Create chaos, then ramp up security? Give each Congressperson $25,000 in 2017 and 2018 to invest in personal and office space security. Give U.S. Capitol Police $29million to boost security in 2017 and the same again in 2018. Federal lawmakers can also now use campaign funds to upgrade their home security systems. House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg Harper said that more needs to be done. Threats to Congress doubled from 902 in 2016 to “about 2000” in 2017.
Rep. Barry Loudermilk of Georgia bought body armor. Rep. Gregg Harper hired armed security guards for events back home in Mississippi. And Rep. Dan Dovonan fortified his Brooklyn and Staten Island offices with security cameras and buzzer systems.
This is the new normal for members of Congress. One year after the horrific congressional baseball shooting that almost took the life of Rep. Steve Scalise and former Hill staffer Matt Mika, members are keenly aware that serving in public office has put a target on their backs.
“The true reality is if somebody wanted to do me harm, they could probably do that with relative ease and that is sad,” said Rep. Chuck Fleishmann (R-Tenn.), a New York City native.
The threats against them have skyrocketed.
In 2016, there were 902 threatening incidents and communications against members of Congress. By 2017, the reports had more than doubled to about 2,000, according to the House Sergeant at Arms office.
In response, the House Administration Committee allocated $25,000 to each member in 2017 and again in 2018 to beef up their personal and office security, prompting members to hire bodyguards for events and equip offices with panic buttons and shatter-resistant glass.
The House Sergeant at Arms got an additional $5 million to improve office security for district offices. Congress also increased funding for Capitol Police by $29.2 million in 2017, and another $29.9 million in 2018.
In recognition of the danger level, the Federal Election Commission also ruled in July that lawmakers can also use campaign funds –typically spent on TV ads and mailers — to install security systems at their homes.
Harper, the chairman of the House Administration Committee that authorized security spending, said the shooting made clear that Congress needed to do more.
“What we would never want to have happen is for an incident to occur and anybody – a member, a visitor or staffer – to say you didn’t give us what we needed to protect ourselves,” Harper said.
Some members report feeling safer, but there are still barriers.
Unchanged is that only the select members of leadership — five people out of 435 House members — are assigned security, including Scalise, whose heroic police officers fended off the baseball shooter last year.