The following speech by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) was delivered on the floor of the U.S. Senate. His office also issued an accompanying press release.
It was 169 days ago that the world witnessed a violent insurrection take place in the seat of American democracy. The memory of rioters in combat gear, armed with zip ties, smashing in the windows of the Capitol Building is seared into the American consciousness. The images of the National Guard patrolling the Capitol grounds behind fences topped with barbed wire will fill the pages of text books on American history for generations.
We did not budget for an insurrection, and the path of destruction from that day left the Capitol Police force overburdened and under resourced. Purchases of critical equipment, like respirators, ballistic helmets, protective gear, and training have been delayed to make up for these unanticipated costs. Efforts to implement the Department’s wellness program to address mental health concerns following January 6 have been put on the back burner. And if we do nothing, the Capitol Police projects that doing nothing will deplete salaries funds in August, which would be a security crisis of our own making.
Alarmingly, 55 sworn officers have left the force since January 6, further depleting a stressed force that is significantly below what is needed to meet mission requirements. There is an urgent need to address the unanticipated costs associated with the attack on this Building, including significant overtime pay and the need for hazard pay and retention bonuses to keep these dedicated officers from leaving the force.
This urgent need extends beyond the Capitol Police. Last week, Secretary of Defense Austin testified before the full Appropriations Committee that if we do not act the National Guard will be forced to cut training in August as well. I met with the Green Mountain Boys who came from Vermont to secure the Capitol after January 6, and I thanked them for their service. I am sure many of you did the same. But if we do not act, these visits were nothing more than empty words to the men and women who put their lives on the line for our country.
Finally, the trauma of that day is shared by every member of the congressional community – from the Speaker of the House to the dedicated support staff we rely on every day to do our work. It should not be lost on us that we were not the ones to sweep up the shattered glass and scrub the floors and walls of this Building on that day and throughout that night. It should not be lost on us that during the darkest hours of the pandemic these public servants came to work to clean our offices, ensuring our safety and the safety of our staff, and boarded up shattered windows and broken doors.
We did not budget for a pandemic and an insurrection, and we were forced to rob Peter to pay Paul to keep our Congressional community safe and healthy. Necessary, legislative branch projects now lack the funding to move forward, and this shortfall needs to be addressed as well.
It has been 169 days since January 6, and it has also been 169 days since Republicans and Democrats reconvened in this chamber in bipartisan defiance of those who sought to overthrow democracy and the rule of law through mob violence.
But now, for 35 days, the House-passed emergency supplemental to address the security and mental health needs of the January 6th insurrection, and the lingering scars of the COVID pandemic, has languished in the Senate, because Senate Republicans have refused to begin negotiations on a bipartisan path forward.
Today, I am urging my colleagues to begin these negotiations, because the clock is ticking. If we do not act, the Capitol Police will run out of funding in August. We will be turning our backs on those who fought, bled, and died on that day to protect us and defend this building and everything it stands for. We will be forcing the women and men of the National Guard to go without training that is necessary to achieve their mission. And we will be telling the Capitol staff who support us that we do not support them.
The Security Supplemental would address these shortfalls and provide new resources for overtime, hazard pay, mental health services, retention bonuses, and new equipment and training for the Capitol Police. It would fully reimburse the National Guard for its costs incurred protecting the Capitol. It would restore legislative branch funding that was taken to address the immediate need of keeping our congressional community safe and healthy.