Progressives nearly tank House Democrats’ Capitol security bill

WASHINGTON (thehill): A small group of progressives known as the “squad” came close to sinking the House Democrats’ Capitol security spending bill on Thursday over concerns about Capitol Police accountability.

Democratic Reps. Cori Bush (Mo.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.) and Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) all voted “no,” while Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) and Jamaal Bowman (N.Y.) voted “present.”

Their opposition created a dramatic scene on the House floor leading up to the vote, as Democratic leaders scrambled to secure the necessary support and prevent an embarrassing loss on a high-profile proposal to address the security failures of the Jan. 6 insurrection. Every Republican opposed the measure, leaving little room for error.

Voting “present” allowed those three Democrats to express their frustrations without actually tanking the legislation. If all six of the Democratic defectors had voted “no” with all Republicans, then the bill would have failed.

In the end, Democratic leaders secured passage only narrowly in the nail-biter 213-212 vote with the three “present” votes. 

The near-miss offered the latest example of the challenges Democrats face with a historically tight House majority, in which they currently hold only 219 seats over Republicans’ 211, with five seats vacant.

House Democratic leaders held open a procedural vote right before the final passage of the security funding bill for more than an hour as they tamped down the last-minute progressive protest.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other House Democratic leaders could be seen intensely huddling on the House floor with House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and the progressive lawmakers threatening to vote against the bill.

Bowman said that he was “concerned about adding additional funding to a police budget that’s already very large and bloated.”

“But I always wanted to support the cleaners and the custodial staff who throughout this process have been sort of ignored, and not a part of the conversation. What about their mental health? What about their hazard pay? What about just ensuring that they are safe as they come to work, to and from work? Not from a police perspective, but from a psychological security perspective,” Bowman said.

Bowman denied that the progressives received concessions from leadership in exchange for only voting “present” so that their opposition didn’t tank the bill.

“We were in communication with each other and leadership throughout the day. And I didn’t decide on what I was going to do until I actually did it,” Bowman said.

Black Lives Matter activists praised the progressive lawmakers for their opposition after the vote.

“The attacks on January 6th were a symbol of white supremacy. We don’t respond to white supremacy by giving more money to the police. Period,” they wrote in a tweet.

But a number of Democratic lawmakers, even some liberals, were frustrated as they left the chamber, criticizing the “squad” members for waiting until the last moment to air their grievances.

“That kind of gotcha thing does not help,” one liberal Democrat said. “I don’t know what their argument was, but it was not a very good one.”

The spending bill includes about $44 million for the Capitol Police, including funding for overtime pay, training, bolstering its intelligence division, new equipment and trauma support for officers.

The legislation further includes $200 million for a “quick reaction force” within the D.C. National Guard to help support the Capitol Police in emergencies. Republicans opposed the bill in part over concerns about the new National Guard force, with Rep. Kay Granger (Texas), the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, saying it raises “serious concerns about the role of our military on American soil.”

Another $40 million would be allotted for repairing physical damage to the Capitol — some of which is still visible more than four months later — and another $529 million toward upgrading the building’s security, including funds to harden doors and windows and expand screening areas.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who heads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said she was never considering an opposition vote herself, but she defended the liberals who went that route, saying they not only voted their consciences, but also highlighted important concerns that Democrats will have to address going forward.  

“I think they were really voting based on what they thought was right,” Jayapal said. “The sooner we know those issues, both from leadership and from our members, the more effective we’ll be able to be at getting to a resolution.”

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), another staunch liberal, also predicted that Democrats are not done grappling with the issues of law enforcement, race and the thorny intersection of the two.

“This is going to be an ongoing issue, the disparate treatment of people on Jan. 6 and the Black Lives Matte [protesters]. There’s no question about it,” Schakowsky said. “I guess the word is reckon these days. It’s a reckoning.”

Ironically, Democrats were given cover on Thursday by Republicans, who voted unanimously against the emergency security funding, which left them essentially powerless to go after members of the squad for doing the same. 

“We have the Republicans who are largely voting ‘no,’ and even standing on the floor and saying that this was some normal — on Jan. 6, that this was some normal visit,” Schakowsky said. “They’re just being so divisive on things that ought to be absolutely bipartisan.”

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the lead prosecutor in former President Trump’s second impeachment trial after the Jan. 6 insurrection, was among the Democrats working the floor to count the votes on Thursday.

He said the internal frictions over police funding were exacerbated by the uncertainty surrounding a separate bill to create an outside commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack. While that proposal passed the House on Wednesday, GOP opposition in the Senate has dimmed its prospects of becoming law.

“The strong point people were making is that the commission hasn’t met yet so we don’t know completely what the security requirements are going to be,” Raskin said. “On the other hand, we have a security emergency that we need to respond to. We both need to pay for what happened on Jan. 6 and install a whole bunch of changes now just to make ourselves safe. So I think that that was the awkwardness of it.”

The Democratic divisions on display were a reversal of roles from the day before, when 35 Republicans broke with their leadership to support legislation that would establish a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

Most Republicans joined with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who argued the commission should expand its scope to review other instances of political violence in a move that would reduce the focus on Trump.

Those 35 Republicans included the 10 who voted to impeach Trump after Jan. 6: Reps. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), Anthony Gonzalez (Ohio), Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.), John Katko (N.Y.), Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), Peter Meijer (Mich.), Dan Newhouse (Wash.), Tom Rice (S.C.), Fred Upton (Mich.) and David Valadao (Calif.).

Katko, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, also co-authored the Jan. 6 commission legislation.