House narrowly approves $1.9B to fortify Capitol after riot

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 21, 2021

By Lisa Mascaro and
Mary Clare Jalonick

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The House on Thursday narrowly approved $1.9 billion to fortify the Capitol after the Jan. 6 insurrection, as Democrats pushed past Republican opposition to try to harden the complex with retractable fencing and a quick-response force following the most violent domestic attack on Congress in history.

The bill’s 213-212 passage came a day after the House approved the formation of an independent commission to investigate the deadly mob siege by President Donald Trump’s supporters, who battled police to storm the building in a failed attempt to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s election.

The two measures now face an uncertain outcome in the evenly divided Senate as most Republicans have objected to both. Tensions are running high at the Capitol, with Democrats growing exasperated with Republicans who refuse to acknowledge the severity of the insurrection because of what appears to be their devotion to Trump — and fears of crossing him.

“We have a major political party in the country that’s ignoring it — we’re trying to solve a problem, they clearly don’t want to sit down and talk about it,” said Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, chairman of an appropriations subcommittee handling legislative branch security.

At the same time, the idea of bolstered security at the Capitol saddened many lawmakers who said they see no other choice because of the ongoing threats on Congress. Several leading liberal Democrats opposed the security money over concerns about policing, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders worked the floor during votes to ensure passage.

Together, the package of bills stemming from the domestic assault by Trump supporters on the Capitol reminded some lawmakers of the changes that emerged from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Then, a landmark commission investigated the attack’s root causes and authorities hardened the security apparatus across the federal government.

Thursday’s vote capped two days of emotionally wrenching debate as the political divide, particularly in the House, has widened in the months since the January assault.

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro recalled her own experience being trapped in the House gallery that day as the attackers tried to break in, calling her husband to tell him she was OK after Capitol Police told her to duck on the floor.

“This bill is not about politics, it’s not about settling scores,” DeLauro said. “It’s about ensuring that every person who comes into the Capitol is safe and is protected.”

Republicans argued that the spending bill is too expensive and no fencing is needed. Many of them said lawmakers should be spending money on border security, not Capitol security.

Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Texas, contended that Democrats would rather spend money on a wall “around this building in D.C.” than they would on finishing a border wall advocated by Trump.

Already, National Guard troops have been protecting the building for months and public access is severely limited. Though razor-wire-topped fencing that stood as a stark reminder of the siege has been removed, an extended perimeter fence remains in place, cutting off access to the lush grounds popular with the public.

The Democrats who opposed the security legislation were some of the most liberal in the House. Some have expressed the view that police treat people of color unfairly. Democratic Reps. Cori Bush of Missouri, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota voted against it.

Omar said she had “not been convinced of the importance of the money.”