Congress overwhelmingly passed a $2.1 billion Capitol security bill that addresses several concerns brought about from the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and increases the number of visas for allies who worked alongside Americans in the Afghanistan war.
The bill, which passed on a 98-0 vote in the Senate, includes funding for National Guard and Capitol Police staffing needs, funding for Capitol security and COVID-19 costs, provides $1.125 billion in relief funding for the relocating of Afghan nationals, and raises the number of visas for them by 8,000.
It passed the House 416-11 immediately afterward and now awaits President Biden’s signature.
“We have to make a strong statement of support for those officers who defended the building and all that it stands for on that terrible day,” Democratic Appropriations Chair Patrick Leahy of Vermont said ahead of the vote.
The passing of the bill came days after officers with the US Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police Department gave emotional testimonies at the first hearing of the probe into the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
The legislation would boost personal protection for lawmakers who have seen increasing death threats since the insurrection, install new security cameras around the complex and replace riot equipment the police lost in the fighting that day.
It would fund new intelligence gathering and boost wellness and trauma support for the Capitol Police, as many troops are still suffering in the wake of the attack. And it would reimburse the National Guard $521 million for the thousands of troops that protected the Capitol for more than four months after the siege.
Unlike previous proposals, the legislation would not provide money for temporary fencing in case of another attack or create a new quick reaction force within the police or military that could respond to events at the Capitol. Police were overrun on Jan. 6 as the National Guard took hours to arrive.
The White House issued a statement of support for the legislation, saying the Biden administration backs the Capitol security improvements and “remains committed to supporting the Afghan people, including by fulfilling our commitment to Afghan nationals who worked for or on behalf of the US Government.”
For the allies in Afghanistan, the bill would allow 8,000 additional visas and provide $500 million for their emergency transportation, housing and other essential services.
Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the appropriations panel who negotiated the legislation with the Democrats, said it would be “shameful” not to help the Afghan allies and that they could be killed by the Taliban as the US withdraws.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said senators “intend to keep our nation’s promises to brave Afghans who have taken great risks to help America and our partners fight the terrorists.”
The House overwhelmingly passed separate legislation last week to provide the visas, 407-16. Biden decreed an end to the US military role in Afghanistan by Sept. 11. The Pentagon says the troop withdrawal is more than 95% complete and is to be finished by Aug. 31.
— with Post wires