Trust between lawmakers reaches all-time low after Capitol riots
Hefty fines to enforce the use of masks and metal detectors to enter the House chamber. Censure resolutions. And a call for investigating whether some lawmakers aided insurrectionists.
Trust between the two parties has reached an all-time low — and it’s raising questions about how they can possibly work together on much of anything as the new session of Congress begins when some lawmakers don’t even feel safe around each other.
Much of the physical damage in the Capitol from last week’s attack by a violent mob egged on by President Trump has since been repaired: The tear gas residue and garbage in the hallowed halls are gone, and new glass panes were installed in the entrance to the Speaker’s Lobby, where a rioter was fatally shot.
But the emotional trauma still lingers, with daily reminders of how much things have changed from just a week ago.
The Capitol complex now resembles a police state, with thousands of heavily armed National Guard troops patrolling the grounds.
“How could I feel comfortable thinking that someone that I’m in a committee room with or could be sitting across the aisle from, or something of that nature, helped plan an insurrection in the United States Capitol? How can I do that? I mean, how can anyone do that?” asked House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.).
Tensions flared again this week when numerous GOP lawmakers refused to adhere to new safety measures for the House chamber, prompting Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to enact extraordinary rules that would levy thousands of dollars in fines against those who don’t comply.
Some lawmakers shaken after last week’s attack on the Capitol are worried by colleagues who may be carrying guns — one Republican, Rep. Madison Cawthorn (N.C.), confirmed this week that he was armed during the riot. Another first-term Republican, Rep. Lauren Boebert (Colo.), has been adamant about wanting to carry her gun on the Capitol grounds.
Lawmakers can keep guns in their offices but are barred from carrying them on the House floor.
Then there’s the concern that some Republicans may have helped incite the mob along with Trump to try to stop Congress from ratifying President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory.
Cawthorn encouraged supporters to “lightly threaten” their representatives; Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) declared that “today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass”; Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) referred to Biden as an “illegitimate usurper”; Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) said that “you’ve got to go to the streets and be as violent as antifa and BLM”; and Boebert and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) referred to Jan. 6 as a “1776 moment.”
Dozens of Democrats asked Capitol security officials to investigate what they called “suspicious behavior and access given to visitors” the day before the attack, which they noted was all the more unusual because tours have been suspended since March due to the pandemic.
No evidence has emerged that any members of Congress knowingly aided the insurrectionists.
But numerous Democrats are calling for formal sanctions by way of censure resolutions against Brooks and Gohmert.
Some argue that censure isn’t enough.
“The fact is, members of the United States Congress within the Republican caucus are dangerous to our country and to their colleagues,” said progressive first-term Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.).
“Censure is a slap on the wrist. These people need to be expelled from the United States Congress and criminally prosecuted.”
Several Republicans — accustomed to bypassing security because of their lawmaker status — chafed this week at the newly installed metal detectors outside the doors to the House chamber. Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) yelled at Capitol Police that “you are creating a problem you do not understand the ramifications of,” while Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) called the measure “unconstitutional” and vowed not to comply.
Rep. Rodney Davis (Ill.), the top Republican on the House Administration Committee, argued that the magnetometers outside the chamber were unnecessary and suggested they were politically motivated.
“The known threats are outside the Capitol, and this should be seen as a purely political move by the Speaker. After speaking numerous times with Capitol Police leadership and dozens of rank and file officers since Jan. 6, we need to be focused on ensuring a safe Inauguration Day and a peaceful transfer of power. To that end, I will do whatever I can to help them accomplish this goal without political distractions,” Davis said in a statement to The Hill.
Democrats were already furious that several House Republicans flouted rules in place since the summer requiring masks while hundreds of lawmakers crowded together in a secure space for hours last week as law enforcement worked to clear the Capitol of rioters. At least three Democrats who were in the room have since tested positive for COVID-19.
House Democrats adopted new rules on Tuesday to impose a $500 fine on any lawmaker who doesn’t wear a mask on the floor, with a $2,500 penalty for a repeat offense. And on the following day, Pelosi announced that starting next week, a refusal to go through the metal detectors to enter the House chamber will result in a $5,000 fine for the first offense and $10,000 for the second.
More than two dozen Democrats, led by Reps. Jared Huffman (Calif.) and Kathleen Rice (N.Y.), want the metal detectors outside the House chamber to become a permanent fixture.
“We are concerned that more members will take the violence on Wednesday as an invitation to bring weapons to the floor again,” they wrote in a letter to Pelosi and top committee leaders.
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