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

Posts in "Senate Sergeant-at-Arms"

October 24, 2014

Gainer’s Capitol Fence Is Not a Popular Concept

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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

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

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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

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 14, 2014

‘Special Treatment’ for Congress Inspires Another Obamacare Lawsuit

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DC Health Link enrollment is under attack. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

This time it’s not a lawmaker, but an outside conservative group that plans to file suit over alleged “special treatment” for members of Congress enrolled in gold-level coverage plans through DC Health Link.

Judicial Watch, the group that continues to dog the Department of Health and Human Services for more transparency about implementation of the 2010 health care law, will share details Wednesday of a “taxpayer lawsuit challenging the District of Columbia’s special treatment of Congress concerning Obamacare.”

The announcement is planned at an event at the National Press Club, where plaintiff Kirby Vining and Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton plan to join attorneys. Details are sparse. Congress accounts for more than a quarter of the 50,520 people enrolled in the D.C. health exchange, and the subsidy members and staff receive to cover premiums has been taking heat from all sides.

DC Health Link offered private sessions to staffers in advance of the Dec. 9 open enrollment deadline, plus on-site help sessions at the Capitol with employees from Aetna and Blue Cross Blue Shield. Several staffers who worked in district offices in other parts of the country complained about the enrollment process, and those working in Washington offices experienced technical glitches.

This is not the first suit Judicial Watch has filed related to the exchanges. In March, they filed two lawsuits against HHS to obtain records, one of which related to security and privacy concerns surrounding the Healthcare.gov web portal.

On August 8, they filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking emails and documents involving communications to and from former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner. Judicial Watch wants to know what was said about enrollment figures, performance and security testing of the site, decisions about when to make certain information publicly available, plus other FOIA requests.

Jill Sutherland Farrell, director of Judicial Watch, declined to provide further information on the plaintiff or the nature of the lawsuit in a phone call with CQ Roll Call.

The liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has criticized the special support sessions at the Capitol and help hotlines offered to members and staff. They challenged that insurance companies provided perks in violation of congressional ethics rules.

Members of both parties on Capitol Hill have targeted the employer contributions members of Congress receive for coverage in the D.C. health care exchange. Democratic Reps. Dan Maffei of New York, John Barrow of Georgia and Ron Barber of Arizona, want to eliminate government contributions towards their premiums through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. Louisiana GOP Sen. David Vitter has also continued to offer his amendment targeting contributions for staffers.

RELATED STORIES:

Democrats Target Health Care Used by Congress

Health Insurance for Congress and Staff: It’s Complicated

Capitol Hill Feels Pains of Obamacare Sign-Up Troubles

Vitter Amendment Won’t Go Away Quietly

As Open Enrollment Deadline Approaches, Insurers Scramble to Give Staffers Support

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October 9, 2014

Congress’ Doctor: Ebola Precautions Are in Place

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On Sept. 11, Senate Chaplain Barry Black prayed for relief from Ebola during an event in the Senate Swamp. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call FIle Photo)

With fear of an Ebola outbreak on the rise, the attending physician of Congress is assuring the congressional community that a carefully developed protocol is in place at the Capitol to handle a potential infectious disease outbreak.

In an eight minute video posted on an internal website, Dr. Brian Monahan gave an overview of Ebola’s spread and said the medical personnel at the Office of the Attending Physician ”always take standard precautions when caring for patients, regardless of their presumed diagnosis.”

That includes basic hand hygiene and using protective equipment to block splashes or other contact with bodily fluids when treating everyone from sick senators to injured tourists. The attending physician operates 10 clinics, located in the Capitol, the House and Senate office buildings, the Supreme Court and the Capitol Visitor Center. Full story

October 6, 2014

Gainer: Better Communication is the Lesson From Navy Yard Shooting

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Last fall’s massacre at the Navy Yard taught Capitol Hill law enforcement important lessons about front-line response and securing the chambers, according to former Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance W. Gainer, who participated in a seminar on the subject Monday as part of his new role with Securitas USA.

One big takeaway: “Get communications to the troops quicker,” said Gainer, who retired this spring after seven years as the Senate’s top law enforcement officer and more than 46 years in public service.

Gainer gave a warm welcome to Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy L. Lanier, who gave a keynote speech during the George Washington University event, reflecting on the response to the mass shooting. Lanier listed a number of regional police forces that helped with the Navy Yard response, including the Park Police and FBI — but not Capitol Police. Full story

August 8, 2014

‘House of Cards’ Film Crew Hits National Mall on Saturday

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Could more filming be coming to the Capitol grounds? (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

“House of Cards” is filming around the National Mall on Saturday, according to the D.C. Office of Motion Picture and Television Development.

It’s unlikely fans of the wildly popular Netflix series will spot stars Kevin Spacey or Robin Wright during the 10-hour set. Crews will be “shooting ‘drive-bys’, b-roll, and a mock-motorcade scene,” says a notice posted on the agency’s site.

Local officials would love to have the show, which shoots most of its scenes in Baltimore and other areas, do more production in the District, but filming in D.C. has its challenges — especially on the Capitol grounds. Full story

July 29, 2014

Protest Raises Questions About Contract Workers of Legislative Branch

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Norton and Ellison rally with federal contractors who work at Union Station, the National Zoo and other D.C. sites. (Hannah Hess/CQ Roll Call)

Labor issues came to Capitol Hill Tuesday, as federal contractors protested wages at Union Station and members of Congress used the opportunity to discuss workers’ rights among contractors and employees in the legislative branch.

About 100 federal contractors who work minimum wage jobs at Union Station, Ronald Reagan National Airport, the National Zoo and the Pentagon marched through Columbus Circle on Tuesday morning waving picket signs and flags.

Halting the flow of taxis and tour buses at Union Station, they protested the White House’s executive order to increase hourly pay on new government contracts to $10.10 as “not enough” and demanded the right to unionize.

“These courageous workers have gone on strike nine times,” said Rev. Michael Livingston, national policy director and head of the Washington, D.C., office for Interfaith Worker Justice. The people waving white and blue flags behind his lectern were predominantly women, many dressed like Rosie the Riveter in red bandanas and starched blue shirts and holding the hands of toddlers who marched alongside their working moms. Full story

June 25, 2014

Self-Proclaimed ‘Senate Comedian’ Shows His ‘Caucasian Skills’ (Audio)

Scanning the crowd in the back room of a downtown D.C. sports bar, Senate doorkeeper Scott Muschett, the self-proclaimed “Senate Comedian,” decided the script for his five minutes at the mic was all wrong.

“When I wrote the material tonight, OK, I thought there was going to be a whole bunch of brothas in the house, but it’s all skinny, progressive, urban, young millenials,” Muschett said, pausing before his punchline — an off-color joke about Mel Gibson, delivered a little too quietly to be heard over the excited crowd. He stood at the head of a 12-seat table scattered with beer cans and cocktail glasses and surrounded by Senate sergeant-at-arms employees who came out to Chinatown’s RFD bar to support their longtime co-worker. Full story

June 6, 2014

Capitol Police Say They Won’t Enforce Bike Permit Rules on Public … Yet

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Traffic rules that went into effect on June 1 prohibit anyone without a permit from the House or Senate from parking a bike on Capitol grounds.

That would effectively ban lobbyists, tourists and the thousands of other people visiting Congress from using the 40 or so outdoor bike racks previously available to the public.

Capitol Police say they don’t plan to enforce the law on the outdoor bike racks or impound bikes as long as they are parked appropriately. Full story

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