Congress passes $ 2.1 billion bipartisan legislation on Capitol safety and Afghan visas
A two-meter-high steel security fence continues to surround the U.S. Capitol on April 5, 2021 in Washington, DC. Capitol Police Officer William “Billy” Evans was killed when he and another officer were hit by a vehicle in the security area on April 2.
Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images
Congress on Thursday approved a $ 2.1 billion draft spending that would address security concerns in the U.S. Capitol and aid federal relocation efforts of Afghans who assisted U.S. forces during the war in Afghanistan.
It passed the Senate with unanimous support in a 98-0 vote and later the House of Representatives with 416-11 votes. The measure now goes to President Joe Biden, who issued a statement supporting the measure on Tuesday.
Vermont Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Grants Committee, and Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, senior Republican member, announced the bipartisan spending agreement on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, four police officers testified before the January 6th House Special Committee about the horrific violence they faced during the January 6 riot at the Capitol, where supporters of then-President Donald Trump stormed the building to disrupt Biden’s election confirmation.
“We need to give a strong statement of support to the officials who defended the building and everything it stands for on that terrible day,” Leahy said in the Senate on Thursday.
The expense account includes approximately $ 1 billion for the security of the Capitol to cover costs incurred during the uprising and to ensure that the Capitol is protected in the future.
That includes about $ 100 million for the Capitol Police, who could be granted leave without additional funding, and $ 500 million to reimburse the National Guard for deployment on Capitol Hill.
It also provides $ 300 million for security measures at the Capitol, such as upgrades to windows, doors, and security cameras.
In May, in response to the January 6 riot, the House of Representatives passed a separate $ 1.9 billion security spending bill that gave approximately $ 44 million to Capitol Police.
However, contrary to the House Bill of Representatives, Leahy said the newly passed spending bill does not include the creation of a rapid reaction force in support of the Capitol Police.
The Capitol uprising resulted in one of the worst injury days for US law enforcement agencies since the 9/11 terrorist attack, according to The New York Times.
Nearly 140 police officers – 73 from the Capitol Police and 65 from the Washington Metropolitan Police Department – were injured, the Times reported. The injuries ranged from bruises, concussions, broken ribs to a minor heart attack.
“The past six months have pushed those protecting the US Capitol to their limits. They responded heroically in the face of unprecedented adversity, ”Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said ahead of the Senate vote. “We have to support them now, as they have so bravely supported us.”
Protection of the Afghan allies
The other major part of the spending bill allocates more than $ 1 billion to the special immigrant visa (SIV) program for Afghans who have supported U.S. and coalition forces and may face retaliatory acts by the Taliban.
“We have a moral responsibility to stand by our Afghan partners who have accompanied us through two decades of war,” Leahy said in the agreement published on Tuesday.
This is because the Taliban continued to make progress in rural provinces of the war-torn country in the first six months of this year, according to a United Nations report, and recorded a record number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan in the first six months of this year.
Handover ceremony at Camp Anthonic, from the US Army to the Afghan Armed Forces in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, May 2, 2021.
Ministry of Defense press office | Reuters
As part of the bill, the Department of Defense will receive US $ 500 million to provide emergency transportation, shelter and other vital services to Afghan partners.
The Department of Health and Social Affairs is also receiving $ 25 million from the bill to aid Afghans arriving in the United States after being granted special immigration status. This includes financial, medical and housing support.
The bill also provides $ 600 million for the State Department to provide humanitarian aid to Afghans in neighboring countries and improve the SIV program by increasing the number of visas by 8,000 and speeding up the application process.
The new spending bill comes as the U.S. works with allies to secure multiple overseas locations for approximately 4,000 Afghan nationals and their families as part of Operation Allies Refuge. Applicants nearing the completion of their visa process will be evacuated to the U.S. Army garrison in Fort Lee, Virginia for several days, according to a State Department official.
Last week the Biden administration announced the start of evacuation flights for Afghans and their families who were supporting US and coalition forces.
White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Thursday that the government would not provide specific details about the flights, citing security concerns.
In April, Biden announced a full withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan by September 11th. The president announced an updated schedule earlier this month and said the massive work would be done by August 31st.
The nation’s top military officer told reporters last week that the US had completed more than 95% of the withdrawal.
Until it is finished, the US continues to support the Afghan armed forces with air strikes against the Taliban.