Congressional leaders balance security with access in wake of shooting

By Ryan Nobles - bio | email

Washington, D.C. (WWBT) - The ripple effect of the shootings in Tucson can be felt all the way to Washington, D.C. All business is on hold in the Nation's Capitol, with no clear timeline as to when it may resume.

Members of Congress are trying to find a way to negotiate a difficult balancing act. How can they guarantee their safety, without compromising a citizen's right to meet and share their concerns with the people who represent them?

The risks that public officials face every day, is something senate sergeant at arms Terrence Gainer always has at the top of his mind.

"We average about 5 (threats) a week," said Gainer. "Last year I think we had 49 very credible threats. The year before that it was 29."

But it is rare for credible threats to turn into horrible massacres.

"It was basic democracy," said Senator Mark Warner. "Meeting with the folks who hired us."

Warner believes those risks can't come at the cost of his constituents making their voice heard.

"I hope that we don't overreact," he said. "I don't think we need to put our elected officials in more of a bubble, I think people need to be able to come up to me and express their views."

Threats against Congressman Eric Cantor have made national news. A man was arrested after posting a series of threats on YouTube. Cantor isn't worried about what led to Saturday's shooting, but instead what happens next.

"Instead of pointing fingers I think where we are is focusing on healing," he said.

But with the healing comes an effort to make sure that holding public office remains a safe job. It's a task that Virginia's top elected officials believe is essential to our democracy.

"We will try to be more security conscious," said Warner. "But we are going to continue to make sure that Virginians have a chance to express to me and the folks that work for me what they think about the issues of the day."

Governor Bob McDonnell agrees.

"What we don't want to do is to whether we have domestic or foreign terrorist, we don't want to so enshroud our self with security that we let the bad guys win," he said.

It's a challenge that no one thinks will be easy.

While they don't expect to have the problem solved overnight, it is clear that congressional leaders are wrestling with this issue of security as the debate when to resume their session.

Right now everything is on hold, including the debate over the repeal to the health care reform law.

To see an extended clip of Congressman Cantor and Senator Warner's remarks, visit our political blog: DecisionVirginia.com.

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