Memo to Congress Members Reminds Them to Remain Vigilant in Their Home Districts

Representatives leave Washington for Presidents Day week

A new memo distributed to members of Congress Thursday told them to remain vigilant as they leave the protective bubble of the nation’s capital and return to their home districts for the Presidents Day week recess.

The memo from the U.S. House sergeant-at-arms to every representative in the House doesn’t mention a specific threat, but it instructs them to alert their local police if they plan to attend a public meeting.

A series of town hall meetings in the hometowns of congressional leaders have been volatile recently. None has turned violent, but at least one person was arrested and some police escorts have helped protect the Congress members leading the events.

"Contact the proper law enforcement authority to coordinate any necessary police assistance at the event," the memo said.

The alert also warned them to be careful near their homes.

"It is especially critical to note that if your home address and phone number are publicly available, you should remain particularly alert regarding your surroundings."

This type of warning is reminiscent of the alerts sent out six years ago when Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in her hometown in Arizona, according to Brad Fitch, head of the Congressional Management Foundation, which works with Congress members and their constituents toward improving trust and effectiveness.

"We have occasional periods in our history where offices of Congress become the places of protest or even, in some cases, attacks," Fitch said.

All members of Congress have offices on Capitol Hill, where they are surrounded by hundreds of elite police officers and a bomb squad, but they also maintain official offices in their home cities. Many also are well secured.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton's longtime office in a southeast D.C. complex has a guard in the lobby, as does Rep. John Delaney’s office in a Gaithersburg, Maryland, office tower.

Congressman Jamie Raskin has his district office in the same place as his predecessor Sen. Chris Van Hollen did -- a downtown office tower in Rockville. Like so many local members of Congress, his office is open to the public, but it's secured with a locked door, a buzzer and card access.

That's the challenge, Fitch said. Members of Congress have police protection at the Capitol but must also keep an open door to constituents in their home states.

"Congress can't be a fortress,” Fitch said. “It has this dual tradition of being open and accessible because that's tradition."

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