Many members of Congress return to Washington, D.C. late Tuesday for meetings. Wednesday, members will be briefed on security by the Capitol Police.
There is a balance between safety and walling members off from their constituents.
Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords liked to remind Folsom GOP Congressman Dan Lungren that she used to be a Republican. He says he’s not surprised that the Arizona Democrat was out in front of that supermarket on Saturday, ready to meet the people in her district. "She would be the last one to want us to restrict access to us by our constituents," he says. "That would be a compounding of this tragedy. And while that doesn’t answer the question of what you do do, I think it gives you some guidance as what you don’t do."
Lungren chairs the House Administration Committee, which oversees the Capitol Police – and by extension, the security of members of Congress. He says you don’t want to put the 435 House members in a cocoon.
And he says you can't anyway. "It is totally impractical and unreasonable for us to assume that you’re going to have Capitol Police following members of Congress wherever they go. However, there are certain things we can do."
Lungren suggests members rely more on their local law enforcement. "I’ve never had a public town hall meeting without the presence of a uniformed armed officer."
Lungren says he’s never had to pay for that extra security – but he admits with local governments facing budget crises, House members might get charged for protection.
That could get more challenging now that they've voted to cut their budgets by 5 percent. Lungren says he doesn’t want to “nickel and dime” congressional security, but there are ways to economize. "I normally try and have my town halls in a public forum," he says, "a city council chamber, civic center, county facility. In a sense they’re already there, already protecting those facilities, and they reach out and help us."
He says members should also take advantage of experts. "We have available to us consultation and almost a security audit, if you will, that’s my words, I’m not sure that’s the technical name – but a security audit of district offices by our Capitol Police. Very, very helpful."
Some have suggested tapping U.S. Marshals to beef up security. Marshals already handle some protection duties; they're on guard in federal courthouses – and air marshals are assigned to passenger flights.
Lungren says it’s premature to consider using Marshals as congressional bodyguards. "Last time I checked," he says, "they’re pretty busy doing the job that they already have to do."
Lungren also doesn't want Capitol Police distracted from what he sees as their primary duty: protecting the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill. He points out that the September 11th hijackers would have hit the Capitol building had the passengers on Flight 93 not fought back; the plane crashed in rural Pennsylvania – miles from Capitol Hill. "If the bad guys recognize this as a symbol of the United States, an enduring symbol of the United States, we ought to as well."
Lungren’s committee planned a full review of Capitol security and Capitol Police before Saturday's shooting. He wants to tackle it soon, before security fades as a priority for the 112th Congress.