Oct 29, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Pelosi attack stokes Congress' fears: "Somebody is going to die"

Illustration of a leg stepping into a spotlight casting a target on the floor.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Members of Congress are sounding new alarms about their personal security — and broader concerns about what the drumbeat of threats against prominent political figures means for them and for the country.

Why it matters: Friday's attack against Speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband hit especially hard because of where it happened: inside the personal residence of the woman second in line to the presidency.

The big picture: Violence and threats of violence against lawmakers — as well as judges, election workers, federal law enforcement and other public officials — are on the rise, and security is struggling to keep pace.

  • "Somebody is going to die," Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) told Axios.

What they're saying: Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) told Axios the attack "is confirming what members know: We are completely vulnerable at a time when the risks are increasing. ... We need more ways to protect members and their families."

  • "I'm a rank-and-file member who served on a Mueller investigation and had death threats," said Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.). "I think everybody has to take it seriously."
  • Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) said in a statement to Axios that the attack "certainly heightened my own concerns about personal safety."
  • Dingell (D-Mich.), whose district office was vandalized last fall, recounted various threats she's faced, including when Tucker Carlson did a segment about her in 2020: "I had men outside my home with assault weapons that night."

Zoom out: Pelosi has a full Capitol Police security detail. But most lawmakers don't.

  • Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) told Axios in July that a $10,000 home security allotment announced by the House sergeant at arms falls far short of the cost of recommended enhancements to her home after a security incident earlier that month.
  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has been calling for security details to be based more on the volume of threats a member receives rather than seniority. "I've had threats on my life since the first day I was sworn in," she told Axios in September. "The security situation has been extremely inadequate."
  • “We have an antiquated security system focused on providing protection to those who receive threats, but the real concern is about those who act without warning,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) told Axios. “This political environment makes this not just likely but guaranteed.”

What we're hearing: Some lawmakers have called for concrete action after the attack on Paul Pelosi — including a legislative response.

  • "These threats and acts of violence are eroding our democratic process by threatening the very individuals who are at the front lines of upholding it," Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.) said in a statement to Axios.
  • Sherrill has introduced a bill that would allow judges to shield personal information, in response to a shooting in 2020 that killed a judge's son and injured her husband.

Flashback: Attacks have targeted Republicans as well as Democrats. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) was shot in 2017 while practicing for the congressional baseball game. The shooting was politically motivated.

The big picture: Dingell told Axios it's not just about Congress. "I know school board members that are wearing bulletproof vests to meetings now," she said.

  • "I hope this gets the nation's attention, that we've got to dial down the temperature," she said of the attack on Pelosi. "We can't live in fear."
  • Quigley said he often asks schoolchildren if they want to run for office, and then he asks why more students don't raise their hands. "In the past, [the answers were], 'I want to do something else,' 'It's boring,' 'It doesn't interest me.' ... Lately, it's: 'Too dangerous.' That's really scary."
  • “I don't think anyone in public life today is completely safe," Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said in an MSNBC interview.

What we're watching: Capitol security is poised to change next year if Republicans take the majority in the Nov. 8 midterm elections.

  • House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has criticized Democrats for placing metal detectors outside the House chamber after the Jan. 6 attack and signaled he plans to remove them if he's in charge come January.
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