WASHINGTON - At a Senate Rules and Administration Committee on oversight of the U.S. Capitol Police, Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) highlighted the progress made to implement security improvements since the January 6th attack on the Capitol and the need to address the rise in threats against Members of Congress.
“January 6th was more than an assault on a building, it was an assault on our democracy. And it was an actual life and death situation for so many of our officers on duty that day…Our officers performed heroically under unimaginable circumstances suffering many injuries and in some cases loss of life,” said Klobuchar. “We owe it to the officers who stand in defense of the Capitol to make sure they have the resources and support they need.”
“Senator Blunt and I, as I mentioned, worked with Senator Portman and Senator Peters to hold hearings and issue a bipartisan report with the Homeland Security Committee with recommendations that could be implemented without delay. This is our sixth hearing on Capitol security during this Congress. Significant progress has been made to implement our recommendations,” Klobuchar continued. “Through these efforts, the Department has improved its handling of intelligence…prioritized operational planning … and used resources to ensure officers have the training and equipment that they need.”
Klobuchar underscored the importance of taking action to respond to the rise in threats targeting Members of Congress, particularly following the attack on Paul Pelosi: “There has been significant progress, but there is also much more to do…One of the goals must be to confront the dramatic rise in threats targeting Members of Congress. While the Department has hired more threat assessment agents and opened two field offices to counter these threats, more must be done.”
It is wonderful to be here for the last hearing with my close friend Ranking Member Blunt – I’m going to say a few words about him shortly, but it is fitting, I would say, that we are ending with this important oversight hearing of the Capitol Police because it has defined so much of our work during the last two years, and we are forever grateful to the men and women of the Capitol Police, and it's a part, I know, of Senator Blunt’s job that he has always liked. You will always find him as you know, Chief, with the officers during holiday season, you will find him with them every step of the way.
It was my privilege to see the officers and their families, Chief, presented with the Congressional Gold Medal earlier this month for their courage defending our democracy on January 6th, and Senator Blunt and I led the bill. And we were very excited that we've had the honor of the Congressional Gold Medal being bestowed upon the police.
Next month will mark two years since January 6, since the peaceful transfer of power that historically we have seen that day, the Electoral Count Act day, when the ballots are counted from each state—when we saw this disrupted with an insurrection.
As we know it was more than an assault on a building, it was an assault on our democracy. And it was an actual life and death situation for so many of our officers on duty that day. As we've heard testimony in our joint hearings with the Homeland Security Committee that we all took part in, our officers performed heroically under unimaginable circumstances, suffering many injuries and in some cases loss of life.
Tragically five officers passed away following the attack. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick died the next day. Four other officers died in the days and months that followed: Capitol Police Officer Howard Liebengood and D.C. Metropolitan Police Officers Jeffrey Smith, Gunther Hashida, and Kyle DeFreytag.
Many more suffered injuries, and even more suffered emotional trauma that day. Later that spring, we also lost Officer Billy Evans who gave his life defending our Capitol right there at the front Senate gate. Many of us remember Billy personally, and I've been honored to get to know his family and his kids.
We owe it to the officers who stand in defense of the Capitol to make sure that they have the resources and support they need–and I want to acknowledge, first of all, the Department’s work to expand mental health support for officers, including establishing the Howard Liebengood Center for Wellness after we passed funding for it in last year’s emergency appropriations legislation.
After that heroic day, Senator Blunt and I, as I mentioned, worked with Senator Portman and Senator Peters to hold hearings and issue a bipartisan report with the Homeland Security Committee with recommendations that could be implemented without delay. This is our sixth hearing on Capitol security during this Congress. Significant progress has been made to implement our recommendations for the entities charged with protecting the Capitol. The majority have been put into effect entirely, as well as more than 75 percent of the Capitol Police Inspector General’s 103 recommendations.
Through these efforts, the Department has improved its handling of intelligence by hiring a new Intelligence Director and sharing information with rank and file officers, prioritized operational planning by requiring plans for large-scale events, and used the resources in last year’s emergency appropriations legislation to ensure officers have the training and the equipment that they need.
We will never forget the stories of the riot gear left in the buses locked. We'll never forget the stories of what a high percentage, and of course you were not chief then, but what a high percentage of our officers were not equipped with riot gear. And in fact, the people attacking them, in some cases, had gear that they didn't even have on themselves.
The Department also faced the difficult task of confronting a shortfall in officers since January 6th, which placed even more pressure on those protecting our Capitol. I appreciate your work, Chief, to take this on head on, to restore morale and confidence in your ranks. I still remember when I knew that the morale was improving, about six months after the attack. I remember how difficult it was in those weeks and months afterwards, but about six months after the attack, I was outside in the parking area and I was standing there and one of the officers was talking to me and one of your other officers was on bike patrol, and he put up his megaphone, and he said “Officer”—he used the name of the guy I was talking to—“do you need backup? Do you need backup?” And I thought at that moment, whatever is going on, there has been some improvement in morale that people can once again have a little moment of fun and appreciate the surroundings that they're in. As I’ve told your officers, including last week, they are the ones that are on the frontline every single day for our safety and also the frontline of what visitors to the Capitol see.
Your efforts have paid off, as the Department met its goal to hire 280 officers this year and is on track to do the same next year. Your work to recruit more officers and overcome attrition has been integral to reopening the Capitol. We have had tour groups back for nearly nine months now, and the Capitol Visitor Center reopened about seven months ago. Just last week another entrance to the Senate office buildings opened, and we will open at least one more in January, when the public galleries are planned to be open as well.
We know it has been long, long incoming but we understand your plan to ensure our safety and slowly and surely open up some of these areas because we could not do it all at once. And we still can't do every single thing we were doing before.
So there has been significant progress, but there is also much more to do—and I know you know that one of those goals is to confront the dramatic rise in threats targeting Members of Congress.
While the Department has hired more threat assessment agents and opened two field offices to counter these threats, more must be done. Chief, I know you have presented a proposal to the Capitol Police Board laying out resources that the Department needs to be effective given the current threat landscape to ensure Members are safe when they are away from the Capitol.
One of the things we also talked about in that last meeting that Senator Blunt and I attended was about the prosecution of these cases, which is not under your purview—one thing that's not—but making sure that they occur and I've already contacted the Justice Department about that.
Another thing that we should do without delay is to pass my bipartisan proposal with Senator Cruz to provide for the removal of Members of Congress’ private information from the internet, similar to a provision for federal judges that was just included in the NDAA. And I continue to work to get this done by the end of the year.
I look forward to hearing from you today, Chief.
Now before I turn it over to Senator Blunt, I wanted to talk a little bit about his work and recognize the importance of his service, not just to this committee, but really to our Capital and to our country. Through our work leading the Rules Committee, sometimes he's been chair, sometimes I've been chair, sometimes it just doesn't matter who's chair because we work together so well. I've gotten to see firsthand Chairman Blunt's—former Chairman now Ranking Member Blunt's—deep respect for our Constitution, for the Senate, and our democracy. As a former top election official in Missouri, Senator Blunt’s experience benefited our committee as we worked to support the work of election administrators, including highlighting the rising threats in the hearing we did last year.
And since coming to the Senate, Senator Blunt’s love for this institution has come through his efforts to make this a better place to work. That includes not okaying every request we get from every member, but whenever we can, we try to do that. It includes joining with me to reform the outdated process of reporting and handling sexual harassment claims on Capitol Hill. Many great improvements were made that have been helpful for this institution. It includes updating the rules for new parents, when we worked to ensure that Senator Duckworth and future parents can bring their babies to the Senate floor. He's also been a great partner to me on many other issues, including we co chaired the Travel and Tourism Caucus and passed Brand USA several times. He co-chaired the Adoption Caucus with me. We got a number of bills passed over the year. He himself the parent of an adopted child, Charlie Blunt, that he loves so much, and he has taken that heart and put it into that issue as well.
Above all else, Senator Blunt’s career here has been defined by service. He is more interested in getting things done than getting the accolades, although I know talking to your wife, Abby, there have been a lot of accolades in recent months—buildings named after you, airports named after you, all well deserved. But what I will most remember about Senator Blunt is that moment on January 6, when it was just the two of us and Vice President Pence walking through that corridor that in the morning had been a place of celebration, walking through the broken glass, the spray-painted columns to do our jobs. And when we came back, then it was about 4:30 in the morning, when it was all done and democracy had prevailed, he and I decided to go downstairs to look at the damage to the Parliamentarian office and other offices, and it was a horrendous sight—pictures broken, their own personal belongings all over the floor. And we knew then that our work hadn’t ended really that day, but our work had just begun to protect the security of the Capitol.
But I most remember in a typical Roy Blunt way as we walked out of that office, and the sun is coming out, he turns to me in all seriousness and says, “Well, see you tomorrow.” And I said, “Tomorrow is here, but I will.” And I think that's what we say to Senator Blunt today, that we will see you tomorrow and we will see you many days to come.
And we are also excited that Senator Fischer will actually become the Ranking Member. She and I get along very well. She had asked me to be her Democratic mentor, whatever that meant, when she came to the Senate. I tried my best. And we're really excited that she's going to be filling in here and becoming the Ranking Member. But Roy, we are all gonna miss you. I know Angus came in specifically to recognize your work, and we thank you, Roy, for all you've done.