The announced resignation of a powerful Republican congressman usually would be enough scandal for one week on Capitol Hill. Instead, a Democratic congresswoman has grabbed the spotlight since her run-in with a Capitol Police officer.
Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., is accused of striking an officer after he tried to stop her from entering a House office building without going through a security checkpoint.
A federal grand jury will soon begin hearing evidence about the incident, a lawyer familiar with the case said Wednesday.
The lawyer, who declined to be identified because of grand jury secrecy, confirmed that federal prosecutors had agreed to get involved in the case.
Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who on Tuesday abandoned his re-election bid under a cloud of ethics charges, weighed in on Wednesday, saying McKinney, who is black, “is a racist.” The officer she allegedly struck is white.
“She has a long history of racism,” DeLay, R-Texas, said on Fox News Channel. “Everything is racism with her. This is incredible arrogance that sometimes hits these members of Congress, but especially Cynthia McKinney.”
U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer said McKinney turned the officer’s failure to recognize her into a criminal matter when she failed to stop at his request, and then struck him.
“He reached out and grabbed her and she turned around and hit him,” Gainer said on CNN. “Even the high and the haughty should be able to stop and say, ‘I’m a congressman’ and then everybody moves on.”
McKinney wasn’t backing down. She charged anew that racism is behind what she said is a pattern of difficulty in clearing Hill security checkpoints.
“This has become much ado about hairdo,” she said Wednesday on CBS’ “The Early Show.” McKinney recently dropped her trademark cornrows in favor of a curly brown afro.
Last Wednesday’s incident in a House office building has caused a commotion on Capitol Hill, where security in the era of terrorist threat is tighter than ever and where authorities had to order an evacuation just Monday because of a power outage. Capitol Police have turned the McKinney case over to U.S. Attorney Kenneth Wainstein.
Republicans, meanwhile, presented a resolution commending Capitol police for professionalism toward members of Congress and visitors, even though they “endure physical and verbal assaults in some extreme cases.”
“I don’t think it’s fair to attack the Capitol Police and I think it’s time that we show our support for them,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., a sponsor of the measure.
Some GOP members have said the McKinney incident serves to underscore Democratic insensitivity to security concerns.
Gainer said racism was not a factor.
“I’ve seen our officers stop white members and black members, Latinos, male and females,” he told CNN. “It’s not an issue about what your race or gender is. It’s an issue about making sure people who come into our building are recognized if they’re not going through the magnetometer, and this officer at that moment didn’t recognize her.
“It would have been real easy, as most members of Congress do, to say here’s who I am or do you know who I am?” Gainer added.
Police also have said that McKinney was failing to wear a pin that lawmakers are asked to display when entering Capitol facilities.
Associated Press Writer Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.
© 2006 The Associated Press