Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) was House Majority Whip Steve Scalise’s chief defender two years ago when the Louisiana Republican faced a major scandal that threatened his political career.
Today, Richmond is leading the fight for better security protection for lawmakers after a gunman tried to end the lives of Scalise and many others on a suburban baseball field Wednesday morning.
Even before a gunman fired on Republicans practicing for Thursday night’s charity baseball game, Richmond had privately warned Speaker Paul RyanRep.-elect Gianforte calls for civility in politics after reporter assault Ryan to give 'major' tax reform speech Gianforte to be sworn into House next week after assaulting reporter MORE (R-Wis.) that lawmaker security was woefully inadequate.
He sent a letter to leadership, then voiced his concerns to the Speaker during a meeting last week.
“I think the security for members of Congress is embarrassingly inadequate. It’s a concern I’ve had for a number of years,” said Richmond, who rushed to the hospital Wednesday to see Scalise and planned another visit Thursday shortly before taking the mound at the Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park.
“Look, I signed up for this, but my 3-year-old didn’t and our families didn’t,” Richmond added. “I’ve had threats and most members I know have had threats.”
Asked if he thinks Scalise, the No. 3 House GOP leader, will pull through, Richmond replied cautiously: “I'm prayerful he will pull through.”
Richmond, 43, is well-suited to take the lead on heightening security. He’s the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), whose members have been targeted disproportionately with death threats and other menacing messages.
Rep. Al GreenScalise ally, a Dem, leads fight to boost lawmaker security Dem leaders: Cool it on impeachment GOP leaders are unified: Firing Mueller a bad idea MORE, a Houston Democrat who’s been among President Trump’s harshest critics, received death threats last month when he floated the idea of pushing to impeach the president. Among the attacks were voicemails threatening to lynch the black lawmaker.
In response, two Capitol Police officers were dispatched to Houston, where they remain while the investigation into the threats continues.
“We have made some modifications in my office in Houston,” Green said, without providing details. “We don’t take the threats that are made lightly.”
Wednesday’s shooting in Alexandria, Va., injured Scalise, two Capitol Police officers in his security detail, a Hill staffer and a lobbyist, and it cast a media spotlight on Richmond’s calls for tighter security for lawmakers.
As Scalise underwent a third surgery for his injuries Thursday, his GOP and Democratic colleagues discussed and debated what measures could be taken without busting the budget.
Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) and other members are urging leadership to allow lawmakers to use their office funds — known as Member's Representational Allowance, or MRA — for added security when they are back in their districts, including for home-security cameras.
Such a change appears to be a popular one with lawmakers of both parties. Richmond said an extra $1 million for MRAs could help “save lives.”
“I can’t tell you how many threats I’ve had against my home,” said Rep. Jim Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking House Democrat and another prominent CBC member.
“In fact, I’ve had state police staying at home with my family.”
Current House rules bar members from using their MRAs for security; campaign funds may be used, Richmond said, but only if a lawmaker has faced a personal threat. “It’s confusing,” he said.
Some lawmakers said they also want to have greater flexibility to use office funds to pay for security when they attend campaign events in a public setting. Lawmakers are always targets, even when they are at campaign events, one member lamented.
Others want Capitol Police or law enforcement officials present at any event where large numbers of lawmakers are gathered, such as congressional baseball or softball practices. Richmond and many others pointed out that had Scalise missed practice Wednesday, his security detail would not have been there to thwart the attacker.
“Had Steve been sick or tired or lazy and didn’t go to practice, then you would have seen a full-fledged massacre,” Richmond told a large gaggle of reporters just off the House floor.
Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had already been discussing protocol and additional resources for lawmaker security before this week’s shooting, according to Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong. Last week, Ryan decided to sit down with Richmond to hear more about his recommendation that the Federal Elections Commission allow lawmakers to use campaign funds for security purposes.
But no final decisions were made.
Pelosi noted Thursday that members of the Democratic baseball team, who were also practicing Wednesday morning at a separate field, were unprotected because both she and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), both of whom travel with a detail, are not on the team. She endorsed the idea of having Capitol Police at all future practice sessions — a notion she characterized as “self-evident” in light of Wednesday’s shooting.
“Right now they have a perimeter that they cover, and these parks were outside the perimeter,” she said. “That really maybe shouldn’t be the standard of what they secure.”
Pelosi emphasized that security protocols are largely out of Congress’s hands — “the security evaluations are really up to the Capitol Police” — but she also suggested Congress’s police force is underfunded and lawmakers of both parties should support a budget boost.
“They change the rules, but I think we can give them more resources,” she said.
Richmond and Scalise go back to 2000, when they were serving together in the Statehouse in Baton Rouge. After they both were elected to Congress, they formed a close bond — and friendly rivalry — on the baseball diamond, playing for opposing teams at the annual charity game.
For years, Richmond, a former pitcher for Morehouse College, dominated Republicans on the mound, but the GOP took back the title last year after a seven-game losing streak.
The Scalise-Richmond relationship was tested in late 2014, when a local blogger unearthed that Scalise had addressed a white supremacist group as a state lawmaker in 2002. Some Democrats called for his resignation, and many thought Scalise’s career in Washington might be over.
But Richmond swooped in, telling reporters that Scalise didn’t have “a racist bone in his body.” That defense braced Scalise against his Democratic critics and gave him breathing room to rehabilitate his reputation.
Thursday, as Scalise remains in critical condition, lawmakers of both parties vowed to take the field with their injured colleague in mind. More than 20,000 tickets to the baseball game had been sold by 4 p.m. Thursday, raising more than $1 million for underprivileged youth in Washington, D.C., according to Roll Call.
“We're going to go to the game today. We're going to play our hardest to win. And throughout the whole game, we will all be Team Scalise,” Pelosi said.
“That camaraderie, I think, will be very positive as we go forward.”