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Giffords shooting prompts security concerns from lawmakers, on Hill and at home

Shaken by the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), lawmakers from both parties say it's time to tone down the rhetoric. The nation's bitter political climate has been cited as a possible reason for the rampage that left six dead and Giffords injured.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 10, 2011; 4:21 AM

In the wake of the shooting that critically wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and killed one of her aides, a federal judge and four others, U.S. Capitol Police spent the weekend fielding calls from lawmakers with concerns over potential threats and questions about what more should be done to protect staffers and family members at home.

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The law enforcement agency is chiefly responsible for protecting members of Congress on Capitol Hill and across the country. The force of about 1,800 officers guards Capitol Hill entrances, parking lots and park grounds, as well as the 535 lawmakers.

Members of the congressional leadership - the speaker of the House, and the House and Senate majority and minority leaders and whips - are assigned at least one plain-clothed Capitol Police officer at all times. Otherwise, officers are assigned as needed to lawmakers facing legitimate threats, such as Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who received letters tainted with anthrax in 2001.

Now some legislators are wondering whether more should be done.

With so many lawmakers and congressional offices to protect, Capitol Police are ill-equipped to account for security outside Washington, said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), adding that the U.S. Marshals Service should be responsible for it.

"They are already doing this for federal judges. It wouldn't take much more for them to also work with members of Congress," he said.

In an extraordinary conference call convened Sunday by House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and other top leaders, the House sergeant at arms and the FBI briefed about 600 aides, members of both parties and their spouses about Giffords's condition and reminded them to report any suspicious activity to Capitol Police and local law enforcement agencies.

Members are expected to be given additional recommendations on security measures during a meeting Wednesday.

The FBI also contacted several lawmakers to ask for details about their schedules, according to a senior Democratic aide. The calls appeared designed to help law enforcement officials keep track of how many public events are scheduled in the coming days, said the aide, who was not authorized to speak on the record.

On the Senate side, Sergeant at Arms Terrance W. Gainer said that aides are asking about security for upcoming events but that there's been no uptick in reported threats.

"I believe we have a good sense of what's going on in Tucson and we have a collective judgment on how to proceed from here," said Gainer, former chief of the Capitol Police.

Capitol Police Sgt. Kimberly Schneider said the force remains on high alert.

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