Squad Splits on Capitol Police Funding, Letting Bill Pass by One Vote

Three progressive Democrats voted no on $1.9 billion in funding for the Capitol Police, while AOC, Jamaal Bowman, and Rashida Tlaib voted present.

(L-R) Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) attend a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol on March 11, 2021 in Washington, DC.
From left to right: Reps. Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley attend a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol on March 11, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The House of Representatives on Thursday approved an expanded budget for the U.S. Capitol Police in a supplemental piece of legislation that passed by a single vote.

Democratic Reps. Cori Bush of Missouri, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts voted to take the measure down, but Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman of New York, along with Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, voted present.

“I am tired of the fact that any time where there is a failure in our system of policing, the first response is for us to give them more money, rather than investigate the failings and hold those responsible accountable,” Omar told The Intercept, explaining her vote. “I’ll continue to fight for structural change that actually centers people’s safety and humanity. That applies to us here in the Capitol, as well as my constituents in Minneapolis.”

The measure, approved by a 213-212 vote, included $1.9 billion for the Capitol Police and Capitol security, requested by the police after they failed to secure the building during the January 6 protest-turned-riot.

The supplemental included uncontroversial items such as funding for accrued overtime and mental health counseling, but the broader measure raised fundamental questions about accountability and the permanent creep of security forces that have turned the U.S. Capitol into a fortress. The bill would harden entrances to the Capitol and include funding for rapid response.

In a break from the past, the bill allows funds to be spent providing security for individual members of the House that the sergeant-at-arms deems at particular risk. Currently, only top leaders are afforded such protection.

The bill includes $350 million for “complex emergency response and infrastructure,” which includes $100 million for “security screening vestibules.” It stops short of making the fencing permanent, though it provides funds for “design, installation, landscape architecture and to maintain a retractable security system as part of an interconnected security of the United States Capitol Grounds,” adding that “such funds shall not be used to install permanent above ground fencing around the perimeter, or any portion thereof, of the United States Capitol Grounds.”

In addition, the bill offers up $720 million for the National Guard and Department of Defense, $157.5 million for judicial security, $67 million for the District of Columbia, and $1.8 million for the Bureau of Prisons for salaries and expenses. It also creates a wellness center available to officers and requires them to wear body cameras.

A tie vote in the House fails, meaning that if one of the three members who voted present had voted no, they would have taken it down.

On the Republican side, 209 voted no, while two did not vote.

The measure now moves to the Senate, where its fate is uncertain.

Update: May 20, 2021, 1:53 p.m.

Omar, Pressley, and Bush released a joint statement explaining their no votes:

On January 6th, some Republican Members of Congress and the former President incited an insurrection that they refuse to accept responsibility for and continue to deny to this day. A bill that pours $1.9 billion into increased police surveillance and force without addressing the underlying threats of organized and violent white supremacy, radicalization, and disinformation that led to this attack will not prevent it from happening again. Increasing law enforcement funds does not inherently protect or safeguard the Capitol Hill or surrounding D.C. community. In fact, this bill is being passed before we have any real investigation into the events of January 6th and the failures involved because Republicans have steadfastly obstructed the creation of a January 6th commission. 

The bill also does far too little to address the unspeakable trauma of the countless officers, staff, and support workers who were on site that day – dedicating fifty times more money to the creation of a ‘quick reaction force’ than it does to counseling. We cannot support this increased funding while many of our communities continue to face police brutality while marching in the streets, and while questions about the disparate response between insurrectionists and those protesting in defense of Black lives go unanswered. 

While we appreciate the efforts of our colleagues to put forth a supplemental that provides necessary pay to our essential workers, there must be a comprehensive investigation and response to the attack on our Capitol and our democracy, one that addresses the root cause of the insurrection: white supremacy. This bill prioritizes more money for a broken system that has long upheld and protected the white supremacist violence we saw on display that day.

We look forward to working towards systemic policy solutions that meet the scale and scope of the crises our communities and our nation face.

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