U.S. lawmakers weigh enhanced security after baseball field attack

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 15, 2017 6:58 PM

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Congress and law enforcement authorities are looking at ways to improve security for lawmakers and their aides following Wednesday's shooting of Representative Steve Scalise and three others, with money being both the possible remedy and hurdle.

Several Republican and Democratic members of the House of Representatives and Senate on Thursday said a security review was long overdue.

Scalise, the third-ranking Republican in the House, was seriously wounded when a gunman opened fire on him during a practice at a suburban Virginia baseball field for Thursday's annual congressional ballgame between Republicans and Democrats.

A congressional aide, a lobbyist and one police officer were also shot before police killed the gunman.

A budget increase for the U.S. Capitol Police from just under $400 million this year is among the ideas under consideration.

House Speaker Paul Ryan and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi had been discussing "protocol and resources for members' safety" even before the attack, said a Ryan spokeswoman, AshLee Strong.

Pelosi said at a news conference she believes the 2,200-member Capitol Police force needed a bigger budget.

She said that she has been subjected to an "incredible amount" of threats, which she did not detail.

Strong said that last week, Ryan met with Democratic Representative Cedric Richmond, at Richmond's request, to discuss whether federal regulations might allow members to use some of their campaign funds for additional security. They are seeking guidance from the Federal Election Commission.

Some Republicans already are voicing opposition to the idea.

Also under consideration: allowing lawmakers to use money from their House official allowances.

In January 2011, a gunman shot then-Democratic Representative Gabby Giffords in a parking lot in the Tucson, Arizona area, where she was meeting with constituents. She recovered, but a federal judge and five others, including an aide to Giffords, died.

That shooting prompted some new security steps, which were not described by officials because they say they never do so.

Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said an increase in the Capitol Police budget for fiscal 2018, which begins Oct. 1, is likely to be debated. House appropriators are also examining that possibility, according to one committee aide.

Murkowski said senators will receive a security briefing next week that she hoped "will better inform us in terms of what we need."

Richmond told reporters he asked to talk to Ryan about security concerns in part because members of the Congressional Black Caucus, which he chairs, have been targets of threats.

He said Ryan has been receptive to his ideas. "If I was the speaker...I'd do it tomorrow," he said of potential legislation.

Republican Representative Luke Messer, who supports more spending for Capitol Police, said there is a template that could instruct Congress on how to enhance security for the 535 lawmakers when they hold events in their home states.

"The model would be to look at what happens in the Department of Justice," he said, which has the U.S. Marshals Service looking after federal judges, other court officials, witnesses and jurors all across the United States.

(Reporting By Richard Cowan and David Morgan; Editing by Caren Bohan and Grant McCool)