The latest death threat to Missouri Congressman Emanuel Cleaver came in a call to his office.
The caller was furious that Cleaver didn’t answer his phone, a job usually reserved for staffers. For that perceived failing, the man squawked, the congressman and former Kansas City mayor was a “f------ punk.”
The man continued, describing himself as a “United States military veteran” suffering from cancer and coronary artery disease.
Then, referring to Cleaver, he said this:
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“If that mother-f----- doesn’t start listening to f----- President Trump and representing his f----- constituents, then I’m going to blow your f----- office up.”
In another indication of his intelligence quotient, the caller then left his name.
In what has become a macabre routine, Cleaver’s office turned the call over to the Capitol Police. It has become a routine, you see, because this was hardly the first time the 5th District congressman has received a threat to mess him up. The latest tally from his office put the total in the low double digits during the past few years.
That doesn’t include the 2014 attempted firebombing of his Kansas City office, or the time rocks were thrown through office windows, or the attempted break-in at Cleaver’s home in 2015.
“I don’t want to say I don’t think about it because I do,” said the man who began his term as mayor — he was the first African-American to hold the job — sometimes wearing a heavy bulletproof vest at the police’s insistence. “It has some effect on me.”
His biggest concern, Cleaver acknowledged, is the impact this has on his kids, particularly his 37-year-old daughter. She called last Friday night to ask if her father had locked the doors.
“I said, ‘They’re locked,’ ” Cleaver recounted. “And she said, ‘You’re going to keep me from sleeping tonight unless you go check the doors again and make sure the lights are still on outside.’ ”
All this is a prelude to what has become too obvious in the wake of last week’s shooting at the baseball field: Members of Congress need more protection. They need it not so much when they are in Washington, which these days is so top-heavy with security that some women feel comfortable going on 11 p.m. jogs on Capitol Hill. No, the need is greater back home, where members often hit the ground running, making all manner of public appearances following another week in Washington.
Yes, we’re talking about spending millions here. But this is the whacked-out world we now occupy.
There’s a problem, though. As things stand now, members can use their office budgets to hire security. But that comes at the expense of employing other workers to handle immigration cases or the mail or other constituent services. On Thursday, Kansas Congressman Kevin Yoder suggested a change, proposing that $10 million — or $25,000 per member — be set aside for added in-district security for the remainder of the fiscal year. Money would be made available next year as well.
That’s an easy call. Increased security may not be an around-the-clock need. But when members are out in public in this vitriolic culture, it’s a no-brainer.
Look what would have happened if Capitol Police hadn’t been at the Republican baseball practice that day. Everyone agrees it would have been a massacre.
“It’s a different time,” Cleaver told me. “Everybody up here will tell you that. It’s a different time.”