Congress OKs Capitol Security Funds 07/30 06:15
Congress has overwhelmingly passed emergency legislation that would bolster
security at the Capitol, repay outstanding debts from the violent Jan. 6
insurrection and increase the number of visas for allies who worked alongside
Americans in the Afghanistan war.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Congress has overwhelmingly passed emergency legislation
that would bolster security at the Capitol, repay outstanding debts from the
violent Jan. 6 insurrection and increase the number of visas for allies who
worked alongside Americans in the Afghanistan war.
The $2.1 billion bill now goes to President Joe Biden for his signature. The
Senate approved the legislation early Thursday afternoon, 98-0, and the House
passed it immediately afterward, 416-11.
Senators struck a bipartisan agreement on the legislation this week, two
months after the House had passed a bill that would have provided around twice
as much for Capitol security. But House leaders said they would back the Senate
version anyway, arguing the money is urgently needed for the Capitol Police and
for the translators and others who worked closely with U.S. government troops
and civilians in Afghanistan.
The bill loosens some requirements for the visas, which lawmakers say are
especially pressing as the U.S. military withdrawal enters its final weeks and
Afghan allies face possible retaliation from the Taliban.
The money for the Capitol -- including for police salaries, the National
Guard and to better secure windows and doors around the building -- comes more
than six months after the insurrection by former President Donald Trump's
supporters. The broad support in both chambers is a rare note of agreement
between the two parties in response to the attack, as many Republicans still
loyal to Trump have avoided the subject. The former president's loyalists
brutally beat police and hundreds of them broke into the building, interrupting
the certification of Biden's election win.
Democrats have said that if Congress didn't pass the bill, money would start
running out for officers' salaries by August and that the National Guard might
have to cancel some training programs.
"We can't let that happen," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said before
the vote. He said the agreement "shouldn't have taken this long" but that
passing the legislation is living up to Congress' responsibility to keep the
Capitol safe "and to make sure that the people who risk their lives for us and
protect us get the help they need."
The bill's passage comes after four police officers who fought off the
rioters in the Jan. 6 attack testified in an emotional House hearing on Tuesday
and detailed the "medieval" battle in which they were beaten and verbally
assaulted. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested on Wednesday that the hearing
had perhaps "jarred the Senate to move in a bipartisan way to pass this
The more generous bill narrowly passed the House in May, but no Republicans
supported it and some liberal Democrats voted against it as well. On Thursday,
only 11 Republicans and Democrats opposed it.
In the Senate, Republicans rejected an earlier $3.7 billion proposal by
Democrats before they negotiated the final version.
Pelosi said on Wednesday that the legislation was months overdue.
"It's not what we sent, it's certainly not what we need, but it's a good
step forward," she said. "It doesn't mean that we're finished, but it does mean
that we can't wait another day until we strengthen the Capital Police force,
strengthen the Capitol."
The legislation would boost personal protection for lawmakers who have seen
increasing death threats since the insurrection, install new security cameras
around the complex and replace riot equipment the police lost in the fighting
that day. It would fund new intelligence gathering and boost wellness and
trauma support for the Capitol Police, as many troops are still suffering in
the wake of the attack. And it would reimburse the National Guard $521 million
for the thousands of troops that protected the Capitol for more than four
months after the siege.
Unlike previous proposals, the bill would not provide money for the FBI to
prosecute cases related to the insurrection, for temporary fencing in case of
another attack or to create a new quick reaction force within the police or
military that could respond to events at the Capitol. Police were overrun on
Jan. 6 as the National Guard took hours to arrive.
The White House issued a statement of support for the legislation, saying
the Biden administration backs the Capitol security improvements and "remains
committed to supporting the Afghan people, including by fulfilling our
commitment to Afghan nationals who worked for or on behalf of the U.S.
For the allies in Afghanistan, the bill would allow 8,000 additional visas
and provide $500 million for their emergency transportation, housing and other
Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the appropriations panel
who negotiated the legislation with the Democrats, said it would be "shameful"
not to help the Afghan allies and that they could be killed by the Taliban as
the U.S. withdraws.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said senators "intend to keep our
nation's promises to brave Afghans who have taken great risks to help America
and our partners fight the terrorists."
The House overwhelmingly passed separate legislation last week to provide
the visas, 407-16. The Pentagon says the troop withdrawal is more than 95%
complete and is to be finished by Aug. 31.
Some 70,000 already have resettled in the U.S. under the special visa
program since 2008. Administration officials said this month that the first
flights of those former U.S. employees and family members who have completed
security screening would soon start arriving from the Afghan capital, Kabul,
for a week or so of final processing at Fort Lee, Virginia.