House Republicans, reacting to the confrontation last week between Rep. Cynthia McKinney and a Capitol Police officer she is accused of hitting, pressed for a resolution Tuesday to commend the police force for its professionalism.
Democratic leaders did not defend McKinney or her charge of racial profiling.
“I don’t think any of it justifies hitting a police officer,” said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. “If it did happen I don’t think it was justified.”
Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, said all lawmakers, staffers and visitors in the building have a responsibility to obey Capitol Police. “I think we all should cooperate fully,” he said.
Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, had no comment, a spokesman said.
Republicans back police
As a federal prosecutor considered whether to press assault or other charges against McKinney, Republicans were introducing their resolution.
“I don’t think it’s fair to attack the Capitol Police and I think it’s time that we show our support for them,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., a sponsor of the measure. Ignoring a police officer’s order to stop, or hitting one, “is never OK,” McHenry said.
McKinney is alleged to have hit a uniformed police officer who did not recognize her and asked her to stop on her way into a House office building.
McKinney says she took action in self defense after the officer inappropriately touched her. A spokesman for the congresswoman did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment.
The six-term Georgia Democrat says the issue is not about whether to obey a police officer’s order, whether she hit him or the fact that she was not wearing the lapel pin that identifies members of Congress.
Congresswoman: ‘Issue is racial profiling’
She and her lawyers have said that a series of confrontations between McKinney and U.S. Capitol and White House law enforcement officers who don’t recognize her points to a pattern.
“The issue is racial profiling,” McKinney, who is black, told CNN Monday.
The resolution being introduced Tuesday came as McKinney awaited U.S. Attorney Kenneth L. Wainstein’s decision on whether to press any criminal charges against her.
The measure expected to be introduced late Tuesday, co-sponsored by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., would not specifically mention McKinney or the confrontation, McHenry said.
Instead, sponsors said, it would commend the Capitol Police for their professionalism and recognize the challenge of protecting the vast Capitol campus from terrorism and other threats while keeping it open to tourists.
“Every day they exhibit honor, courtesy and professionalism,” Diaz-Balart said in a statement.
Racist patterns alleged
McKinney says that has not been her experience. She says Capitol Police officers have a long history of failing to recognize her and asking for identification — a pattern she says is racist and in any case highlights a security problem in one of the most well-guarded buildings in the country.
Republicans suggest the incident says something negative about the Democrats. A spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said that a Democratic lawmaker hitting an officer does not support the minority party’s claim of a commitment to security.
Pelosi last week called that argument “pathetic.” She added that she would not make a big deal of what she termed “a mistake” by an officer.
The lack of Democratic support for McKinney is notable. She and her lawyer, James Myart Jr., said on Friday they expected several members of Congress to join her at a news conference that day at Howard University.
None did. D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton issued a statement of concern about the incident and urged the parties to come to an agreement.
McHenry, who at 30 is the youngest member of Congress, said he is routinely stopped by Capitol Police and asked for identification.
“When I’m not wearing my pin, I am always stopped,” McHenry said in a telephone interview. “I accept that as a due course of security.”