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Republicans seize on Capitol scuffle

Few Democrats rise for colleague accused by police

WASHINGTON -- House Republicans, reacting yesterday to the confrontation last week between Representative Cynthia McKinney and a Capitol Police officer she is accused of hitting, pressed for a resolution to commend the police force for its professionalism.

Democratic leaders did not defend McKinney, a Georgia Democrat, or her allegation of racial profiling. The congresswoman is black.

''I don't think any of it justifies hitting a police officer," said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California. ''If it did happen, I don't think it was justified."

Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the number two Democrat in the House, said all lawmakers, staffers, and visitors in the building have a responsibility to obey Capitol Police. ''I think we all should cooperate fully," he said.

Representative Mel Watt, Democrat of North Carolina and chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, had no comment, a spokesman said.

As a federal prosecutor considered whether to press assault or other charges against McKinney, Republicans were introducing their resolution.

''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 Representative Patrick McHenry, Republican of North Carolina and a sponsor of the measure. Ignoring a police officer's order to stop, or hitting one, ''is never OK," McHenry said.

Capitol Police allege that McKinney struck a uniformed police officer who did not recognize her and had asked her repeatedly to stop on her way into a House office building on March 29.

McKinney says she took action in self-defense after the officer inappropriately touched her. A spokesman for the congresswoman did not respond yesterday to a request for comment.

The six-term Democrat, whose district is just outside Atlanta, says the issue is not about whether to obey a police officer's order, whether she hit him, or the fact that she was not wearing the lapel pin that identifies members of Congress.

She and her lawyers have said that a series of confrontations between McKinney and Capitol and White House law enforcement officers who don't recognize her points to a pattern.

''The issue is racial profiling," McKinney told CNN on Monday.

The resolution was introduced yesterday as McKinney awaited US Attorney Kenneth L. Wainstein's decision on whether to press criminal charges against her.

The measure that was to be introduced late yesterday, cosponsored by Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, Republican of Florida, would not specifically mention McKinney or the confrontation, McHenry said.

Instead, sponsors said, it would commend the Capitol Police for their professionalism and recognize the challenge of protecting the vast Capitol campus from terrorism and other threats while keeping it open to tourists.

''Every day they exhibit honor, courtesy, and professionalism," Diaz-Balart said in a statement.

McKinney says that has not been her experience. She says Capitol Police officers have a long history of failing to recognize her and asking for identification -- a pattern she says is racist and in any case highlights a security problem in one of the most well-guarded buildings in the country.

Republicans suggested that the incident says something negative about the Democrats. A spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Republican of Illinois, said that a Democratic lawmaker hitting an officer does not support the minority party's claim of a commitment to security.

Pelosi last week rejected that argument, but said she would not make a big deal of what she termed ''a mistake" by an officer.

The lack of Democratic support for McKinney is notable. She and her lawyer, James Myart Jr., said on Friday they expected several members of Congress to join her at a news conference that day at Howard University.

None did. The District of Columbia delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, issued a statement of concern about the incident and urged the parties to come to an agreement.

McHenry, who at 30 is the youngest member of Congress, said he is routinely stopped by Capitol Police and asked for identification.

''When I'm not wearing my pin, I am always stopped," McHenry said in a telephone interview. ''I accept that as a due course of security."

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