WASHINGTON — As the U.S. House of Representatives prepares to meet with law enforcement officials Wednesday to scrutinize its security, many members of the Washington state delegation are loath to spend more money to protect themselves.
"You can't always stop an extremist," freshman Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler said Tuesday. "When I took this job, I knew it was going to put me more in touch with the public, not less. It comes with the job."
"We're public figures and we have to be accessible to the public, and you can't have the kind of security that you have for the president for every single member of Congress," added Democratic Rep. Adam Smith.
Illinois Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. proposed Tuesday that House members rescind a 5 percent cut in their office budgets approved just last week and add another 10 percent to pay for more security.
"I do not feel that fear should grip us, but since 9/11 we've secured every federal facility with the exception of our district offices," Jackson said. "After the events of last weekend it is clear that our district staffs are vulnerable."
Among the other ideas on the table: using federal marshals to protect members when they return home, and enclosing the House gallery with a protective Plexiglas case.
Democratic Rep. Rick Larsen predicted that any plan would face an uphill fight.
"I honestly think most members of Congress will be reluctant to want additional security beyond what we have now," Larsen said. "I think most members of Congress would say that the last thing we want to have is a security detail because our job is to be meeting with people."
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the vice chair of the House Republican Conference, said the House should wait until Capitol Police complete a safety assessment and issue recommendations to Congress. In the past, she said, Capitol Police officers traveled to eastern Washington to check out her three district offices and to discuss security with her staff.
“We absolutely need to make sure that we’re taking the necessary precautions and that both the staff and members are safe, but I’m waiting for the Capitol Police,” she said. “They’re the ones that are responsible for ensuring our safety and they’re very good about helping us.”
Herrera Beutler, who began her congressional career one week ago, said Saturday's shooting of Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was "an unfortunate way to have everything start."
But she called Jackson's plan "a knee-jerk reaction" and said it's premature to be discussing any additional security proposals while investigations are still under way.
"I would say let's not be reactionary, let's be thoughtful and draw some conclusions based on facts," she said.
Herrera Beutler said the shooting has caused her to think more about her personal security, but she added: "The lifeblood of being a representative is interacting with the people you represent. And I'm not going to recoil or retreat because I'm fearful that there is a person who's deranged who's going to end all that."
Smith said that adding security has "practical limitations" and that preventing public access to members would make it impossible for them to do their jobs.
"That was one of Gabby's many great strengths — it was anytime, anywhere," he said. "She wanted to make it as easy as possible for her constituents to interact with her. That's what you have to do if you're doing this job right."
Larsen said security must be planned on a case-by-case basis, depending on the event. For example, he said, the Everett Police Department provided security at one of his town hall meetings that attracted 2,700 people in August 2009.
But in the end, he said: "You can only plan for so much."