A group of 14 House Democrats are voicing fears that House Republicans’ reversal of security rules enacted after the January 6 attack could allow one of their Republican colleagues to threaten the life of President Joe Biden or other attendees in the House chamber during next week’s State of the Union speech.
Mr Biden is set to deliver his annual message to Congress on Tuesday, 7 February. It will be his second State of the Union speech to Congress and his first since Republicans took control of the House by winning a majority in last year’s midterm elections.
One of the first acts of the new GOP majority was to eliminate the magnetometers that then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ordered US Capitol Police to erect at each entrance to the House chamber in the wake of the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Although members have always technically been prohibited from wearing firearms in the chamber, some claimed to have had their weapons on their person during the attack.
In a letter to House and Senate leaders, the group of House Democrats said they were writing with “urgent concern for the safety and security of the President, other dignitaries, and guests” at next week’s joint session of Congress.
“The GOP House Majority’s new rules have made the safety and security of the House Chamber, the very seat of American Democracy, at risk to infiltration and violence with reckless changes to necessary preventative measures. As both of our chambers come together to hear a message from the President on the state of our Union, we are concerned for the safety and security of those present,” said the members, a group which includes Bennie Thompson, the Mississippi Democrat who formerly chaired the House January 6 select committee.
The members pointed to past attempts by members to secret firearms onto the House floor, other members declaring their intent to do the same, and a newly-elected GOP member sending inert grenades to colleagues as gifts as evidence that the House remains “vulnerable to multiple fronts of attacks both from inside and outside Congress”.
“Considering the ability of Members of Congress to carry firearms in the capitol complex outside the House Floor, removal of magnetometers from the entrances to the House Floor, and with record threats against the lives of Members of Congress, the security of the House complex is today precarious,” they said.
They added that they are “urgently” requesting information on what steps leadership is taking to secure the chamber before next week’s event, and said they are “amenable” to a “closed-door briefing” on the matter.
Because the State of the Union is designated as a National Security Special Event by the Department of Homeland Security, the US Secret Service — not the US Capitol Police — will be in charge of security for the Tuesday night joint session.
A Secret Service spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment from The Independent.