he said.

Mr. Gainer, along with House Sergeant-at-Arms Wilson Livingood, are scheduled to speak with members Wednesday regarding security matters.

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