POLITICS

Mass shootings send ripples through Capitol Hill chambers, tunnels

House speaker warns against temptations of anger over Dallas attack

 

Of course there is.

Of course there is a woman with a gun prowling around the U.S. Capitol, forcing security officials to pitch the facility into lockdown.

Of course there is.

Of course there is a woman with a gun prowling around the U.S. Capitol just hours after a sniper plucked off five police officers in Dallas. This comes after two disturbing police shootings,  in Louisiana and Minnesota, and just weeks after a rampage in Orlando, Fla.

Of course there is a woman with a gun prowling around the U.S. Capitol after Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., spoke for nearly 15 hours on the Senate floor about guns and House Democrats engineered a 26-hour sit-in following the mass shooting last month inside the Orlando nightclub in which 49 people were killed.

And the onslaught in Dallas comes as House Democrats planned a menu of floor procedural tactics Friday morning to underscore their points about guns.

Of course there is.

Why wouldn’t there be a woman with a gun prowling around the U.S. Capitol on Friday morning?

This is just kind of how the country rolls these days. Dallas. Orlando. San Bernardino. Half of Washington flipped out last week when someone thought an “active shooter” was skulking around Joint Base Andrews just minutes before Vice President Joe Biden was scheduled to fly out.

So, why wouldn’t there be a woman with a gun prowling around the U.S. Capitol?

Turns out, there wasn’t.

The female in question bore a congressional badge. She had already made it through an X-ray and magnetometer screening checkpoint in the basement of the Rayburn House Office Building across the street from the Capitol.

The woman was en route to the Capitol through the subway tunnel that stretches beneath Independence Ave, SW. But upon further inspection of the X-ray picture depicting the woman’s bag, U.S. Capitol Police detected what a security official told Fox “looked like a piece of a weapon.”

“It was not in the shape of a gun,” said one senior source, who noted that officers “did not have a great image.”

The woman was long gone through the subway tunnel bound for the Capitol once police observed the questionable picture. So USCP locked down the entire joint and dispatched tactical teams to search for the woman.

Police barricaded people outside the Capitol. The House of Representatives met as scheduled for just seconds at 9 a.m. local time, then immediately gaveled in recess as a precaution. Authorities then locked lawmakers in the chamber for their own safety.

After 40 minutes, police determined there was no threat and re-opened the Capitol. One source told Fox a continued lockdown “would create more pain and distraction.”

Suspending the House’s session only delayed the assembly from again grappling with the shooting issue.

“Lord, have mercy,” appealed House Chaplain Pat Conroy during the opening prayer. “Our nation awakens to more deadly violence around the country.”

The House then began its opening debate.

A visibly stricken House Speaker Paul Ryan stood at a lectern in the well of the chamber. The speaker tucked his right arm around his upper ribcage. Ryan’s left hand covered his mouth as he pondered what to say.

Ryan then moved both hands as if to grip the sides of the lectern. But he quickly thought better of it, withdrawing both hands as though they were about to touch a hot stove. The Wisconsin Republican then shoved his hands in his pockets.

“We are all stunned by the events last night in Dallas,” Ryan said.

The speaker knew all too well about the discussion that pervaded the House over the past few weeks. He’d spent recent days meeting with House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Parliamentarian Tom Wickham about methods to avoid future disturbances on the House floor like the sit-in.

There was chatter about sanctioning Democrats who abused House rules.

“There will be a temptation to let our anger harden our divisions,” Ryan said. “Let’s not let that happen. There’s going to be a temptation to let our anger send us further into our corners. Let’s not let that happen. That script is just too easy to write. It’s too predictable. Let’s defy those predictions.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., sat in the front row of the chamber, waiting for Ryan to finish.

“Episodes like this must not harden our divisions but should unify us as a country,” implored Pelosi. “Justice must be done. Mercy must be done.”

House Democrats elected to skip their parliamentary gymnastics for the day, forcing procedural votes on guns. The gun debate wasn’t over. But the tactics were on hold for now. At noon, the House paused to conduct a moment of silence to honor the dead -- a ritual some critics malign as vacuous.

Members of the Lone Star State’s congressional delegation huddled around Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Democrat who represents Dallas.

“This is a reminder that relations between law enforcement and the communities they serve remain extremely tense,” Johnson said. “I ask not just for a moment of silence but also for firm action. We need to bring meaningful legislation to the floor that will help bridge the divide between law enforcement and communities.”

His words crystallized part of the Democrat’s recent calls to action on firearms and police violence.

What happens next is anybody’s guess.

“If we fail to act, this will be a long, hot summer,” predicted Rep. G.K. Butterfield,  a North Carolina Democrat and  chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

More than a week ago, Ryan promised to bring to the floor a measure to address both gun and terrorism concerns. House leaders incorporated into the measure language crafted by Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas. Cornyn’s plan would grant the U.S. attorney general three days to impede weapon transfers to potential terrorism suspects while police investigate.

But the House GOP brass ran into a buzzsaw of opposition to the overall bill and yanked it from the schedule.

Some conservatives argued the part of the bill represented “gun control” and lobbied against the plan on Second Amendment grounds. Others thought considering gun legislation at all rewarded Democrats for their sit-in.

Republican leaders hope to resuscitate the plan in the coming days.

Meantime, Ryan met Tuesday with the architects of the Democrats’ sit-in: Reps. John Larson, Connecticut, and John Lewis, Georgia.

“The speaker wants to know how this all got started,” said Lewis, noting that Ryan “heard us.”

“There were no resolutions other than to say there would be more meetings,” Larson said. “The speaker was clear he had concerns about the institution.”

Ryan and members of the House Republican Conference are livid at the Democrats for the sit-in scheme. The speaker vowed to impose discipline in the House.

“There are ways of having (members of) Congress civilly engage with one another,” Ryan said. “Those rules ought to be heeded.”

No one quite knows if Republicans will ever debate their own gun bill let alone firearms legislation that Democrats would endorse.

Considering the tenor of Dallas, it’s unclear whether Democrats will resume their aggressive floor gambit -- or if Ryan might try to sanction members of the minority party for their conduct during the sit-in.

The Dallas police shooting -- just weeks after Orlando -- rattled lawmakers Friday morning. The security didn’t do wonders for everyone’s mien, either.

After Ryan and Pelosi finished their remarks about Dallas, a stream of other lawmakers followed to the microphones, echoing the concerns of their leaders. But some ignored the police shootings altogether, presenting nearly incongruous oratories amid the tension.

Rep. Glenn “G.T” Thompson, R-Pa., recognized the Bellefonte (Pa.) High School Red Raiders baseball team for defeating Susquehanna Township for the state title (after beginning the year 1-7).

Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., congratulated the Eden Prairi (N.M.) women’s field hockey team for capturing the state championship. Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., praised two agriculture researchers for eradicating the screw-worm fly, which can devastate cattle.

But those non-sequiturs didn’t make people forget the gun debate or the police shootings.

A few years ago, Congress did little but wrestle with fiscal issues. There was the debt ceiling. There were entitlements. There was sequestration. Those topics dominated every conversation.

Now, it’s firearms and gun violence. Dallas, Orlando. Baton Rouge. You name it.

That’s why few even batted an eye when cops locked down the Capitol Friday.

Of course there is. Of course there is a woman with a gun prowling around the U.S. Capitol.

To read the headlines these days, why wouldn’t there be?