FAQ: Congress and safety

FBI Director Robert Mueller says Ariz. state and federal authorities are working to determine if anyone else was involved in the deadly shooting at an event help by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords Saturday. A 22-year-old man is in federal custody.
Sunday, January 9, 2011; 9:11 PM

The following are answers to some frequently asked questions about lawmakers' safety and what happens to Congress when something happens to one of its members.

Q: How are members of Congress protected from violence?

A: It is generally left up to lawmakers to decide what level of protection they want and to acquire it. Many members do not have a security detail follow them everywhere, but local police or other security may be present at a public function.

Q: How many members of Congress are protected?

A: It's hard to quantify. The Capitol Police don't disclose who travels with what kind of protection. Many people say that when they see members of Congress in public, they're generally flanked by staffers but not security.

Q: Which lawmakers have full-time protection?

A: Members of leadership have full-time security details from the Capitol Police, who guard them in Washington and when they travel home.

Q: Can members request protection?

A: The process for doing so is run through the Capitol Police Board and includes a threat assessment to determine whether the member requires additional resources.

Q: What is Congress's agenda for this week and going forward?

A: A scheduled vote this week on the repeal of the new health-care law has been postponed indefinitely. The House will meet on Tuesday in a pro-forma session, meaning there will be no votes or legislative business, said Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

On Wednesday, the House will consider at least one resolution honoring Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and the other victims of the Tucson shootings. Leaders of both parties have also scheduled a joint caucus conference for Wednesday. The House sergeant at arms, the Capitol Police and the FBI are expected to give members additional recommendations on security measures at the briefing.

The House will not be in session Thursday and Friday. House Republicans will attend their previously scheduled annual retreat in Baltimore on those days.

Q: What will happen to Giffords's seat?

A: While Giffords is incapacitated, her office will stay open under the supervision of the clerk of the House. Although she will not be voting, the office will still provide constituent services, and Giffords will remain a member of Congress.

A member of Congress serves until he or she resigns, retires, loses an election or dies.

Should Giffords' seat become vacant, Gov. Jan Brewer (R) would have 72 hours to set dates for a special primary and a special general election, said Matthew Benson, spokesman for the Arizona secretary of state's office.

A special primary would have to take place 80 to 90 days after the declaration of the vacancy, and a special general election would have to be scheduled for 50 to 60 days after the special primary.

Q: Has a member of Congress been incapacitated before?

A: In such a large body with many older members, some lawmakers are often away for long periods of time attending to health concerns or family matters. Although this is the first time in more than three decades that a member has been shot, a recent comparison is Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.). After having brain surgery four years ago, he missed nine months' worth of votes before returning.

Q: What kind of district does Giffords represent?

A: Giffords's Tucson-based 8th District runs along the Mexican border in southeast Arizona. Created after the state added a seat in 2000, it is generally considered a swing district, electing a Republican in 2002 and 2004 and Giffords since 2006. Giffords has received regular criticism from Republicans, and she won reelection in November with less than 50 percent of the vote.

- Aaron Blake and Felicia Sonmez

Staff writer Paul Kane contributed to this report.

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