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Calls grow for more lawmaker security after shocking attack on Paul Pelosi

AP-Jacquelyn Martin
Tourists walk past House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, Friday, Oct. 28, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The push to increase security around members of Congress is intensifying after Paul Pelosi, the husband of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was brutally attacked at the couple’s San Francisco home when an alleged intruder broke in and struck him in the head with a hammer.

The shocking incident, which left the 82-year-old hospitalized with a skull fracture, underscores how vulnerable congressional lawmakers and their families are to violence in an era of extreme political polarization.

“I do believe that someone could get killed out of all this,” Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) told The Hill, referring to the increasing political violence.

“I’ve been very clear that something bad is gonna happen. This was bad, he could’ve died,” she later added, pointing to the Pelosi assault.

The suspect in that attack — David Wayne DePape, 42, of California — told authorities that he used a hammer to break through a glass door and enter the Pelosis’ San Francisco home, before threatening to hold the Speaker hostage and break her kneecaps, according to the Justice Department’s affidavit. He faces federal and state charges including attempted murder and attempted kidnapping.

Questions are now being raised about if lawmakers have enough security, and how a man equipped with two hammers, zip ties and a rope could violently break into the home of the woman who is second in line to the presidency without catching the attention of a guard or triggering a security system that could have alerted authorities earlier.

San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins told reporters on Monday that “there was no security present” when the suspect allegedly broke into the Pelosi home. And the city’s police chief, William Scott, told CNN in an interview on Monday that officers arrived after receiving a 911 call.

“I was surprised that there were no guards there or a police car parked there to discourage anyone from attempting what was done,” General Russel Honoré, who led the review of security failures leading up to the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack, told The Hill in an interview.

“I thought there would always be a police car there because it’s a symbolic home, where the Speaker lives, and the number of threats and the visceral comments that are always made,” he added.

Prompting even more queries, Capitol Police confirmed on Tuesday that cameras used to monitor the Speaker’s San Francisco home “were not actively monitored as they are when the Speaker is at the residence.” She was in Washington, D.C., at the time.

The Washington Post first reported on Tuesday night, citing unnamed sources, that Capitol Police cameras located at the Pelosi home caught the break-in and alleged assault on tape, but officers were not present to view the incident in real-time. Instead, they noticed flashing lights outside the Speaker’s residence after the fact, leading them to rewind the tape and witness what had transpired shortly before.

“I think that speaks about the lack of vigilance by the Capitol Police,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) told The Hill. She said while the intentions of the department are “very good,” she was “troubled that the Capitol Police didn’t have a sense that the home needed to be protected.”

“I think that’s sad,” Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) told The Hill, regarding the Post’s report. “You gotta be monitoring these cameras, that’s why you got the cameras there. It’s the Speaker of the House. There should have been better security for her and for her husband.”

Sources also told the Post that the Pelosis have a private security system installed at their home which, when working properly, is programmed to inform San Francisco police and Capitol Police when triggered. But the Capitol Police contends that it did not receive an alert from that apparatus, one source said. It is not clear if the system was armed during the break in.

The Speaker has a full security detail because of her leadership position, according to Honoré. The leaders and minority leaders of the House and Senate both receive protective details, in addition to other lawmakers who face certain security threats.

Asked about security in place at the Pelosis’ San Francisco home, the Speaker’s spokesperson said the office does not discuss the topic.

Four days after the attack, Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger — citing “today’s political climate” — called for “more resources to provide additional layers of physical security for Members of Congress.”

The department has struggled with staffing issues since last year’s Capitol riot. On Tuesday, however, Manger said the force is “on track” to meeting its goal of hiring almost 280 officers by the end of this year.

And last year, President Biden signed security supplemental legislation into law that allocated more than $70 million to support the department’s staffing, intelligence and protective details for members of Congress, in addition to other measures. Biden also provided the Capitol Police with $35.4 million for additional measures and cooperation with other law enforcement agencies.

Dingell said Capitol Police “have needed more resources for a long time.”

“It has been clear for some time that they don’t have the resources that they need, and there’s still a lot of members of our Capitol police force that have not been able to return from work since Jan. 6. And I don’t think people appreciate them enough for what they did for us that day,” she added.

Manger said the attack on Paul Pelosi “is an alarming reminder of the dangerous threats elected officials and public figures face during today’s contentious political climate,” which are currently at a half-decade high.

In 2021, the U.S. Capitol Police opened 9,625 cases involving concerning statements and threats — a roughly 144 percent jump from 2017, when the department opened just 3,929 cases. The increase came amid the Trump administration — when violent political rhetoric became more widespread, and the vilification of Nancy Pelosi was amplified by the president.

Authorities have implemented some changes amid the divisive political environment. Over the summer, the office of the House sergeant-at-arms announced that it was creating a residential security program that would give lawmakers up to $10,000 for security system equipment and installation costs at their personal residences.

In 2017, the Federal Elections Commission issued a ruling allowing lawmakers to use campaign funds for at-home security systems. Last year, the agency said candidates can use their campaign coffers to hire bodyguards.

And in 2021, the Capitol Police announced that it was opening regional field offices in San Francisco and Tampa to investigate threats targeting congressional lawmakers.

The department sent a memo to House lawmakers and staff on Saturday outlining “available security resources” in the wake of the attack, including residential security assessments, law enforcement coordination and security awareness briefings. The Hill obtained a copy of the memo.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif) — the chair of the House Administration Committee and a close Pelosi ally — penned a letter to Manger on Tuesday laying out a list of questions regarding what went on the morning of the attack, and steps being taken to protect lawmakers.

“The 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 in the letter, which was obtained by The Hill.

Tags Capitol Police Debbie Dingell Jackie Speier Jan. 6 attack Nancy Pelosi Nancy Pelosi paul pelosi attack Russel Honoré

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