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updated: 6/14/2017 8:40 PM

Former, current Illinois lawmakers don't see big security changes coming

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  • Former U.S. Rep. Bob Dold

    Former U.S. Rep. Bob Dold

  • Former U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert

    Former U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert

  • Former U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh

    Former U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh

 
 

Former Illinois congressman Bob Dold said he never felt unsafe as a member of Congress and he certainly never felt unsafe during early-morning baseball practices with his Republican colleagues.

"Because practice was so early, the only people we ever saw who weren't playing were folks from the neighborhood walking their dogs or out jogging," Dold said by phone Wednesday, hours after a gunman shot House Majority Whip Steve Scalise during the GOP team's morning baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia.

The gunman was shot by Scalise's security detail and later died, but not before he wounded several others at the field. Scalise is one of only five House members who receive full-time security details because of his leadership position, according to congressional leaders.

"Had they not been there and had that response not been so immediate, that would have been a much more dire event," said Dold, of Kenilworth, who left office in January.

Dold and others don't believe Wednesday's shooting will cause a major shift in the way members of Congress are protected. Others say a deep ideological chasm between political parties already has led them to be more careful.

U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, a Plano Republican, said he moved his district offices in 2013 after a recommendation by Capitol police to locate as close to a police station as possible. He said he's taken steps this year to increase security for his staff both in Washington and in his district.

"Starting in early January of this year, when there was a noticeable uptick of aggressive and threatening behavior aimed at my district staff and caseworkers, we developed a security strategy and processes with local law enforcement and the Capitol police," Hultgren said in a statement. "Through education and training, law enforcement has empowered all members of Congress and congressional staff to take extra safety precautions and to get smart about protecting themselves."

Former Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, who also played on the GOP baseball team and was in Congress when former Democratic U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords was shot in 2011, doesn't expect more members to be assigned security details. The biggest change, he said, will probably come to the way the baseball team practices.

"They probably won't have open practices anymore, and that's probably as it should be," Walsh said. The team was practicing Wednesday ahead of a charity game against Democratic counterparts scheduled for Thursday at Nationals Park in Washington.

"I know there's an impulse to increase security, but you've got 535 members and I just don't think it's tenable, and I would hate to see it," Walsh said. "I know I'd hate to spend my time walking around with a security detail."

The U.S. Capitol Police, a force of roughly 1,800 sworn officers, is assigned the job of providing security for members of the House and Senate, mainly on the grounds and inside the buildings of the Capitol. Current and former members of the Illinois congressional delegation had nothing but praise for the police force.

"I didn't ever really feel unsafe in Congress," said former U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert of Hinsdale, who left office in 2013. "Even that time they evacuated the Capitol building. I remember all the leadership was getting into the black cars and driving off and the rest of us were told to take off our shoes and run for your life. The police did a good job of getting everyone out. I remember my chief of staff ran all the way to the river."

The 2004 evacuation was prompted by a small plane carrying the governor of Kentucky to the funeral of former President Ronald Reagan. The plane had permission to fly into airspace near the Capitol, but aviation officials became concerned by the plane's transmitter signals and the military scrambled jets to intercept the plane and accompanied its landing at a nearby airport without incident.

"The Capitol police, without getting too much into procedures, have many precautions that keep everyone inside the buildings safe and even help make sure the district offices are secure," Dold said.

Biggert said there probably will be discussions about increasing security for the rank-and-file members of Congress, but she can't imagine the cost to provide security details.

"I hate to see that happen that you can't just go where you want and have someone come with you, but I think that's something they'll be talking about," she said.

The gunman who shot Scalise and four others had a lengthy history of anti-Republican tirades online and within the pages of his local newspaper. Dold said this attack wasn't just targeting a member of a political party.

"Any attack on a member of Congress is an attack on all members of Congress," he said. "What is really important is we need to focus on civility and how we as a community come together to solve this problem."

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