TOPICS > Politics

Should Security Be Increased for Lawmakers?

January 12, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
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Judy Woodruff examines the impact of Saturday's shooting on other members of Congress with Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.

TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: President Obama arrived in Tucson late today, and he went first to visit Representative Giffords and the other shooting victims in the hospital.

And now to Judy Woodruff.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For more on the impact of Saturday’s shooting on members of Congress, we are joined by Rep. John Larson of Connecticut — he is chairman of the House Democratic Caucus — and Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah.

Gentlemen, thank you both for being with us.

I want to start by asking you about your own security. You did get these briefings today by the Capitol Police, we understand separate briefings.

Rep. Larson, to you first.

What were some of the main points that were shared with you in these briefings?

REP. JOHN LARSON (D-Conn.): Well, I think the overarching theme from all of our members is, we understand the role and responsibility that we have as elected officials. But, certainly, we want to make sure that we’re doing everything feasible to protect all those people who work for us.

You know, Gabe Zimmerman lost his life in the line of duty for his country. The impact that this has had all across the country, but certainly back here in Washington, D.C., has been nothing short of profound. As we pray for those who are wounded to get well, we feel a special obligation to make sure that everything is being done within our offices.

There’s pretty good security here in Washington, D.C., but the question is, in the outlying districts and back home, and in — rural and urban and suburban districts differ generally in terms of the response. That’s the overall emphasis of our members, is to make sure that we come up with both whatever it takes financially to make sure that the MRA, which is the allotment we get to make sure that we have security and that we’re coordinating that security between state, local and federal officials.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And Rep. Chaffetz, how different would that be from what you’re doing already now? How much of a change are we talking about?

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R-Utah): Well, we have got to leave it to the security experts. Quite frankly, we’re still quite shocked. We’re mourning the loss of those lives. We’re cheering and rooting and praying for Gabby Giffords.

I’m probably more concerned about my staff in our district offices, the threats that we get within the district. Here at the Capitol, you have a virtual army of people that are protecting us. And while it’s the world’s number-one terrorist target, I do feel like they’re doing a very good job securing us here in Washington, D.C.

In our own individual districts, I do think we’re going to have to step up and take more seriously some of those threats that every member of Congress on both sides of the aisle, unfortunately, gets via the Internet or other means. And we’re going to have to take those a little bit more seriously. And I think we need to dive a little deeper into those threats.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Rep. Larson, how will you do that? Because we know that all of you, of course, want to spend time with your constituents. So, how do you both respond to these new security concerns and make sure that you’re available to people who want to see you?

REP. JOHN LARSON: Well, of course, you’re going to continue to be available. That’s — that goes with the job and the responsibility.

But there can be security assessments made in every single district, and precautions can be taken. And that’s what we heard today, both from the Capitol Police, what we heard from the sergeant of arms and the FBI, and taking those security measures and always being very much aware of this potential.

Sadly, this doesn’t happen just in Congress. In Connecticut this past year, we had another tragedy that took place where a gunman came in and opened up, and people were — were — were killed as well. We also have to spend time getting at the root causes of this and mental illness and doing something — I favor Carolyn Maloney’s approach — but doing something in terms of what we have to do on assault rifles and weapons of that nature — just not a place for them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, as long as you have brought that up, let me ask Rep. Chaffetz about that, because there is some discussion now about needing a new look at gun laws to at least — at the very least to provide restrictions to make it harder for those who may be mentally unstable to get a gun or get ammunition.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ: Well, it seems to me that there are a number of laws on the books.

And, as we examine the — the tragedy that happened in Tucson, obviously, that will be part of the debate. I don’t think there should necessarily be special rules or laws pertaining to members of Congress. You mentioned in the preview a piece of legislation that would prohibit somebody with a firearm coming within 1,000 feet of a member of Congress.

I really disagree with that approach. Look, we have to be cautious, we have to be vigilant, but we also can’t be scared. And we have got to continue to have vibrant public debate in the — on the public corner. We have got to remember that this is a very, very rare occurrence. I hope and pray it never happens again.

But we have got to be open, accessible and interacting with our constituents at the same time. And I don’t think that’s going to change. Do we need maybe a few more law-enforcement officers there to deter anything like that? Obviously, I think that’s a direction that we’re headed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Rep. Larson, is this going to turn into a big debate on the Hill about how to respond to what happened?

REP. JOHN LARSON: Well, you know, I’m heartened by both the tone that the — that Speaker Boehner has set from the outset.

And I think there are, going forward, an opportunity for us to come together in a very pragmatic way. This is not about the Second Amendment. Think about the victims here in this instance. Think about that 9-year-old girl. And I think that’s what’s weighing heavy on people’s minds. It’s not about guns.

But when you look about the equipment attached to that gun and what happened, and when you think about the mental-health precautions that could take place, when you think about the commonsense provisions as to who should be on a list and not be able to purchase weapons, these are very pragmatic, commonsense, I think, issues that need to be discussed. And I commend the speaker again for setting the right tone and stage.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Rep. Chaffetz, I noticed that you told The New York Times this week that you might be more likely to carry your own gun now as a result of what happened in Tucson, something that is legal in the state of Utah.

And we know there’s another — there’s a representative I guess from the state of Texas who’s talking about making it legal for members of Congress to carry guns on the — in Washington on the floor of the House.

What about all that? Is that something that you take seriously?

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ: Well, I was a concealed-carry permit holder before I got to Congress. I have continued that since I have been in Congress. And I will continue with it moving forward.

I don’t bring my gun here to Washington, D.C. I feel very safe and secure here. At my own district, exercising my Second Amendment right, it’s something I personally feel comfortable with. I don’t want, or nor do I ever recommend that anybody go out and simply do something different because of what happened on Saturday.

I think you need to be very cautious with that. I happen to feel comfortable with it. It is legal and lawful in the state of Utah. I don’t do it all the time. I just do it sometimes. Sometimes, I don’t.

I think what people, Judy, are really struggling with, I wish — we’re all mourning the difficult situation that happened in — on Saturday, to say the least. And I think people are struggling. They want a — how do we fix this so it never, ever happens again?

And, you know, it’s difficult to point to just one thing. But it’s very, very important that we don’t overreact either.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Rep. Larson, how long do you think this — this spirit that exists now will last?

We heard a few moments ago Rep.– or I guess Minority Leader Steny Hoyer say that he hoped that the sentiment that is bringing members of Congress together right now will remain longer with the body and with the country. Do you think that’s realistic?

REP. JOHN LARSON: I hope so, Judy.

I can remember being here September 11. I remember when Congress gathered on the steps of the Capitol and spontaneously broke into the singing of “God Bless America,” and we all felt that we had an opportunity to come together as a nation.

And for a period of time, there was that great patriotic fervor that overtakes a nation when an event of this nature happens. I agree with Steny. I hope that this stays here. I do think, based on the number of members coming to the floor today and the sincere outpouring of concern, not only for Gabby and the victims, but also to get this right, as Jason has said — so, I take a great hope in what has transpired here on the floor of the House of Representatives today.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, finally, Rep. Chaffetz, how long do you think this — this spirit, the sentiment of working together, coming together will last?

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ: I hope forever. I really do believe that the hallmark of our country has been the vigorous and vibrant debate. And, as — as speaker-elect Boehner at the time said, it’s OK to be — to disagree, but not be disagreeable.

We have got to remember we’re all Americans. And while we’re going to fight vigorously for different policies, at the end of the day, we ought to be able to reach our hand out, shake hands together, recognize that we’re all Americans and we’re all fighting for a better America.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Rep. John Larson, we thank you both.

REP. JOHN LARSON: Thank you, Judy.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ: Thanks, Judy.