Obstacles mount amid Capitol Police funding fight

U.S. Capitol Police officers are seen on the steps of the House Chamber on June 24
Greg Nash

The Senate is struggling to break a stalemate over funding for the Capitol Police, even as the department faces a money crunch fueled by the fallout from the Jan. 6 attack. 

The threat of furloughs sparked bipartisan alarm bells late last week and raised public awareness about the impending fiscal cliff, which lawmakers warn the department could hit next month absent an infusion of new cash from Congress. 

Yet there are divisions over how much money to provide, and the two sides appear to be growing further apart.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) unveiled a $3.7 billion bill on Monday that includes money for the police and National Guard. But it also goes broader to include assistance for Afghans who helped the U.S. military, coronavirus-related funds, money to fund the Justice Department’s investigation into the Jan. 6 attack and money to fortify and beef up the Capitol complex. 

“It has been 53 days since the House passed a security supplemental, and only now are my Republican colleagues coming to the negotiating table. I will not wait another 53 more before we address these other pressing matters. We cannot govern by crisis, and we cannot legislate at the convenience of one party,” Leahy said.

His bill is nearly double the $1.9 billion measure approved by the House in May that provided roughly $44 million for the Capitol Police, reimbursed the National Guard for being stationed at the Capitol in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack, included money to “harden” the Capitol’s doors and windows and create a quick response force to help bolster the Capitol Police. 

That House bill was already viewed as a non-starter by Senate Republicans, who earlier this year suggested that Congress should fold a Capitol security funding bill into the government funding process.

Republicans have offered a narrower bill costing roughly $632 million. It would give nearly $521 million to the National Guard, roughly $97 million for the Capitol Police and $15 million for the Architect of the Capitol. 

“I think that’s where our caucus is,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), the top Republican on Appropriations. He said Leahy’s bill went in “absolutely the wrong direction.” 

He added that he opposed including the visas for Afghans who helped the U.S. military in the bill, saying that “we will do that. Now we don’t need to do it on this bill.” 

The two top appropriators, who have cut many government funding deals, are pledging that they will keep negotiating. Neither appear ready to back down. 

The two sides spent late last week shadowboxing through the media, after Republicans publicly floated a narrow bill to stave off the furlough threat. The bill, which was released by Shelby publicly on Monday, had been given to Democrats late last month. 

Leahy then vowed to introduce his own bill, previously given to Republicans, and appeared visibly agitated by the standoff. He also appeared ready to try to bring his bill up on the Senate floor, even without enough GOP support to overcome the 60-vote legislative filibuster. 

“If they want to fight it, they want to block it … let them stand up and say it. Don’t hide behind refusal to bring the bill up, vote up or down,” Leahy told reporters. 

Leahy added that Shelby was a “good friend,” but “I want a serious proposal.” 

Capitol Police have been in flux since Jan. 6, when protesters overwhelmed the police force and were able to breach the building, interrupting the counting of the Electoral College vote and forcing lawmakers, staff and reporters to shelter in place around the complex.

Then-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund announced a day after the attack that he would resign; the Capitol Police union issued a vote of no confidence for acting Chief Yogananda Pittman and other department leaders; and CNN reported last week that 75 officers have left since Jan. 6.

The Capitol Police appeared to try to tamp down the concern that they could have to implement furloughs, saying that they were in contact with the relevant committees. A source also told The Hill last week that the department could shift around funding from other areas. 

The battle over Capitol Police is just the latest example of tensions in Congress over law enforcement, support of which has increasingly become politicized in the wake of a wave of protests sparked by killings by police last year.

After some progressives backed the idea of defunding the police, Republicans weaponized the phrase against Democrats in the midterm elections. Democrats have tried to turn the tables on Republicans, noting that most of the House and Senate GOP caucuses voted against a bill to probe the Jan. 6 attack where law enforcement officials were injured by rioters. 

“For the first time since Jan. 6, the fence that was erected to hold back the insurrectionist mob was removed. We hope that we’re prepared now to protect this Capitol and can get back to business as usual. But we have to recruit additional Capitol Hill police to be prepared. We have to work with the National Guard units to be prepared,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said on Monday. 

“And we have to realize the obvious,” he added, “there was a decision made on the floor of the United States Senate by the Republican Senate leader just a few weeks ago to stop any bipartisan effort to establish a commission to ask what happened on Jan. 6 and how it can be avoided in the future.”

Tags Capitol police Capitol riot Dick Durbin Patrick Leahy Richard Shelby USPC

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