The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Capitol Police beef up security for traveling members of Congress

U.S. Capitol Police officers in protective riot gear and members of the National Guard stand guard by the fenced perimeter of the U.S. Capitol grounds on Friday. (Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg News)

The Capitol Police are asking members of Congress to remain vigilant while traveling as authorities seek to boost protection for lawmakers in an acutely tense political environment.

In a Thursday night email obtained by The Washington Post, acting sergeant-at-arms Timothy P. Blodgett told lawmakers they should alert the Capitol Police of their travel itineraries ahead of time through a new online portal so that authorities can notify “the appropriate law enforcement agencies for extra awareness.”

Capitol Police officers will be stationed at the major airports in the region, as well as Union Station, to provide an extra layer of security for members arriving or departing — not as personal escorts but to “monitor as Members move throughout the airport,” said the email, which was first reported by the Associated Press. “Members and staff should remain vigilant of their surroundings and immediately report anything unusual or suspicious.” Blodgett wrote.

More than three weeks after the Jan. 6 breach of the Capitol, Blodgett’s security advisory makes evident the multiplying safety concerns confronting lawmakers — within and outside the Capitol building.

Supporters of former president Donald Trump continue to aim vitriol at members of Congress willing to consider sanctioning him for his role in inciting the riot. And Democrats have grown increasingly concerned about the reluctance of some Republican lawmakers to comply with new security screenings outside the House chamber.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) referenced the need to beef up security Thursday during a news conference, while suggesting that even colleagues in the Capitol could be dangerous. “The enemy is within the House of Representatives, a threat that members are concerned about, in addition to what is happening outside,” she said.

On Friday Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) said she decided to move her office away from freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), a promoter of misinformation with a history of racist and anti-Semitic comments, for “my team’s safety.”

Bush claimed on Twitter that Greene, who in the past has implicitly endorsed violence against Democrats, “berated” her in the hallway and targeted her on social media. Greene, in turn, claimed Bush was the one berating her for not wearing a mask — evidence of the open hostility that is building among members.

In his email, Blodgett reminded lawmakers that they could be reimbursed for personal security expenses, such as hiring a security detail at town halls or other events, to accompany them on official business or to be stationed at their district offices.

The Federal Election Commission also allows them to use campaign contributions to install security systems at home, he said.

He noted that the fencing around the perimeter of the Capitol will remain in place for the time being, as the Capitol Police consider making the barriers permanent — a proposal that angered D.C. officials and some lawmakers.

“A fence didn’t fail us on January 6th. Law enforcement leaders did,” Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) said in a statement Thursday night. “I believe we can keep Members, press, staff, my constituents, and all those who work here safe without walling off the symbol of our democracy.”

Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) said Friday that he also thought permanent fencing would be an overreaction, saying it should not be a “substitute for the difficult analysis of what went wrong. But Connolly said members need to have serious discussions about how to balance safety concerns in an evolving political climate, including with local law enforcement in their home jurisdictions.

He said Blodgett’s security memo “saddened” him, “but I think right now, prudence dictates that all of us be aware of security challenges and threats and take precautionary measures. . . . I don’t want to be burdening anybody with fears about my security, but after what happened January 6th, I think it’s incumbent upon all of us to have those discussions in a way we’ve never had before.”

After the breach of the Capitol — during which rioters called for the hanging of Vice President Mike Pence and tried to hunt down Pelosi — House Democrats were briefed on a range of violent extremist plots targeting them ahead of the inauguration of President Biden.

Republicans who did not endorse Trump’s false claims of a “stolen election,” meanwhile, have been subject to threats and heckling from Trump’s supporters, notably at airports.

Days after the Capitol siege, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) — who did not vote to object to electoral college votes on Jan. 6 — was called a “traitor” and “garbage human being” by a woman at Reagan National Airport.

“You know it was rigged!” she yelled, followed by a group of spectators. “It’s going to be like this forever, wherever you go for the rest of your life.”

Something similar happened to Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) as he traveled from Salt Lake City to Washington on Jan. 5. During his flight, a group of Trump supporters chanted “Traitor!” and called on him to resign because he refused to support Trump’s false claims that he won the election.

Blodgett on Thursday night said his office and Capitol Police “strongly encourage members to develop relationships with their local airport police and with the Transportation Security Administration officials.”