GOP Rep. Wants to Enclose Congress in Plexiglas

An image from the House floor as the 112th Congress convenes for the first time on Jan. 5, 2010. CBS

Capitol police remove Medea Benjamin from the House gallery after she disrupted a speech by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Capitol Hill in Washington Wednesday, July 26, 2006, as the prime minister addressed a joint meeting of Congress.
AP Photo/Dennis Cook

An aide to Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) tells CBS News that the Indiana Republican plans to introduce legislation next week that would encase the House Gallery in "a transparent and substantial material" such as Plexiglas that would keep members of the public from being able to throw explosives or make other attacks on members on the House floor.

Burton has introduced similar legislation in the past. It reads in part, "The Architect of the Capitol shall enclose the visitors' galleries of the House of Representatives with a transparent and substantial material, and shall install equipment so that the proceedings on the floor of the House of Representatives will be clearly audible in the galleries."

A past version of the legislation, which will be reintroduced in the wake of the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Saturday, references past attacks on Congress. Among them are a 1915 bombing by a man protesting U.S. involvement in World War 1, the shooting of five members of Congress by Puerto Rican nationalists during a House vote in 1954, and a the placing of a bomb by the Weather Underground in a Senate bathroom in 1971. (The bomb went off early and no one was hurt.)

An image from the House floor as the 112th Congress convenes for the first time on Jan. 5, 2010.
CBS

There were also two incidents in 1983. The first involved a man strapping an explosive to his body and trying unsuccessfully to detonate it in the House visitor's gallery. And the second came when a group called the Armed Resistance Unit planted a bomb outside the Senate chamber. The bomb detonated at 11:00 p.m., when no one was in the area.

More recently, in 1998, a gunman shot two police officers at an entrance to the Capitol.

Burton is not the only lawmakers pressing for extra security precautions in the wake of the Giffords shooting. Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois announced today that he is pushing to have members' office budgets increased to cover additional security measures. The new GOP House cut members' budgets by five percent last week. Jackson says that cut should be reversed and another ten percent should be added to budgets to cover installing cameras at district offices, hiring security guards and other measures.

"After the events of last weekend it is clear that our district staffs are vulnerable," Jackson said in a statement. "Members should have the resources and the latitude to take the appropriate security measures in order to protect themselves and their staffs."

Lawmakers are now considering to what degree they should inoculate themselves from the public in order to reduce their security risks. While the Plexiglas would protect members from attacks while on the House floor, it would not have had any impact on attacks in home districts like the Giffords shooting. And some members have expressed concerns that erecting barriers between themselves and the public sends the wrong message.

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