Spin Cycle

04.06.11

Shutdown Protection

Capitol Police will stay on the job, and handle new frustration with members of Congress.

After the brutal shooting that incapacitated Re. Gabrielle Giffords in January, calls filled Washington to beef up security protection around members of Congress. But if the government shuts down this weekend, would the Capitol Police be affected?

"We're considered essential, so we'll be here," says Sergeant Kimberly Schneider, a spokeswoman for the Capitol Police. "Congress and the Capitol building will be safe."

The Office of Management and Budget exempts military, health-care, and law-enforcement workers from the effects of a shutdown, which means that an agency like the Capitol Police will be left untouched if the government stops working.

But even as they stay on the job, officers are cognizant of increased anger at members of Congress. More than a dozen lawmakers received credible death threats last year, according to House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), who said after the health-reform law passed last spring that political rhetoric was getting out of hand. After the Giffords shooting in January, senior Capitol officers launched an internal inquiry into how best to protect members from new threats. Leadership officers generally travel with security protection, and considerations for other members of Congress are made on a case-by-case basis, like last month, when Rep. Peter King (R-NY) was assigned a personal detail before a controversial hearing on American Muslims.

Still, one Capitol Hill aide acknowledged "new awareness" that a shutdown of government services, including issuance of tax refunds, national park operations, and even weather forecasting, could bring a new wave of frustration at lawmakers for failing to make a deal.

Police officers generally don't discuss security plans publicly, but Sgt. Schneider says that a detailed contingency plan in case of a shutdown has taken into account the various complexities. "Capitol Police are prepared for many different situations. This is one of them."