House lawmakers narrowly passed a massive emergency spending bill in response to the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol by a violent mob, but its fate looks bleak in the Senate.
WASHINGTON (CN) — The House of Representatives on Thursday voted 213-212 to approve $1.9 billion in emergency funding for U.S. Capitol security, almost five months after rioters stormed the building, erected gallows on its lawn and engaged in deadly clashes with police.
HR 3237, or the Emergency Security Supplemental to Respond to January 6th Appropriations Act, was first introduced by Connecticut Democrat Representative Rosa DeLauro.
“I sat in the gallery. I sat right up there,” DeLauro said from the floor of the House Wednesday, gesturing to a balcony in the chamber’s rafters. “I was here when the Capitol policemen said the rioters have reached the Capitol, they have reached the rotunda and they were on the way to the chamber. Those doors were smashed and there were barricades up against them. We were told to grab a gas mask and did that. Not sooner than that, we were told, we have to evacuate you.”
Among its many provisions, the legislation proposes enhancements to U.S. Capitol grounds security to the tune of $250 million. Another $200 million is devoted to standing up a “quick reaction force” within the U.S. Capitol Police with National Guard assistance, while $162 million is allotted for physical security upgrades to the complex itself.
Many Republicans balked at the price tag, arguing the assessment for enhancements to Capitol security was rushed and that Democrats were effectively putting the cart before the horse by passing a funding bill to pay for reforms before reforms are specified.
That logic did not hold water for most Democrats, who in the last four months have held over a dozen congressional hearings considering recommendations and assessments on how to improve security on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers have also received analyses from the U.S. Capitol Police inspector general monthly.
Three Democrats voted against the bill, including U.S. Representatives Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Cori Bush of Missouri. The progressive lawmakers were against the bill because of concerns they have with the integrity of the U.S. Capitol Police force and lingering questions over some officers’ alleged involvement in facilitating the insurrection.
Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Representatives Jamaal Bowman and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York voted present. Bowman told reporters he opposed additional funding for the police but wanted to ensure with his present vote that the Capitol staff left to clean up the mess after the siege would be paid. Ocasio-Cortez did not immediately return request for comment. The only lawmakers who did not vote Wednesday were Republican Representatives John Carter of Texas and Daniel Webster of Florida.
Advocating for the bill’s passage, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was quick to remind opponents that it was Lieutenant General Russel Honore and a “blue ribbon commission” of law enforcement, intelligence and security experts from all political stripes who led the Task Force 1-6 that reviewed the attack and the litany of security failures that unfolded.
Republicans attempted to push the bill back to the House Appropriations Committee for further amending, but the attempt failed before final passage was eked out in the House. The bill now goes to the Senate, but it is not expected to get very far in the evenly divided upper chamber.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said Tuesday he would not vote for a “slanted and unbalanced” commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack. But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said Wednesday he would put a vote for the commission on the schedule nonetheless. Even if it cannot overcome a filibuster, holding the vote would put GOP lawmakers on the record.
In addition to improving the Capitol’s physical security infrastructure and redressing damages from the attack, HR 3237 also puts $17 million aside just for lawmaker protections, including installation of surveillance cameras in district offices.
U.S. Capitol Police reported last week that threats against federal lawmakers have doubled in the last year. Under the legislation passed Thursday, $18 million is flagged for specialized police training as well as for trauma counseling for officers. That pool will also pay for more body cameras and riot control gear, a boon for officers who, in many cases, watched in horror as their aging shields shattered on impact during the hours-long siege.
Almost $40 million in the package goes to the Department of Justice so it can keep up the pace prosecuting perpetrators of the attack. About 500 people have been charged so far. The FBI said early this month it was not done “rounding up the worst of the worst” offenders.
Authorities believe there were about 10,000 people who surrounded the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6. The FBI has said at least 800 people managed to push their way inside.
“We must protect our democratic institutions, Congress, the courts, and all federal agencies so no elected official or public servant ever goes to work scared to execute their duty,” Congressman Mike Quigley, an Illinois Democrat, said before the bill’s passage Thursday. “These threats are real. They are happening now and lives are at stake. For those who would vote against the commission or did, for those who would deny there was an insurrection, for those who would vote against this bill to protect us, you embody the new twisted world.”
“We grew up believing the phrase, ‘I’ll believe it when I see it.’ You embody the phrase, ‘I’ll see it when I believe it.’ God help us,” he added.
Quigley’s furor from the floor Thursday stems in part from a group of Republicans who attempted to reframe the attack on the Capitol as a tourist event gone awry during a congressional hearing last week. Republican Representative Andrew Clyde of Georgia chalked up the siege to “acts of vandalism” and suggested that calling it an insurrection was a “bold face lie.”
During the insurrectionist attack, gallows were erected on the Capitol grounds as rioters were heard calling for the heads of Vice President Mike Pence, Pelosi and others. When the mob got inside the building, chilling echoes of “where are they” reverberated. The rioters carried zip ties, handcuffs, bear mace and deadly weapons. Police officers like Brian Sicknick fought tirelessly to keep the mob at bay. Sicknick would eventually collapse after becoming exhausted from the fighting and he suffered a stroke. He died the next day.
The mob consisted of former President Donald Trump’s supporters, white nationalists nd extremists who came to Washington to “stop the steal,” a reference to Trump’s baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
“Like many of us in the Capitol community, I am still shaken by the violence and terror of that day and the tragedies and its aftermath,” DeLauro said. “Congress owes it to every single person who works in and visits the Capitol to provide funding to recover, rebuild and keep all who serve in the legislative branch healthy and secure.”
Two other Capitol Police officers died by suicide in the aftermath of the insurrection.
Jeffrey Smith fought off the mob for more than three hours, taking a metal pole to the helmet and face shield. He worked an overnight shift after the attack and was sent home with pain medication. He battled with insomnia in the fallout of the incident and shot himself in the head on the way to work on Jan. 14.
Howie Liebengood was a 15-year veteran of the Capitol Police and the son of a former Senate sergeant at arms. His family said he took his life as a direct result of the “trauma and strain” from the siege.
The Capitol security bill calls for a mental health and wellness center to be stood up for law enforcement, providing them with counselors and trauma specialists. If the bill passes the Senate, that center will be formally called the Howard C. “Howie” Liebengood Center for Wellness.