Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
October 24, 2014

Posts by Hannah Hess

279 Posts

October 24, 2014

Gainer’s Capitol Fence Is Not a Popular Concept

cap police016 091814 440x292 Gainers Capitol Fence Is Not a Popular Concept

Securing the perimeter of the Capitol’s open campus is a challenge for Capitol Police. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The idea of building a security fence around the Capitol appears just as unpopular now as it was a decade ago, when then-Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer pitched the idea to Congress.

In 2004, House appropriators added language to the legislative branch appropriations bill to prohibit Capitol Police from spending public dollars on the project. At the time, amendment sponsor Sam Farr, D-Calif., said a fence “really hurt the image and understanding of what a democracy is all about.”

Gainer, who retired from his post as Senate sergeant-at-arms in the spring, is again talking about erecting a “tasteful fence” about a block around the Capitol that would allow people to get screened before entering the campus, but current law enforcement officials aren’t commenting and elected officials aren’t biting. Full story

October 23, 2014

D.C. Board of Elections: ‘Well, We Messed Up.’

upsidedownflag 309x330 D.C. Board of Elections: Well, We Messed Up.

One week later, the board of elections is apologizing. (via @ericfidler)

One week after a lighthearted dismissal of the error, the District of Columbia’s election board issued a formal apology to voters for printing an upside down image of the D.C. flag on its official voter guide.

“Well, we messed up. BIG time,” the three-person board said Thursday in a statement that also expressed regret for “fumbling” its handling of the issue on Oct. 16.

The apology comes after a Tuesday news conference in which Mayor Vincent Gray said the flub has “tested severely” his faith in the independent agency responsible for the administration of elections, ballot access and voter registration. ”I don’t have … a lot of evidence that I can point to at this stage that would lead me to have a lot of confidence in what’s going to happen between now and, of course, Nov. 4,” Gray said. Full story

Do the Capitol’s Sergeants-at-Arms Carry Guns? (Video)

gainer 282 042914 440x307 Do the Capitols Sergeants at Arms Carry Guns? (Video)

Gainer, left, at the Capitol in April with his predecessors Al Lenhardt and William Pickle. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Members of the Canadian Parliament are praising as a hero House of Commons Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers, a former police superintendent, for his reported role in taking down the gunman who entered the building. Capitol Hill may be wondering if its own sergeants-at-arms usually pack heat.

“I didn’t carry it all the time,” former Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance W. Gainer said on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” Thursday morning. “I had it close at hand in a locked compartment.”

Gainer, who served as chief of the Capitol Police before his seven-year gig in the Senate, said he frequently relied on the uniformed officers of the department. “We have concentric circles of security around here and so they are the first line of defense, but as the chief law enforcement officer, I was armed when I needed to be or thought it was appropriate,” he said.

Full story

October 22, 2014

Capitol Police Monitoring Canadian Parliament Shooting (Updated)

911ceremony 082 091113 440x295 Capitol Police Monitoring Canadian Parliament Shooting (Updated)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 1:30 p.m. | Capitol Police say they are monitoring the Wednesday morning shooting inside the Canadian Parliament, but have not taken any “significant” steps to heighten security around Congress.

Canada’s legislature was locked down after a gunman shot a soldier at the Canadian War Memorial in Ottawa and was then chased by police into the main parliament building. Witnesses said 20 to 30 shots were fired there, according to a CBC News, report posted at 10:02 a.m.

Police and tactical teams have converged on the area, and Canadian armed forces bases across country are being closed to public as part of the response.

Lt. Kimberly Schneider said in an 11:39 a.m. email that Capitol Police are tracking the event.

“As of this writing, no modification to our security posture — still at our post-9/11 heightened state of alertness,” Schneider said.

At 12:45 p.m., Schneider added to the earlier comment, telling CQ Roll Call there had been no “significant” changes to security.

“The department “remains at a post-9/11 heightened level of awareness, with no significant modification to our security posture,” she said. “The USCP continues to monitor and track the Canadian event.”

The Canadian Embassy in D.C. is on lockdown, according to multiple reports. The complex is located only a few blocks from the Capitol at 501 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.

On Tuesday, Canada raised its domestic terror threat level from low to medium after a man attacked two Canadian soldiers in Quebec.

Related:

Former Top Cop Suggest Capitol Complex Is Too Open

Second Capitol Gun Case Ends With Plea Deal

Capitol Hill Staffer Arrested on Gun Charge Returns to Work

Pork Executive Was Carrying ‘Fully Functional’ Pistol, Police Say

U.S. Attorney Offers Plea Deals in Capitol Hill Gun Cases

Capitol Police Stop Another Gun From Entering Cannon Building (Updated)

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By Hannah Hess Posted at 12:13 p.m.
Uncategorized

Former Top Cop Suggests Capitol Complex Is Too Open (Audio)

Congress’ former top cop thinks there should be major changes to security at the 276-acre Capitol complex, saying its open and accessible campus is “much to my chagrin.”

Terrance W. Gainer said in an interview he would add gates around the Capitol perimeter and consider re-routing traffic around campus. Gainer made his comments as a federal judge ordered Omar Gonzalez to undergo a mental health evaluation within the next 30 days to determine whether he is competent to stand trial on federal and local charges of infiltrating the White House on Sept. 19. The case is causing major repercussions for the Secret Service.

It also prompted Gainer, the former Senate sergeant-at-arms who also served four years as the chief of the Capitol Police, to frankly address the challenges for guarding the complex against intrusions.

“One of the challenges the chief has, or the director of the Secret Service, is keeping everybody sharp all the time,” Gainer told CQ Roll Call. “Up on Capitol Hill we have, you know, 25,000 employees and 3 million visitors so it is very open, and keeping the officers alert and active, you know, is an important challenge.”

Full story

October 21, 2014

Second Capitol Hill Gun Case Ends With Plea Deal

photo 4 247x330 Second Capitol Hill Gun Case Ends With Plea Deal

Prestage was sentenced to probation and fines for carrying a loaded firearm into the Cannon House Office Building. (Hannah Hess/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

About three months after he was arrested at a security checkpoint in the Cannon House Office Building, Ronald Prestage pleaded guilty to two District of Columbia gun charges.

The South Carolina pork executive’s defense attorney appeared in a downtown D.C. courthouse on Tuesday morning to file guilty pleas to charges of possession of an unregistered firearm and unlawful possession of ammunition.

Prestage initially faced charges of carrying a pistol outside a home or business — a felony that carries up to five years in prison and $5,000 fine. Under the terms of a plea agreement with U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Ronald C. Machen Jr., offered after a court ruling dismantled D.C. gun laws, penalties were much lighter.

D. C. Superior Court Associate Judge John McCabe sentenced Prestage to 30 days in jail, but suspended the sentence, meaning he would not be locked up. Prestage has been ordered to serve six months unsupervised probation, which means he is not required to report to a probation officer. McCabe ordered Prestage to pay $100 in court costs by the end of the year and comply with gun offender registration requirements, according to court documents.

Capitol Police found a loaded semi-automatic pistol and magazine in Prestage’s briefcase on July 23 — only a few days after cops arrested Capitol Hill aide Ryan Shucard after finding a 9mm handgun in his bag. Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., reinstated Shucard as his press secretary in late September following a similar plea agreement.

RELATED:

Capitol Hill Staffer Arrested on Gun Charge Returns to Work

Pork Executive Was Carrying ‘Fully Functional’ Pistol, Police Say

U.S. Attorney Offers Plea Deals in Capitol Hill Gun Cases

Capitol Police Stop Another Gun From Entering Cannon Building (Updated)

Roll Call Election Map: Race Ratings for Every Seat

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Hastert Recalls Sept. 11, 2001 Evacuation of the Capitol

pl02090610 440x288 Hastert Recalls Sept. 11, 2001 Evacuation of the Capitol

Hastert, right, said he acted unilaterally to cancel the joint session of Congress on 9/11. (Ken Lambert/Associated Press)

The smoke he saw drifting across the National Mall on Sept. 11, 2001, while sitting behind his desk at the Capitol left a lasting impression on former Speaker J. Dennis Hastert.

“I couldn’t look at that window the next five years without thinking about those people who really made a difference — the real heroes,” the Illinois Republican told an audience of students Monday during a panel discussion at The Washington Center. He credited the passengers who thwarted a terrorist hijacking of Flight 93 with saving Congress from a plane he suspects was headed right for his office window.

Hastert recalled what it was like to be one of the only members in the building that Tuesday morning, and making a the call to cancel the joint session of Congress scheduled to take place later in the day with Australia’s prime minister.

Full story

October 20, 2014

Late-Night Terrorism Drills Test D.C. Officials

Navy Yard Shooting 11 091613 440x271 Late Night Terrorism Drills Test D.C. Officials

Homeland security officials staged a shooting similar to the 2013 Navy Yard tragedy. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Police in the District of Columbia responded to a staged suicide bombing shortly after 9 p.m. Sunday, on the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center site in Northwest Washington.

“Where’s everybody going? Can you help us?” a woman shrieked from a curb near the scene of the explosion.

The actress whimpered, putting on a dramatic display for observers from the FBI and other government agencies watching one act in the District’s full-scale overnight emergency preparedness drill from a nearby hilltop.

The cop who rescued the actress rushed back up to the doorstep of the brick building, avoiding the body of another faux victim who did not survive the blast. Within minutes, a firetruck pulled up and firefighters unrolled a hose, preparing to decontaminate the area in case the improvised explosive device turned out to be a chemical bomb.

“Anybody who can walk comes this way,” instructed one of the first responders near the fire truck, after getting a rundown on casualties and injuries from an officer. So far, police had found at least seven victims in the staged terror activity, including some amputees.

The dramatic exercise was staged to test the District’s public safety capabilities. The emergency responders and actors from this scene would be followed in the next few hours by the hazardous materials team, bomb squad and other specialized teams who would be reacting to multiple terrorists attacks for the training event.

Full story

October 17, 2014

Could Nov. 4 Results Render D.C.’s Budget Autonomy Case Moot?

gun presser017 071714 440x292 Could Nov. 4 Results Render D.C.s Budget Autonomy Case Moot?

Will Gray’s successor make budget autonomy suit moot? (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

More than 40 years after President Richard M. Nixon signed the Home Rule Act, legal experts in the District of Columbia are fighting about what the feds intended.

Federal appeals court judges listened to more than an hour of oral arguments Friday in the case pitting the District’s executive branch against its legislative branch. It’s round two of a legal battle launched in April.

U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Patricia A. Millett pressed a politically potent question for this time of year. Will the entire suit be “moot” after Nov. 4, when the city casts ballots for a new mayor and its first elected attorney general?

If the new administration chooses to comply with the local budget autonomy law signed by Mayor Vincent Gray in February 2013, and approved by 83 percent of voters two months later, there’s “at least a possibility that what we have right now [might] no longer be what the courts call a case or controversy,” said Walter Smith, executive director of DC Appleseed.

“The court could say, ‘Well, the case is over,’ dismiss the appeal and vacate the decision,” Smith said in an interview after the arguments. As the legal architect behind the charter amendment, he supports the D.C. Council’s appeal to require Gray and Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey S. DeWitt to comply with the law.

Budget autonomy referendum backers claim Congress provided a pathway for the District to amend the budget process via its charter. In court documents, lawyers for the D.C. Council cited House staff memos and notes from 1973 conference negotiations with the Senate to discern lawmaker’s intentions. They noted that in 1984, Congress made it easier to amend the charter.

D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan counters that Capitol Hill “put it off limits” for the council to to change its budget process. Nathan insisted the panel go “back to the merits” and uphold U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan’s May 19 ruling that the city does not have the right to spend its local revenues without seeking an annual appropriation from Congress. He wants “common sense” to prevail.

Both sides say they believe the District deserves budget autonomy, but the executive branch agrees with the House GOP and the Government Accountability Office: The city can’t cut its own purse strings.

Democratic mayoral nominee Muriel Bowser and independent candidate David Catania are both members of the D.C. Council, which voted unanimously to adopt the local budget autonomy law. Bowser, Catania and Carol Schwartz — another independent challenger for mayor and a former councilmember — have all expressed support for budget autonomy.

Paul Zukerberg, an attorney general contender, attended Friday’s arguments as a supporter of the D.C. Council. He told CQ Roll Call that, if elected, he would enforce the local budget autonomy law, but that might not be the end of the legal battle.

“There’s also a provision that would require the appointment of independent counsel for Jeff DeWitt or the mayor if they had different opinions,” Zukerberg said. “The CFO is independent so if he persisted there would still be an attorney representing him, so it wouldn’t necessarily mean the case is over.”

This hypothetical scenario is something Smith differed on. He said the CFO is still a member of the executive branch. A new attorney general’s opinion may be “binding on every District of Columbia official,” Smith said.

The appeals court has no set timeline to decide the appeal, but advocates of budget autonomy hope for a fresh start after Nov. 4.

DC Vote spokesman James Jones said he looks forward to having an elected attorney general who balances “the responsibility to uphold the law” with “viewing the people of the District as a client.”

Related:

D.C. Budget Autonomy Ruling Is Just the Beginning of Local Control Fight

D.C. Budget Autonomy Amicus Brief Takes Slap at Congress

D.C. Council to Mayor: See You in Court

D.C. Chief Financial Officer Warns Local Budget Autonomy Law Puts Home Rule at Risk

Roll Call Election Map: Race Ratings for Every Seat

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Grazing Wars: Grass March Cowboys Ride to Capitol Hill

cowboy 330x330 Grazing Wars: Grass March Cowboys Ride to Capitol Hill

Martin poses by his horse trailer parked southwest of the Capitol. (Hannah Hess/CQ Roll Call)

A Prius driver pulled up next to the horse trailer parked on Maryland Avenue midday Thursday, a block southwest of the Capitol, and asked Nevada ranch hand George Martin what issue brought him to Washington.

“Regulation without representation,” responded Martin, 69, who was keeping a watchful eye on a dozen horses and three of his great-granddaughters, while the rest of the crew that rode with him for nearly 2,800 miles paid a visit to the Hill. Capitol Police rules ban the Grass March Cowboy Express from saddling up on Capitol grounds, so the two horse trailers and a chuck wagon stayed parked outside the National Museum of the American Indian.

Full story

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