U.S. Capitol Police security cameras captured the break-in at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco home last week in which her husband, Paul, was viciously assaulted, but costly minutes went by before any officer reviewed the footage, according to a person familiar with the matter.
By the time the Capitol Police looked at the camera feed and were aware of the crime, Pelosi had called 911 and the San Francisco police were on the scene.
The wasted minutes were flagged by a security review of the episode undertaken by the Capitol Police. The review has also found that the San Francisco police stopped posting a car in front of the Pelosi household 24 hours a day as the agency had after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, the person said.
The fact that the Capitol Police did not monitor the feed from Nancy Pelosi’s home in real time was reported earlier by The Washington Post.
With the security review underway, law enforcement leaders on Capitol Hill said Tuesday that they planned to beef up protections for members of Congress, after the attack highlighted an out-of-control threat environment that endangers not only lawmakers, but their families as well.
The security officials said the review of the attack, in which an assailant believed to have embraced far-right conspiracy theories struck Paul Pelosi, 82, with a hammer, fracturing his skull, would also include an assessment of security for other members of Congress and their families.
The review comes as the assault on Paul Pelosi has made public a sensitive conversation that has been brewing on Capitol Hill for years about where lawmakers and their families are protected – and where they are not. Unlike presidents, who receive round-the-clock security provided by the taxpayer-funded Secret Service, including separate protection for members of their families, most members of Congress receive little government-provided security, and their families seldom have any.
“We believe today’s political climate calls for more resources to provide additional layers of physical security for members of Congress,” Chief J. Thomas Manger of the Capitol Police said Tuesday, adding that he could not disclose the security upgrades he was planning to implement. “This plan would include an emphasis on adding redundancies to the measures that are already in place for congressional leadership.”
The reassessment comes a day after federal prosecutors charged David DePape, 42, with attempting to kidnap Nancy Pelosi and assaulting a relative of a federal official. DePape told investigators that he wished to break Pelosi’s kneecaps and see her “wheeled into Congress” as a lesson to other members.
The attacker told the police that he had other targets as well: a local professor and several prominent state and federal politicians.
Many lawmakers say it has long been clear that Capitol security officials must do more to protect them.
“The federal government seems largely indifferent to the safety of rank-and-file members of Congress, who are left wide open to assassination,” said Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y. “We live in a terrifying time when political violence has become a new normal. The assassination of a member of Congress feels like an inevitability.”
While the top leaders in Congress have round-the-clock security details – Nancy Pelosi’s is among the largest – that protection does not extend to family members who are not in their presence, and most rank-and-file lawmakers have none at all. They book their own travel, flying coach or riding Amtrak, and are mostly on their own for protection when they are not at the Capitol. If they want security for themselves or their families, they have to use campaign funds to pay for it.
“The curse of it is that you almost incentivize people to threaten a member because you can protect yourself or your reelection – but you can’t effectively do both,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., a frequent target of threats. A Pennsylvania man pleaded guilty on Friday to threatening to kill Swalwell and his staff.
“We’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on security,” Swalwell said. “Donors have told me they don’t like that. I’ve had to sarcastically say, ‘If I’m dead, I’m not getting reelected.’”
Security in Congress has long been a matter of balancing the safety of members against concerns about spending and the accessibility of the people’s representatives. Providing round-the-clock security to 535 lawmakers – never mind their families – would be costly, and members of both parties have chafed at the idea of walling themselves off from the public.
“The attempted murder of Mr. Pelosi really sent shock waves across the country because people thought not only are representatives vulnerable, but so are their families,” said Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit that advises departments across the country on management and tactics. “It’s a daunting task. You have representatives spread all over the country.”
Still, as threats have grown, experts have warned that more is needed.
Russel L. Honoré, a retired lieutenant general who conducted a review of Capitol security after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, recommended hiring more than 800 new Capitol Police officers – a proposal that was not followed.
Honoré said he concluded during his review that Congress was “cheap as hell” about member security, in part because lawmakers view it as bad politics to vote for security measures for themselves that their constituents do not have.
On Tuesday, he called for funding from the Homeland Security Department to be distributed to local law enforcement to provide details for all lawmakers who request them for the next 30 days, while the threat of political violence will be at a high around the election.
“On any given day, you’ve got to be prepared for an attack,” Honoré said. “We need to do something immediately. Don’t tell me it’s about money. We can find the money.”
Republicans in Congress have faced nearly the same level of threats as Democrats, but have been far less willing to spend money to strengthen security. Shortly after the Jan. 6 attack, every House Republican voted against legislation to provide about $2 billion in emergency Capitol security spending; ultimately, Congress approved about $70 million for the Capitol Police force and millions for upgrading the Capitol building.
Despite the funding reticence, officials have taken a number of steps in recent years to try to bolster lawmaker security, particularly after Jan. 6, amid a record surge in threats against members.
The force expanded operations outside Washington in an effort to better protect lawmakers, beginning with the opening of field offices in California and Florida. The House Sergeant at Arms in August began providing $10,000 to lawmakers for home security systems, as well as $150 a month for maintenance and monitoring costs. Democrats are proposing to provide about $5 million for the program in the next fiscal year, but it is unclear whether Republicans will agree.
The Capitol Police, which received more than $600 million in their most recent budget, has requested more than $700 million for the next fiscal year. The amount will be determined as part of a broader year-end negotiation between Democrats and Republicans who are haggling over a number of spending priorities.
Democrats have made it clear they will push hard for such funds.
Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., noted in an interview that she had a security detail for events when she served as lieutenant governor, but does not currently have one on Capitol Hill.
“What I am thinking about is how inconsistent it is who in public life receives heightened protection,” she said. “It’s inconceivable that the family of the person, the woman, who is second in line to the presidency, doesn’t have appropriate security. I think it’s important that we address that inconsistency.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., chair of the Rules Committee, said she is calling for more protections for members who receive credible threats, and the removal from the internet of private information about members of Congress and their families.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who had a man show up at her house over the summer carrying a pistol and yelling obscenities, said the current threat environment has left Congress with little option but to pay for more security.
“This is our terrible new reality,” she said, adding, “We must respond with increased attention and resources to the safety and security of every member of Congress so that we can continue to do our jobs without fearing for our lives and the lives of our loved ones.”