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Paul Pelosi's attack stirs lawmakers' fears over their own safety

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The violent break-in at the home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is renewing calls to increase security for members of Congress and those close to them. Prosecutors say the attack on Pelosi's husband, Paul, was politically motivated. Now Democrats and Republicans are worried that crimes like that may happen more often. NPR politics reporter Ximena Bustillo joins us now. Ximena, this attack has got to be hitting pretty close to home for lawmakers. What are they saying?

XIMENA BUSTILLO, BYLINE: I spoke to a few lawmakers. And they told me that the incident has made them reflect on their own experiences. Earlier this year, a man was arrested for stalking Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington and yelling threats outside her home. Here she is talking about how this also impacts staff.

PRAMILA JAYAPAL: I think it's one thing to talk about, you know, our safety and security, which is definitely important. I also raised the question earlier this summer about our staff, and particularly staff in the district offices that just don't have the same kind of protection.

BUSTILLO: Like Pelosi, Jayapal had police presence outside her home, but only when she was there. On Wednesday, U.S. Capitol Police confirmed that they have cameras outside the speaker's home in San Francisco. But they're not actively monitored. The attack comes at a time of heightened political tension, right? Lawmakers like Democrat Eric Swalwell say that they use campaign funds to protect their family and staff.

ERIC SWALWELL: And I've heard from donors who have told me, look; like, we want the money to go to reelecting you, you know? And I've told them, well, you know, if I'm dead, I'm not on the ballot. And I'm not going to get reelected.

BUSTILLO: Swalwell faced threats earlier this year, too. A man recently pleaded guilty to threatening to kill him and his staff.

MARTIN: Wow. So besides directing campaign funds at their own private security, which they feel necessary, at least Swalwell does, what solutions are lawmakers putting forward?

BUSTILLO: Well, Jayapal told me she is pushing for some solutions, like the ability for members to scrub their private home addresses from public records. Swalwell says he sees the upcoming lame duck session after the election as a potential opportunity to pass legislation that could increase funding and resources to Capitol Police or other measures, like the scrubbing of addresses. He argues that there's room for bipartisan support because Democrats are not the only ones targeted.

SWALWELL: I mean, if you look at the, you know, Gabby Giffords shooting, you know, it was also people around the congressman - the congresswoman who were, you know, affected by it. And so we all have an interest.

BUSTILLO: That is a reference to former Arizona Representative Giffords, who was shot during a constituent meeting held in a supermarket parking lot in 2011. But there are more recent examples, too. Earlier this year, GOP Representative Lee Zeldin, who's running to be New York governor, was attacked by a man at a campaign event in upstate New York.

MARTIN: So what do Republicans have to say about the kind of proposals you just laid out that are being offered by Democrats?

BUSTILLO: Many Republicans, despite their disagreements with the speaker, are wishing her husband well in his recovery. Senator Rand Paul is one of those lawmakers. And he has been pushing to protect the address of members of Congress, too. You'll recall the Kentucky senator was attacked on his property by a neighbor in 2017. And he told me in a statement that he hopes the most recent attack will lead to bipartisan support for the measure. He's specifically been trying to get lawmakers to include a bill that protects federal judges' privacy.

That bill was added to the defense policy legislation that's expected to pass later this year. Earlier this week, U.S. Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger called for more resources to provide additional security to members. And some GOP members might agree. Representative Mike Simpson of Idaho told NPR in a statement that he has always advocated that they should have resources that they need to be safe while doing their job.

MARTIN: NPR's Ximena Bustillo, thank you so much.

BUSTILLO: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.