Police tighten Congress security in era of rising threats

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In this Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021 photo, riot fencing and razor wire reinforce the security zone on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Eileen Putman)

WASHINGTON – The House’s chief law enforcement officer is tightening security for traveling lawmakers as Congress reassesses safety in an era when threats against members were surging even before Donald Trump’s supporters attacked the Capitol.

Capitol Police officers will be stationed at Washington-area airports and the city’s Union Station train depot on busy travel days, the acting House sergeant at arms said in a memo obtained Friday. Timothy P. Blodgett said he’s set up an online portal so lawmakers can notify the agency about travel plans, and he urged them to coordinate trips with local police and airport officials and report suspicious activity to authorities.

Capitol Police “will not be available for personal escorts,” said the email, sent late Thursday. “However, they will be in place to monitor as members move through the airport.”

The steps underscored political divisions that grew increasingly acrid, even potentially dangerous, during Trump's invective-filled four years as president. In addition to personal verbal attacks against perceived foes, Trump stirred up supporters with relentless streams of bogus conspiracies like his false charge that Democrats stole November's election from him.

The animosity lawmakers face has spread among themselves, with numerous Democrats saying they are wary of GOP colleagues who've said they carry guns in Washington. Republicans have bristled at new screening devices installed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., that lawmakers are required to pass through when entering the House chamber, where carrying firearms is not allowed.

“The enemy is within the House of Representatives,” Pelosi told reporters this week in a chilling characterization of Congress' internal tensions. She cited "members of Congress who want to bring guns on the floor and have threatened violence on other members of Congress.”

In the latest instance of Capitol Hill's spiraling personal hostility, Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., tweeted Friday that she was moving her office away from that of fellow freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., “for my team’s safety.” Bush wrote that a maskless Greene and her staff “berated me in a hallway,” and wrote later that past Greene tweets have made her feel unsafe.

Greene responded with a tweet of her own saying Bush was lying and that “She berated me,” posting video of the exchange. Greene, who has a history of incendiary social media posts, also described Bush, who is Black, as the leader of a “terrorist mob” of Black Lives Matter demonstrators. Greene has drawn fire for past social media posts reported by various news organizations in which she’s suggested support for killing Democratic politicians, unfounded QAnon theories and racist views.