Congressman Jeff Fortenberry

Representing the 1st District of Nebraska

The Hill: Security Fears Grow on Both Sides of Aisle

Jun 15, 2017
In The News

Members of Congress are debating whether it’s time to adopt new security procedures after the shooting at a Republican baseball practice in Virginia.

Even before the attack, Republican members of Congress were on edge about threats and harassment from constituents angry with President Trump and the GOP’s push to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

Their concerns have only been heightened by Wednesday’s assault, where the lives of lawmakers were likely saved by the presence of Capitol Police officers who were on security detail for House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).

“Capitol Police saved a lot of lives today,” said Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), who recounted running for his life as gunshots rang out across the field.

“I was running from where I was to try to get to that dugout as quickly as possible. All I could think as I was running was, this guy was going to shoot me,” he said.

Lawmakers were visibly shaken by the second incident of gun violence targeting one of their own in the last six years. In 2011, former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.) was shot in the head at a constituent event.

Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) announced that he plans to carry a gun with him from now on. Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) said Congress should consider expanding ways for lawmakers to defend themselves. And Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the third-ranking House Democrat, said he wants to give lawmakers more flexibility to secure their homes and offices.

“You look at the vulnerability. I can assure you, from this day forward, I have a carry permit, I will be carrying when I’m out and about,” Collins told local ABC affiliate WKBW in Buffalo, N.Y.

Collins will not be able to carry a gun at all times, however. Guns are banned from the Capitol complex, and the District of Columbia has strict gun laws.

Loudermilk suggested that more lawmakers, beyond members of leadership, could start receiving additional security protection.

“We’re not any more special than anybody else, but we are targets,” Loudermilk told reporters in the Capitol. “This is exactly why there is a lot of fear of even doing town halls at this point. Some of the things this guy is posting on Facebook — we get the same things, and even worse.”

Clyburn, for his part, wants lawmakers to have more access to security measures.

“For us to have a rule … that you can’t have security cameras in your offices unless you pay for them with your campaign — I just found that out this morning — or you can’t have security stuff in your homes?” Clyburn said. “I can’t tell you how many threats I’ve had against my home. In fact, I’ve had state police staying at home with my family.”

Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.) said he urged Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to fast-track new security measures for lawmakers. 

“Many of us receive threats. And it’s not that we get used to it. You’ve just got to hope and pray that people don’t follow up on those threats, but at any given moment they could, like we saw this morning,” Cárdenas said. “I personally stressed to the Speaker if we could put that on hyper drive and get those results and those decisions as quickly as possible.”

Fleischmann, for example, said he still plans to attend a festival this weekend with thousands of his constituents.

“I’m out with the people. And I think that’s what our founding fathers wanted,” Fleischmann said. “I’m going to continue to do that this weekend when I go home.”

Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.), another member of the GOP’s baseball team, suggested that enhancing security for individual members could be difficult.

“We were just out practicing baseball. It’s a function of everyday life. We’re public figures, and we can’t hide,” he said. “I don’t know how you look at security for individual members and change it.”

And Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the GOP baseball team’s manager for the upcoming congressional charity baseball game, shook his head when asked if he’d do anything differently at his next town hall.

“When you run for public office and are a member of Congress, you assume certain risk. It’s sad. We shouldn’t be targeted personally. I hope this was not a targeted attack, but we live in a democracy and there are a lot of bad, bad folks out there,” Barton said.

Lawmakers in both parties have been worrying for months about physical threats from angry protesters.

Multiple Republicans, including Reps. Martha McSally (Ariz.) and Tom Garrett (Va.), have received death threats. A woman upset over Rep. David Kustoff’s (R-Tenn.) vote for the GOP’s healthcare bill pursued a car carrying him from an event and later struck its windows.

Within hours after Wednesday’s shooting, Rep. Claudia Tenney’s (R-N.Y.) office said it received a threatening email with the subject line “One down, 216 to go.”

“Did you NOT expect this? When you take away ordinary peoples very lives in order to pay off the wealthiest among us, your own lives are forfeit. Certainly, your souls and morality were lost long before. Good riddance,” the email said.

The threats haven’t been limited to Republicans. BuzzFeed reported that Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that multiple Democratic House lawmakers have received threatening phone calls saying, “You guys are next.” 

The heightened vitriol had been on Rep. Jeff Fortenberry’s (R-Neb.) mind before Wednesday’s shooting. Last month, his young daughter found a sign on the family’s lawn that said: “Traitors put party above country. Do the right thing for once, shithead.”

Fortenberry said he’s “always thought it prudent” to have police at his public events. And now, he said, lawmakers have to be ever more vigilant.

“It’s a sign of the fractured signs, and this deep cynicism that’s projected on the institution is ripping the country apart,” Fortenberry said.

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