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Pelosi attack raises security questions

Members of Congress and their families are not assured protection


Paul and Nancy Pelosi's home after Paul Pelosi was assaulted Getty Images/Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency

Pelosi attack raises security questions

More than 9,625 recorded threats were made against members of Congress in 2021—a 107-percent increase from 2020, according to U.S. Capitol Police. Earlier this year, Congress approved increased government security for Supreme Court justices and their families, but members of the House and Senate have little protection off Capitol grounds.

Several representatives, including Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., have voiced their frustration at the situation.

“I’ve had so many people tell me in accusatory tones, ‘Members of Congress get all these security details,’ which we don’t. We have to rethink what the threat environment is,” Kinzinger said during a televised interview.

An attack this past Friday on the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has renewed concerns about the safety of elected officials and their families. Police said a man attacked Paul Pelosi at his home in San Francisco. Authorities accuse David DePape, 42, of planning to attack Nancy Pelosi, who was in Washington at the time, as well as several other state and federal politicians and their families.

Paul Pelosi suffered hammer blows that required hospitalization for a fractured skull and injuries to his arms and hands. According to Drew Hammill, a spokesperson for Nancy Pelosi, he is expected to make a full recovery.

Police said DePape told them he wanted to hold Nancy Pelosi hostage and break her kneecaps to make a political point. In addition to attempted murder, DePape has been charged with residential burglary, assault with a deadly weapon, elder abuse, false imprisonment of an elder, and threats to a public official and her family. He faces 13 years to life in prison if convicted of all local charges. He also faces federal assault and kidnapping charges. Judge Diane Northway ordered DePape held without bail pending additional hearings.

Earlier this year, police arrested an armed man outside of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s home. The man told police he was upset about a leaked draft opinion in the landmark abortion case Dobbs v. Jackson, so he wanted to break into Kavanaugh’s home and kill him. Other members of the Supreme Court received death threats, as well. Protesters outside of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, called for the hanging of then-Vice President Mike Pence as he presided over the certification of President Joe Biden’s electoral victory. And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., found his Kentucky residence vandalized following a vote that rejected the additional use of funds for COVID-19 relief.

In a rare display of overwhelming bipartisanship, a bill designed to provide the families of Supreme Court justices with round-the-clock protection was passed unanimously in the Senate and approved in the House of Representatives with a 396-27 vote. Biden signed the “Supreme Court Police Parity Act of 2022” into law in June of this year. The law authorizes the marshal of the Supreme Court to “protect any member of the immediate family of the chief justice, any associate justice, or any officer of the Supreme Court if the marshal determines that such protection is necessary.”

U.S. Capitol Police said they had access to a camera at the Pelosi home, but no one was monitoring it at the time of the attack on Paul Pelosi because his wife was not there. San Francisco police sometimes station a car outside the house but did not that day.

Following the attack, U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the Democratic chair of the committee that oversees the Capitol Police, wrote a letter to the department’s chief demanding answers.

“This incident and related circumstances, including the manner in which the speaker and her family were targeted, raise significant questions about security protections for members of Congress, particularly those in the presidential line of succession,” Lofgren wrote.

As another means of protecting members of Congress, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has called for the protection of the digital information of those members. Paul blocked the unanimous passage of a bill that prohibits the sale and distribution of the Supreme Court’s personal information, citing a need to expand those protections to all U.S. lawmakers. The bill remains unpassed and will likely have to be introduced at the beginning of the next legislative session.

The discussion around legislative solutions to keep representatives safe is still ongoing. But so are the root causes of the problem. While on the campaign trail in Pennsylvania, Biden denounced the attack, as well as the use of rhetoric that, in his view, might incite such action.

“There’s too much political violence, too much hatred, too much vitriol,” Biden said.

The Capitol Police issued a statement Wednesday promising to “fast track” work underway to protect members outside of Washington.

“In the meantime, a significant change that will have an immediate impact will be for people across our country to lower the temperature on political rhetoric before it’s too late,” the statement read.

And at a Senate debate Wednesday evening in New Hampshire, a GOP candidate echoed the sentiment. Republican Don Bolduc said a bystander took a swing at him as he arrived at the venue for the debate. An aide with the campaign of incumbent Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., said the same man got aggressive with some of her volunteers at another event.

During the debate, Bolduc called the violence “a sign of political problems. Republicans and Democrat, that fuel issues with people that get them to the point where they are just so upset at an individual that they strike out at them. … This is wrong and it needs to be stopped.”


Leo Briceno

Leo is a graduate of Patrick Henry College. He reports on politics from Washington, D.C.

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