After Capitol Riot, Lawmakers Chafe at Security Measures
In the capital city of Washington — As the debate over how to strike a balance between security and public access to a building that is a symbol of democracy heats up in the wake of the Jan. 6 riot, lawmakers from both parties are increasingly pressing for a reduction in the security measures put in place around the Capitol.
Some Republicans have made a political issue out of the security debate at the Capitol, calling the fortified complex, which is guarded by National Guard troops and topped with razor-wire fencing, “Fort Pelosi.”
Despite Capitol Police concerns about removing the extra layers of security in the face of lingering threats, many Democrats are just as unhappy with the barriers encircling the area and the troops patrolling it, and are pushing to get rid of both.
A high perimeter fence is something that Virginia Democrat Senator Tim Kaine wants to come down quickly. Such a horrible representation of the Capitol and ourselves. It’s not the proper way for the Capitol to function.
There have been calls from both sides of the aisle to remove the National Guard soldiers who have been stationed in the Capitol since the day of the attack.
In a joint statement released last week, the top Democrat and Republican on the House Armed Services Committee were “seriously disturbed” over the Capitol’s security posture, stating that it was excessive, expensive, and may pose readiness issues for the National Guard.
Representatives Adam Smith (D-WA) and Mike D. Rogers (R-AL) wrote that while the U.S. Capitol Police is increasing its number of officers, the National Guard should still be stationed nearby in case of an attack on the Capitol building. However, the current level of protection is not necessary at this time.
The issue has exposed a rift between the police and law enforcement officials tasked with protecting lawmakers and the lawmakers themselves, many of whom want to see the Capitol return to business as usual. Despite some dangerously near calls, no legislators were hurt in the pro-Trump mob’s attack on the Capitol on January 6. However, the attack also injured nearly 140 police officers and claimed the lives of 5.
This kind of tension is nothing new in Washington, DC, where past attacks and security incidents at the nation’s most iconic national buildings, the Capitol and the White House, have led to increasingly robust fortifications around both, often provoking controversy. Especially startling have been the latest security measures taken at the Capitol, which have resulted in the closure of roads, walkways, and over 60 acres of lovely, parklike grounds around the building where Congress meets.
The increased security measures, including the National Guard deployment, surrounding fence, and other measures, are costing taxpayers close to $2 million each week.
More than 2,200 National Guard troops will remain in Washington until May 23 to help federal law enforcement agencies in protecting Congress, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III stated this week. About half of the original force that showed there in the wake of the attack has been deployed.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby stated that the Defense Department and Capitol Police intend to significantly reduce the number of Guard soldiers guarding Congress “as situations allow.”
The Capitol Police Board, an unelected body responsible for the force, had planned to begin removing fencing around the complex this week, but in a document submitted to congressional leaders, the board members said the barriers might have to remain until after President Biden addresses a joint session of Congress.
Legislators have been warned by the acting chief of the Capitol Police that extremist organizations, including those responsible for the Jan. 6 riot, are planning to bomb the Capitol and kill politicians in the days leading up to Vice President Biden’s first official speech to Congress.
Acting Chief Yogananda D. Pittman told a House Appropriations panel last month, “We have no intention of maintaining the National Guard personnel or that barrier any longer than what is truly needed.”
According to her spokesperson, California Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is in agreement with law enforcement on the need for increased security measures including the deployment of additional guards and the installation of fences.
Deputy Chief of Staff Drew Hammill said that Speaker Pelosi “expects security experts to make the security judgements” and that she “continues to support” the demands of the United States Capitol Police for temporary fence and backup from the National Guard.
Republicans, who are a minority in Congress, have been complaining loudly about the security measures for some time.
“We held a hearing about new threats, and there aren’t any,” said Oklahoma Senator James M. Inhofe, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee. This fence has got to come down. The barbed wire has to be removed immediately. We must recall our soldiers. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, “This is America, not Stalag 17.”
Mr. Inhofe and other prominent Republicans expressed their disapproval of the “intrusive” fence and “burdensome” deployment of National Guard personnel in a letter to Chief Pittman on Friday.
In an interview, Mr. Inhofe said he had looked into what he could do to get the barrier dismantled, but since Democrats control both chambers of Congress, he had realized he had no options.
He felt “sort of powerless” and expressed as much.
Even more, Republicans have suggested that Democrats are keeping up the heightened security measures as a public reminder of the horror that was inflicted on the Capitol by supporters of former President Donald J. Trump, a day that Democrats would rather forget.
“It’s ludicrous,” remarked Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul of the building’s barbed wire barrier. “It’s not required, and I attribute it to individuals trying to make up for the choices they made before January 6.”
There have been those who would exploit the heightened security around the Capitol as a political tool against Democrats. Colorado freshman Republican Representative Lauren Boebert, who likened January 6 to “1776” before the incident, launched a digital commercial in which she explores the outer fence and calls the facility “Fort Pelosi,” stating that Democrats will “spare no effort to protect themselves.”
“Speaker Pelosi,” Ms. Boebert says, “tear down this wall.”
In response, Democrats dismiss the claim, insisting that they, too, want the walls gone but that new, more robust security measures be put in place instead.
“The current fence – it needs to go,” said Representative Zoe Lofgren, chairwoman of the Administration Committee and a Democrat from California. However, that does not imply that we will return to a scenario in which the barrier serves as the entrance. No other legislative body in the world would have let someone with an unchecked backpack approach the door leading into the Capitol building itself. Nothing could be further from the truth than that.
Funding for the security measures proposed by the task group established after the incident on January 6 is currently being debated in Congress.
More than 800 Capitol Police officers are to be hired, mobile fencing is to be built around the complex, and the procedures of the Capitol Police Board are to be altered so that the agency’s head can quickly call out the National Guard in the event of an emergency, as recommended by the task force led by Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré.
Many Democrats have voiced a desire to have the barrier removed as soon as possible, but have indicated that they would ultimately leave that decision up to experts in the field of security.
Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Maryland) remarked, “It’s not what America is all about.” “However, you must adhere to security experts’ advice.”
After Mr. Austin decided to have the National Guard stationed in the Capitol for an extended period of time, Mr. Kaine said he was “totally happy” with the choice.
Let’s take precautions, Mr. Kaine added, “without giving the impression that we’re still under assault.” It’s just that the razor wire seems so unappealing to me. Nearby residents would like to be allowed to take their children on picnics on the Capitol grounds and let them fly kites on sunny spring days. It’s something they should be able to accomplish.