Congressional offices tighten security after lawmaker's shooting

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 8, 2011 

WASHINGTON — The shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Saturday struck home with members of Congress, reminding them anew of their own vulnerabilities.

Shortly after the shooting, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif., said he and other House members received multiple e-mail warnings from Capitol Hill law enforcement officials.

"They told us to increase our vigilance, and to have more security at our public events," Cardoza said, adding that "we will follow the recommendations of the police."

One e-mail advised lawmakers that "the U.S. Capitol Police are directly involved in this investigation" and urged members and staff to "take reasonable and prudent precautions regarding their personal security."

During past security scares, as in the days following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, some House members undertook some simple precautions such as keeping the doors closed to their Capitol Hills offices.

At the same time, lawmakers are obliged by their profession to be out in public. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, for instance, made a point of declaring Saturday afternoon that she would still be holding a previously scheduled "Community New Year's Celebration" on Market Street in downtown San Francisco.

As a member of congressional leadership, Pelosi already receives the protection of armed, plainclothes officers from the U.S. Capitol Police. Rank-and-file members of Congress, by contrast, do not typically receive federal protection outside of Capitol Hill.

"It's a real problem," Cardoza said of the security conundrum. "You want to be accessible, but I also care very deeply about the security of my staff and of the people who attend these public events."

Cardoza said security considerations contributed to his previous decision to relocate his congressional district offices to government buildings that already maintain a security presence. He indicated security concerns also played into his earlier decision to curtail some public town hall meetings during the politically heated summer of 2009.

Threats against lawmakers are not uncommon. Cardoza said his office has been on the receiving end of some. He added that Giffords, a friend and political ally for whom he campaigned in Arizona during 2008, had previously reported that one of her own congressional offices had been vandalized.

"She's been concerned," Cardoza said.

Giffords and Cardoza are both members of the so-called Blue Dog Caucus, largely comprised of moderate House Democrats.

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