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Top Democrats keep distance from McKinney

Charges mulled as GOP pushes resolution praising police

Rep. Cynthia McKinney says racial profiling was a factor in her confrontation with Capitol Police.


Capitol Hill
House of Representatives
Atlanta (Georgia)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The two top Democrats in the House are putting daylight between themselves and one of their own members, who could face criminal charges after an altercation last week with a U.S. Capitol Police officer.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters Tuesday that the altercation -- which took place at a security checkpoint after the officer failed to recognize Rep. Cynthia McKinney of Georgia -- was "very unfortunate."

"I think that all members of Congress want to be recognized, and I don't think any of it justifies hitting a police officer," the California Democrat said. "I don't know if that happened, but if it did happen, I don't think it was justified."

Although McKinney has insisted in several interviews that Capitol Police officers should be trained to recognize all 535 members of Congress on sight, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer told CNN on Tuesday that officers "can't possibly know every member."

Without mentioning McKinney by name, the Maryland Democrat said that "every one of us who visits the Capitol or any of the office buildings ... have a responsibility to fully cooperate with every member of the Capitol Police."

He pointed to a 1998 incident in which two officers were killed by a gunman who went around a metal detector. (A look back at the shootings)

"Every Capitol Police officer remembers that and has that in his mind," Hoyer said. "They are doing their jobs. We need to help them."

An aide to Rep. Mel Watt, a North Carolina Democrat who is chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, told CNN that the congressman would not comment on McKinney's case because the facts are not yet clear.

McKinney and an unidentified Capitol Police officer got into a confrontation last Wednesday afternoon at a security checkpoint at the entrance to a House office building, as she was going around a metal detector.

Meanwhile, two Republican members introduced a resolution Tuesday commending the Capitol Police for their "continued courage and professionalism." (Full story)

The resolution -- sponsored by North Carolina Rep. Patrick McHenry and Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart -- doesn't mention McKinney by name.

But it says the Capitol Police provide "courteous, responsible and diligent" service, even while enduring "physical and verbal assaults in some extreme cases."

The resolution also says Capitol Police "consistently apply security and safety measures to all, including members of Congress."

Members of Congress are allowed to bypass metal detectors. But McKinney, by her own admission, was not wearing a pin that identifies her as a member of Congress, and the officer told her to stop.

What happened next has become a matter of dispute, with allegations that McKinney touched or struck the officer after he touched or grabbed her, according to different versions of the events.

Capitol Police have completed an investigation into the incident and turned over the results to federal prosecutors, who will decide whether to file charges against McKinney. No decision has been announced.

'Racial profiling' alleged

Citing the possible charges against her, McKinney has declined to comment on the specifics of the altercation.

However, she alleged in a CNN interview Monday that it was the result of "racial profiling" and previously said it was "instigated by the inappropriate touching and stopping of me, a female black congresswoman."

McKinney scoffed Monday at suggestions that her change of hairstyle in January might have been the reason the officer did not recognize her. (Watch what McKinney said about the hairstyle issue -- 18:26)

Her attorney, James Myart, has said McKinney was "assaulted," and that her reaction to the officer was appropriate.

McKinney has also said many members of Congress do not wear their identification pins -- and that because the pins are "a piece of jewelry" rather than a photo ID, they are an inadequate security precaution for police officers who can't recognize members.

McKinney, 51, represents Georgia's 4th Congressional District, a majority-black, solidly Democratic district on the east side of metropolitan Atlanta.

First elected in 1992, she was defeated in a Democratic primary in 2002 after making a series of controversial comments, including a claim that the Bush administration had warning of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks but took no action.

But McKinney made a comeback in 2004, winning her old seat after the woman who had beaten her two years earlier, Denise Majette, decided to run for the Senate instead of seeking re-election. Majette was defeated by Sen. Johnny Isakson.

Since returning to Washington, McKinney had kept a lower public profile and stayed away from controversy -- at least until last week.

The dust-up over McKinney's altercation with the police officer came just three weeks before candidates in Georgia begin qualifying for the July 18 primary election. The qualifying period is April 24-28.

McKinney has previously complained of not being recognized as a member of Congress, both on Capitol Hill and at the White House. In 1998, she demanded and received an apology from the Clinton administration after White House guards stopped her.

CNN's Lisa Goddard contributed to this report.

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