Congress Sends Bill Allowing More Visas for Afghan Allies, Capitol Police Salaries to Biden

A bill that would allow for more visas to be issued to Afghan allies from the war, pay Capitol police salaries and reinforce the Capitol building was sent to President Joe Biden on Thursday after the Senate passing it in a 98-0 vote, the Associated Press reported, as did the House, 416-11.

Democrats and Republicans were able to find common ground this week on the $2.1 billion bill as they looked to support Capitol law enforcement and translators who assisted U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

As the deadline for U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is only weeks away, the bill eased some of the requirements for Afghan allies to obtain visas in anticipation of potential Taliban vengeance.

The other funds included in the bill would go toward Capitol police salaries, the National Guard and the security of the Capitol's windows and doors. The move comes more than six months after a mob breached the building.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Senate Bill to Bolster Capitol Security
The Senate passed a bill Thursday that would provide funds to pay Capitol police and bolster Capitol building security six months after the January 6 insurrection. In this photo, Representative Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) shakes hands with Metropolitan Police Department Officer Michael Fanone after he and other officers testified before the House Select Committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol, in the Cannon House Office Building on July 27, 2021. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Senators struck a bipartisan agreement on the legislation this week, two months after the House had passed a bill that would have provided around twice as much for Capitol security. But House leaders said they would back the Senate version anyway, arguing the money is urgently needed for the Capitol Police and for the translators and others who worked closely with U.S. government troops and civilians in Afghanistan.

The bill loosens some requirements for the visas, which lawmakers say are especially pressing as the U.S. military withdrawal enters its final weeks and Afghan allies face possible retaliation from the Taliban.

The broad support in both chambers is a rare note of agreement between the two parties in response to the attack, as many Republicans still loyal to former President Donald Trump have avoided the subject. Rioters beat police, and hundreds of them broke into the building, interrupting the certification of Biden's election win.

Democrats have said that if Congress didn't pass the bill, money would start running out for officers' salaries by August and that the National Guard might have to cancel some training programs.

"We can't let that happen," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said before the vote. He said the agreement "shouldn't have taken this long" but that passing the legislation is living up to Congress' responsibility to keep the Capitol safe "and to make sure that the people who risk their lives for us and protect us get the help they need."

The bill's passage comes after four police officers who fought off the rioters in the Jan. 6 attack testified in an emotional House hearing on Tuesday and detailed the "medieval" battle in which they were beaten and verbally assaulted. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested on Wednesday that the hearing had perhaps "jarred the Senate to move in a bipartisan way to pass this legislation."

The more generous bill narrowly passed the House in May, but no Republicans supported it and some liberal Democrats voted against it as well. On Thursday, only 11 Republicans and Democrats opposed it.

In the Senate, Republicans rejected an earlier $3.7 billion proposal by Democrats before they negotiated the final version.

Pelosi said on Wednesday that the legislation was months overdue.

"It's not what we sent, it's certainly not what we need, but it's a good step forward," she said. "It doesn't mean that we're finished, but it does mean that we can't wait another day until we strengthen the Capital Police force, strengthen the Capitol."

The legislation would boost personal protection for lawmakers who have seen increasing death threats since the insurrection, install new security cameras around the complex and replace riot equipment the police lost in the fighting that day. It would fund new intelligence gathering and boost wellness and trauma support for the Capitol Police, as many troops are still suffering in the wake of the attack. And it would reimburse the National Guard $521 million for the thousands of troops that protected the Capitol for more than four months after the siege.

Unlike previous proposals, the bill would not provide money for temporary fencing in case of another attack or create a new quick reaction force within the police or military that could respond to events at the Capitol. Police were overrun on Jan. 6 as the National Guard took hours to arrive.

The White House issued a statement of support for the legislation, saying the Biden administration backs the Capitol security improvements and "remains committed to supporting the Afghan people, including by fulfilling our commitment to Afghan nationals who worked for or on behalf of the U.S. Government."

For the allies in Afghanistan, the bill would allow 8,000 additional visas and provide $500 million for their emergency transportation, housing and other essential services.

Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the appropriations panel who negotiated the legislation with the Democrats, said it would be "shameful" not to help the Afghan allies and that they could be killed by the Taliban as the U.S. withdraws.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said senators "intend to keep our nation's promises to brave Afghans who have taken great risks to help America and our partners fight the terrorists."

The House overwhelmingly passed separate legislation last week to provide the visas, 407-16. The Pentagon says the troop withdrawal is more than 95 percent complete and is to be finished by August 31.

Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that the agreement between Democrats and Republicans for a bill passed Thursday “shouldn’t have taken this long.” The bill would pay Capitol police salaries and bolster the security of the Capitol building. In this photo, Schumer arrives to meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) before an event to promote investments in clean jobs, at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on July 28, 2021. J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo