House sends increased Supreme Court security bill to Biden

House sends increased Supreme Court security bill to Biden

After a Supreme Court draft opinion’s release to the public, a threat to Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s life and a House-Senate snafu, a bill to extend security to the family members of Supreme Court justices is headed to President Joe Biden’s desk.

The House voted to pass the bill 396-27 Tuesday afternoon. It was spearheaded by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) and passed the Senate unanimously more than a month ago.

Momentum for the bill was driven by protests outside justices’ homes in the wake of the draft opinion, published by POLITICO, that would strike down Roe v. Wade. Republican lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, renewed calls for its House passage last week after a man who was picked up by law enforcement outside Kavanaugh’s home was charged with attempted murder.

“Assailants like the man arrested recently for allegedly plotting against the life of one of our justices are a threat to our democracy, but with the right security they can also be stopped before they inflict harm,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) said Tuesday.

Despite the margin, the vote capped off weeks of behind-the-scenes drama and some last-minute strategy shifts as Democrats weighed trying to expand the Senate bill’s protections to include the family members of Supreme Court employees.

Twenty seven House Democrats voted against the bill, including progressives like Reps. Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and some New Jersey Democrats.

Some Democrats wanted action on a separate bill that would bolster security for abortion providers, while New Jersey Democrats wanted to expand protections to more judiciary officials, citing the brutal murder of a federal judge’s son in his family home in 2020.

As recently as Monday afternoon, a source told POLITICO that the plan was to put up a modified version of the Senate bill that would include protections for the family members of Supreme Court employees.

But talks — which largely bounced between Cornyn, Coons and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) — ultimately failed to land a deal on increased employee protections. Democrats had hoped to include language that would let the marshal of the Supreme Court determine if any employee’s family member also needed security protection.

Senate Republicans pushed back fiercely over expanding the bill, threatening to block it on the floor. If the House makes any changes to the bill that would force it to bounce back across the Capitol for a second Senate vote.

“If House Democrats actually believed in the snake oil they’re trying to sell, they would have passed their own bill a month ago, but they didn’t and they haven’t,” Cornyn said.

House Republicans took a victory lap ahead of the vote, after pushing Democrats to pass the bill last week.

“It just begs the question: Why did Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi delay it for over a month?” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) asked, predicting the Senate bill gets the “lion share” of House members.

House Democrats had an animated discussion over what to do about the bill during a closed-door meeting on Monday night, with Judiciary Committee members pushing to broaden the bill and others pointing to the GOP comments as a warning that it had no shot in the Senate.

But House Democrats ultimately agreed to keep the Senate bill as is, backing down from their plan to go bigger but also defanging possible political fodder for Republicans.

Hoyer, speaking to reporters on Tuesday, said he couldn’t explain why Senate Republicans rejected the language.

“It is what it is. But we’re going to move the bill,” he said. “Nobody doesn’t want to protect the justices of the Supreme Court.”

Sarah Ferris contributed to this report 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this report misstated the title of House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).

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Author: By Jordain Carney