After attack on congressman’s office, lawmakers consider more security spending

Washington — A month after a violent and allegedly politically motivated attack on the office of a US congressman, injured staff members are recovering and office security upgrades are complete. But questions remain about whether Congress is doing enough to protect its own members and their aides from future targets or assaults.

Xuan Kha Pham, 49, is charged with May 15 attack on Democratic Representative Gerry Connolly’s Virginia district office. Pham is accused of hitting one of Connolly’s staff members in the head with a baseball bat. He also allegedly confronted an intern, who was on her first day on the job, at a reception. The suspect allegedly asked Connolly by name while in the office.

CBS News has learned that the intern has successfully returned to work for the summer. “Our road to recovery won’t be short, but we are committed to walking it together and helping each other along the way,” Connolly told CBS News. “I couldn’t be more proud of each one of them.”

His spokesperson said the congressman’s office has made “additional security enhancements that will best protect our staff and still allow us to serve our constituents” in Fairfax, Virginia.

But in the aftermath of the attack, some of his fellow congressmen questioned whether they were allocating enough money to prevent similar attacks in other communities.

“This is one of my major concerns that we need to continue to discuss,” Democratic Rep. Adriano Espaillat of New York said during a House subcommittee hearing two days after the attack at Connolly’s office. “We need to include additional resources for the Sergeant-at-Arms District Office security program and expand its scope.”

On Wednesday, a House panel will discuss and annotate legislation that funds security operations for congressional offices. The amount of funding dedicated to security operations and improvements to the hometown office and residences of members of Congress should be part of the debate and discussion.

Newly appointed House Sergeant-at-Arms William McFarland has listed improving the “security and emergency preparedness” of local House district offices as a priority in a strategic plan for April 2023 that he communicated to the members.

In the upper house, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Karen Gibson recently launched an initiative to enhance security for senators and their home-state staff. Gibson opened a “demonstration space” in the basement of the Russell Senate Building. Inside the space, which is closed to cameras and media, security personnel presented a display of technologies for office security upgrades. The room features exhibits of “duress buttons”, mail screening devices and security glass to reduce the risk of attacks.

CBS News has also learned that at least 50 of the 100 senators have accepted newly issued satellite phones, which provide emergency communications in the event of a large-scale attack or failure of telecommunications systems.

Following the attack in Connolly’s office, prosecutors charged Pham with a federal criminal count of assaulting a United States employee causing bodily harm. The case is pending in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. No upcoming court date is listed in a court filing reviewed by CBS News.

Connolly was at a groundbreaking event elsewhere in his district when the attack took place in his office. Asked about the impact of the attack on his aides, the congressman told CBS News, “I have the best team in Congress. They are resilient, dedicated to public service and committed to doing good for our constituents. .”

Months earlier, a separate attack had raised concerns for the safety of the families and colleagues of members of Congress. Paul Pelosi, the husband of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was attacked inside the couple’s home by a man wielding a hammer, who allegedly targeted Nancy Pelosi for political retaliation. David DePape, 42, has pleaded not guilty to six counts, including attempted murder. Police say DePape told them there was “evil in Washington” and that he wanted to hurt Nancy Pelosi because she was second in line to the presidency.

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