Lawmakers seek to balance safety, openness
House Democrats and Republicans Wednesday huddled in separate meetings with FBI, Capitol Police, and other law enforcement officials, discussing ways to balance greater security for themselves and their staffs with a continued ability to interact with constituents.
Most insisted, at least publicly, that no act of violence should result in security changes that could come between them and an open democracy. But all seemed unified that some security improvements are needed in the wake of this weekend's shootings of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and others in Tucson.
At the same time, many of the lawmakers rejected the notion that the Tucson attack underscores a need for more careful or muted political discourse, some saying they won't let the tragedy be used to squelch their ability to forcefully argue their issues.
And there are already signs that the debate ahead on various gun-control measures being readied for introduction will be spirited.
"I wish there'd been another gun there in responsible hands," quipped Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., this morning, in response to such gun-control talk. Franks is among the Arizona lawmakers who are flying with President Obama on Air Force One for memorial events in Arizona.
Many of the security measures or ideas that were raised behind closed doors with officials of the FBI, Capitol Police, the House sergeant at arms and the Secret Service have already been discussed publicly.
Some of the plans and proposals are to be sent to lawmakers offices later in the day, in written form. And a Secret Service spokesman said the service is making itself available to answer specific questions from staff and members about security and event advances.
Ideas touched upon in the meetings were simple moves like making sure contact information is up-to-date in case of emergencies and designating members of congressional staffs to better coordinate security for local events, to other -- more expensive measures like boosting the role of the U.S. Marshals Service to help provide coverage for lawmakers in their districts.
One of the more vocal proponents of increased security funding for lawmakers and their staffs, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., said it is no time to be "penny wise and a pound foolish."
Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., suggested that she might seek better locks on her offices. But she said of the talk of limiting some of the fiery political language and symbolism, "It should not be difficult for us to have spirited debate without personal attacks."
Franks, pressed about his remark before he boarded for Arizona, repeated the assertion, saying he did not mean to be incendiary.
"But I've seen people blame the rhetoric, the gun, Sarah Palin -- all of the different things we do -- but we blame everybody but the guy who did the crime." He said the gun used in the shootings is basically the same gun used by many law enforcement officers, and so "maybe if there'd been one more there in responsible hands, things would have turned out differently."