Reporter’s Notebook: Backlash in the halls of Congress

It’s a challenge to protect 535 members of Congress. 

That’s to say nothing of guarding their offices on Capitol Hill, along with their offices back in their home states or districts. And in many cases, even their homes and loved ones.

That’s why some on Capitol Hill found the vandalism to an exterior wall of the office belonging to Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., in the Cannon House Office Building so alarming last week.

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“My Capitol office was vandalized yesterday in a vile act of hate in which the posters of the more than 100 people still held hostage in Gaza (including 8 Americans) were ripped from the wall, shredded and tossed across the hallway,” said Schneider in a post on X Friday morning, just after the July 4th holiday.

Some of the posters were strewn about the floor in front of Schneider’s office door. Other posters were crumpled or peeling from the wall, still half-attached. Several rows of other posters remained affixed to the wall, apparently out of reach of the vandal or vandals. 

Schneider is one of the most outspoken advocates for Israel in Congress. Contrary to some of his Democratic colleagues, Schneider welcomes a visit to Capitol Hill later this month by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to deliver a speech to a joint meeting of Congress. 

This incident comes just days after anti-Israel demonstrators rallied outside Schneider’s home in Highland Park, Illinois, in the middle of the night. They banged drums and blew trumpets until police finally dispersed the crowd of about three dozen. Some chanted antisemitic slogans.

“We are aware and investigating. To protect the investigation, we cannot provide any more information at this time,” said the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) in a statement.

It is against House rules for members to post anything on the outside walls of their offices in the Capitol complex. But it is rarely enforced. This is a long-running dispute between lawmakers and House officials. It came to a head during the war in Iraq – circa 2003 – when members made a point of posting pictures of U.S. servicemen and women killed in the conflict.

No one was injured in the vandalism at Schneider’s office near the Cannon House Office Building Rotunda. No one tried to break in. But here is some important context about what happened: someone inside the Capitol complex ripped the posters of the hostages from the wall.

Here’s some sleuthing. 

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The Cannon House Office Building is open to the public during normal business hours. But the facility was mostlyclosed to the public for the July 4th holiday. There’s an exception to that on July 4th. Dozens of lawmakers and aides bring hundreds of guests into the Capitol for the Independence Day concert on the West Front. They serve people drinks and sandwiches and often escort them to the Capitol itself or even the Speaker’s Balcony to watch the show and view a spectacular fireworks display on the Mall.

On another holiday besides July 4 – say Thanksgiving or New Year’s Day – the Capitol complex would practically be deserted. It would be devoid of staff, lawmakers and certainly guests. No concert or festivities.

That brings us to who else is allowed inside the Capitol complex on a holiday: anyone with a permanent hard pass is authorized to be there, 24/7. That includes lawmakers, congressional aides, journalists, Capitol Police officers, along with maintenance and custodial staff. So, there is a defined universe of people who are permitted to be anywhere in the Capitol buildings.

The Cannon House Office Building would have a usual contingent of USCP officers patrolling it on a holiday. Moreover, USCP has a number of cameras trained on a variety of halls and locales throughout the congressional facilities. It’s unclear if there is video of this incident. In addition, there would even be more USCP officers at the Capitol complex on July 4 than on another holiday. That’s because of the tens of thousands who pour onto the grounds for the concert and fireworks. However, most of the focus is on keeping order and securing the concert.

This brings us to the disturbing part of the equation: whoever vandalized the posters outside Schneider’s office was either someone who was brought into the building by a lawmaker or people who worked there. This wasn’t done by someone from the public just roaming the building by themselves on a random Thursday afternoon because the facility is open.

But this is just another example of the rising trend of violence and threats against lawmakers, family members, staff and congressional property over the past few years.

“Have you noticed a noticeable increase in criminal activity perpetrated against members of Congress in the last year or two?” asked Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., at a House hearing earlier this spring.

“Over the last couple of years, it’s been a concern,” replied Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger.

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There were 8,000 threats against lawmakers last year. That’s an exponential spike, up from just 2,000 a few years ago.

“We’ve seen carjackings. We’ve seen one of our colleagues attacked in an elevator in her building,” said Rep. Stephanie Bice, R-Okla.

Bice is referring to the carjacking of Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, not far from the Capitol. A thug accosted Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn., at her D.C. home.

Muggers pistol whipped an aide to Rep. Brad Finstad, R-Minn., last year after the congressional baseball game at nearby Nats Park.

“The level of threat has escalated,” said Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y.

A man savaged two aides to Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., with a baseball bat at his northern Virginia district office in 2023. And then there was the brutal beating of Paul Pelosi, husband of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

There have been instances of some local prosecutors refusing to take cases involving threats and violence against lawmakers.

“That falls at the hands of these prosecutors and the city councils that run these cities and run these areas,” said Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla.

A U.S. attorney in Indiana failed to prosecute a man who threatened to kill Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind. 

The U.S. Capitol Police recently hired special, legal liaisons in California and Florida to assist local officials with these special prosecutions involving members of Congress.

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“We didn’t see that level of prosecution that we wanted,” said Manger. “Not everyone understands how to work a hate crime.”

Manger says he wants all threats against lawmakers investigated. Otherwise, he worries that someone who could do harm might slip through the cracks. That’s why Capitol Police continue to probe the incident at Schneider’s office on Capitol Hill.

If they find something potentially criminal, it will be up to local officials in Washington, D.C., to prosecute. It demonstrates the backlash that Schneider and others face for supporting Israel. And it underscores that people holding those views face threats amid what should be the relative sanctity and security in the halls of Congress.