While the investigation into the Boston bombings continues to develop, Capitol Hill is recovering from a week of relatively high anxiety. Police stepped up security following the Boston attacks, but a series of ricin-laced letters addressed to the President and a senator brought a new level of alarm to the Hill. David Hawkings, author of the Hawkings Here column for Roll Call, talks with Matt McCleskey about those topics and more.
In an interview with Roll Call, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton says she's concerned about how sequester cuts will affect Capitol Hill security this summer. How are the Boston bombings together with the Ricin letters bringing attention to the budget for security?
"Every member wants to make sure that Capitol Hill security is as tight as it needs to be, but no tighter. It's the classic balancing act that members of Congress have lived with, especially since 9/11, is making sure the Capitol complex feels safe, but doesn't seem like an armed camp and that people still have access in and out and can visit lawmakers, etc. To do that more open approach actually requires more people. It's easy to put up a bollard, it's easy to put up a wall, it's a little more costly to put up a human being who can screen people in and out. That is what Eleanor Holmes Norton is concerned about. She's concerned that with the sequestration cuts, there won't be enough Capitol Police to let people in and out."
We've heard similar comments in recent days from Northern Virginia Congressman Jim Moran. What can these lawmakers do to prevent sequester cuts from hampering Capitol Hill security?
"I think there is: absolutely nothing. I think the sequester cuts have now been locked in place at least through September. So this summer is going to be a summer where the country will have to realize what these sequester cuts mean. You've had stories this morning about the FAA getting prepared for its first furloughs, Mr. Moran talking about the FBI and Homeland Security and federal agents, and Ms. Holmes Norton talking about Capitol Security... all these are worthy causes, but at the end, Congress and the President have made this decision and there's no going back, at least before October. The sequester cuts are here to stay."
How much confidence do you think lawmakers have in their security going into this week?
"I think they have pretty good confidence, to be honest. I think one of the lessons of last week was that the system they put in place after 9/11 for screening the mail worked. Up until 9/11 and the anthrax attacks that came just a few weeks after that, mail would come in much like it would to our house — it would just come to a member's office. Since it has been trucked to a separate place, where they x-ray it, erradiate it. The so-called snail mail is a less frequent form of communication in this era of twittering and email. There's not as much snail mail as there used to be, but it's getting well-screened and this screening is what exposed this letter to Sen. Wicker."
Former Maryland labor secretary Thomas Perez had his confirmation hearing for the post as U.S. Labor Secretary. Can we expect developments on that nomination this week?
"We absolutely can. The hearing was last week. Not a single Republican spoke out against Mr. Perez, which was somewhat surprising because they had railed against him pretty emphatically when he was first nominated. We now think that the Senate committee that is in charge of his confirmation will vote to send him to the Senate floor on Thursday."