House Democrats will accelerate passage of a sweeping police reform bill, bringing the legislation to the floor Wednesday night — and canceling votes Thursday — amid revelations of new threats to the Capitol.
Democrats had initially intended a Thursday vote on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021. They altered the schedule Wednesday, prompted by fears from lawmakers that their physical safety was at risk from conservative militia groups threatening violence at the Capitol on Thursday, according to four Democratic sources familiar with the change.
"[There's] growing concern about threats to the Capitol and Democratic lawmakers in particular tomorrow," one Democratic lawmaker texted.
Tensions were already high in Washington following the deadly attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, when hundreds of supporters of former President TrumpDonald TrumpCapitol fencing starts coming down after 'Justice for J6' rally Netanyahu suggests Biden fell asleep in meeting with Israeli PM Aides try to keep Biden away from unscripted events or long interviews, book claims MORE stormed the building in a failed effort to reverse Trump's election defeat.
Those anxieties spiraled last week when Yogananda Pittman, the acting chief of the Capitol Police, warned lawmakers that certain militia groups that participated in the Jan. 6 rampage were intent on attacking the Capitol again on a date when President BidenJoe BidenCapitol fencing starts coming down after 'Justice for J6' rally Senate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan Biden pushes back at Democrats on taxes MORE would be addressing Congress.
"[They] have stated their desires that they want to blow up the Capitol and kill as many members as possible with a direct nexus to the State of the Union," Pittman told lawmakers.
More recently, law enforcers have identified March 4 as the occasion of an intended attack by right-wing conspiracy theorists who believe Trump will somehow return to office that day. March 4 is symbolic because it was the date of presidential inaugurations as recently as the 1930s.
The Jan. 6 attack sparked an extraordinary expansion of security measures around Capitol Hill, including an imposing fence — coiled in razor wire — wrapping the entire complex and thousands of National Guard troops who remain on patrol around the grounds. But that hasn't alleviated the anxieties of many of the lawmakers who were targeted on Jan. 6 and remain shaken by the experience.
Asked why the floor schedule was changed, one Democratic source was terse.
"Keeping members out tomorrow," the source texted.
The heightened security has been condemned by many of Trump's Republican allies on Capitol Hill, who have accused Democrats of maintaining unnecessary precautions against a nonexistent threat simply to portray Trump's supporters as universally violent.
Yet other Republicans say the March 4 threat has merit. And Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas), former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, took the remarkable step Wednesday of urging Trump to defuse any potential violence by calling on his supporters to steer clear of the Capitol on Thursday.
"I think President Trump has the responsibility to tell them to stand down," McCaul told CNN. "This threat is credible, and it is real."
Rep. Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulBiden threatens more sanctions on Ethiopia, Eritrea over Tigray conflict More Republicans call on Biden to designate Taliban as terrorist group How lawmakers aided the Afghan evacuation MORE says fmr. Pres. Trump has a responsibility to tell extremists, who believe Trump will be inaugurated on March 4, and who the FBI say are plotting a possible attack on the US Capitol, to stand down. “This threat is credible. It's real." https://t.co/txZq2tbwMH pic.twitter.com/n4X4WbwTIo— The Lead CNN (@TheLeadCNN) March 3, 2021
Although the House will now be on recess beginning Thursday, the Senate is scheduled to remain in session as it continues work on a massive coronavirus relief package.
Updated at 5:34 p.m.