Politics

Congress passes $2.1 billion bipartisan bill for Capitol security and Afghan visas

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Key Points
  • The bill passed the Senate with unanimous support in a 98-0 vote, and later passed the House in a 416-11 vote.
  • The measure will go to President Joe Biden, who backed the measure in a statement. 
An eight-foot-tall steel security fence continues to encircle the U.S. Capitol on April 05, 2021 in Washington, DC. Capitol Police Officer William "Billy" Evans was killed when he and another officer were struck by a vehicle at the security perimeter on April 2.
Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images

Congress on Thursday approved a $2.1 billion spending bill that would address security concerns at the U.S. Capitol, and bolster federal efforts to relocate Afghans that aided U.S. forces during the war in Afghanistan. 

It passed the Senate with unanimous support in a 98-0 vote, and later passed the House in a 416-11 vote. The measure will now go to President Joe Biden, who backed the measure in a statement Tuesday.

Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the Senate Appropriations Committee chair, and Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the ranking Republican member, announced the bipartisan spending agreement on Tuesday. 

On Tuesday, four police officers testified to the Jan. 6 House select committee about horrific violence they faced during the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, where supporters of then-President Donald Trump stormed the building to disrupt Biden's electoral confirmation. 

"We have to make a strong statement of support for those officers who defended the building and all that it stands for on that terrible day," Leahy said Thursday on the Senate floor.

The spending bill includes roughly $1 billion for Capitol security to cover costs incurred during the insurrection, and ensure the Capitol is protected in the future. 

This includes approximately $100 million for Capitol Police, which was at risk of furloughing officers without the additional funds, and $500 million to reimburse the National Guard for deployment to Capitol Hill. 

It also allocates $300 million for security measures at the Capitol, such as upgraded window, door and security camera upgrades. 

In May, the House passed a separate $1.9 billion security spending bill in response to the Jan. 6 insurrection, which provided roughly $44 million for Capitol Police. 

Unlike the House bill, however, Leahy said the newly passed spending bill does not include the creation of a rapid response force to support Capitol Police. 

The insurrection at the Capitol resulted in one of the worst days of injuries for U.S. law enforcement since the 9/11 terrorist attack, according to The New York Times. 

Almost 140 police officers — 73 from the Capitol Police and 65 from the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington — were injured, the Times reported. The injuries ranged from bruises, concussions, rib fractures to a mild heart attack. 

"The last six months have pushed those who protect the U.S. Capitol to the limits. In the face of unprecedented adversity, they responded heroically," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor before the vote. "We must support them now, as they so courageously supported us."

Protecting Afghan allies

The other key part of the spending bill provides more than $1 billion for the special immigrant visa, or SIV, program for Afghans who assisted U.S. and coalition forces and may face retribution from the Taliban. 

"We have the moral responsibility to stand with our Afghan partners who stood with us through two decades of war," Leahy said in the agreement released Tuesday. 

This comes as the Taliban continues to make advances on rural provinces in the war-torn country, with record high numbers of Afghan civilian casualties during the first six months of this year, according to a United Nations report.

Handover ceremony at Camp Anthonic, from U.S. Army to Afghan Defense Forces in Helmand province, Afghanistan May 2, 2021.
Ministry of Defense Press Office | Reuters

As part of the bill, the Defense Department will get $500 million to provide emergency transportation, housing and other essential services to Afghan partners. 

The Department of Health and Human Services will also receive $25 million from the bill to provide assistance to Afghans who arrive in the U.S. after being granted special immigration status. This includes financial, medical, and housing support.  

The bill also allocates $600 million for the State Department to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghans in neighboring countries, and improve the SIV program by increasing the number of visas by 8,000 and expediting the application process. 

The passage of the new spending bill comes as the U.S. works with allies to secure several overseas locations for approximately 4,000 Afghan nationals and their families under Operation Allies Refuge. Applicants who are 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 beginning of evacuation flights for Afghans and their families who assisted the U.S. and coalition forces. 

White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Thursday that the administration would not provide specific details about the flights, citing security concerns. 

In April, Biden announced a full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11. The president gave an updated timeline earlier this month, saying that the massive job would be done by Aug. 31.

The nation's highest military officer told reporters last week that the U.S. has completed more than 95% of the withdrawal. 

Until it is finished, the U.S. continues to support Afghan forces by conducting airstrikes against the Taliban.