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H.R. 338 (117th): To clarify the counting of electoral votes in Congress to be a National Special Security Event.


Next up: designating it as a National Special Security Event whenever Nicolas Cage visits the National Archives.

Context

The Secretary of Homeland Security can designate an event as a National Special Security Event (NSEE), which significantly increases the event’s security and makes the U.S. Secret Service the lead federal agency tasked with implementing the event’s security operations.

Most of the designated events since the designation’s 1998 origin have been governmental in nature, such as presidential inaugurations, State of the Union addresses, and the quadrennial Democratic and Republican party conventions.

However, a few such events through the years have been non-governmental. These have included the Super Bowl, the last U.S.-hosted Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002, and Pope Francis’ 2015 visit to New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.

On January 6, 2021, as Congress attempted to officially count and certify the Electoral College results from the presidential election two months prior, violent pro-Donald Trump insurrectionists broke into the Capitol Building in a failed attempt to overturn the results. January 6, 2021 was not designated as a National Special Security Event.

What the bill does

A bill in Congress would designate the counting of Electoral College votes as one — and repeat that designation every four years, not just for the next such occurrence in January 2025.

The bill, which does not appear to have an official title, was introduced in the House on January 15, 2021 — nine days after the riot and insurrection at the Capitol Building — as H.R. 338, by Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY15).

What supporters say

Supporters say that given the prior lack of violence, counting of electoral votes crossed few people’s minds as needing heightened security — until now.

“I saw no evidence of a heightened security presence. It came as a shock to me to see how easily the protesters overran the Capitol,” Rep. Torres told the NewYork Daily News the day after the attack. “It became clear to me that the Capitol Police did not fully anticipate and prepare for the violent mob.”

“I think everyone was in a state of shock and everyone was appalled by the physical assault on the U.S. Capitol, which is the greatest symbol of democracy not only in our country, but in the world,” Rep. Torres continued. “Yesterday was an embarrassment and a tragedy. What should have been a 30-minute ceremonial event descended into a 13-hour assault on American democracy — a metaphorical assault on the Electoral College vote and a physical assault on the Capitol itself.”

What opponents say

Opponents counter that while additional measures can be taken, such as adding more Capitol police on that day, technically the actual National Special Security Event designation probably does not apply.

“Secret Service officials we spoke with stated that the joint session would not normally meet the criteria for an NSSE designation because it was considered routine congressional business, rather than a special event,” an August 2021 GAO (Government Accountability Office) report wrote. “Further, the vice president’s attendance was a routine part of that office’s roles and responsibilities within the U.S. Senate.”

Opponents may also say that the violence on January 6, 2021 was a one-time occurrence due to a toxic mixture of circumstances unlikely to be replicated ever again. After all, they may note that there was never any violence or security threat during the event for the prior 200+ years of American history.

Odds of passage

The bill has attracted three cosponsors, all Democrats. It awaits a potential vote in the House Homeland Security Committee.

Last updated Sep 19, 2022. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Feb 25, 2021.


This bill makes the counting of electoral college votes in Congress a National Special Security Event.

A National Special Security Event is a designated event that, by virtue of its political, economic, social, or religious significance, may be the target of terrorism or other criminal activity. This designation authorizes the use of the U.S. Secret Service and certain funds to respond to the security needs resulting from such an event.