Much of Capitol to reopen to visitors on Tuesday

AP/Patrick Semansky
In this June 12, 2019, file photo, clouds roll over the U.S. Capitol dome as dusk approaches in Washington. The committee charged with helping Republicans wrest control of the House next year raised $45.4 million over the last three months, a record quarterly haul during a year without a national election. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Much of the Capitol on Tuesday will open for the first time after nearly three years of pandemic restrictions, according to a memo from the House sergeant at arms obtained by The Hill.

The House office buildings will reopen to the public and visitors will no longer require a staff escort.

The public will also be able to access House galleries with a pass obtained from a member’s office.

The Capitol Visitor Center is expected to fully reopen in March. On Jan. 7, staff-led Saturday tours will resume, but they will be limited to the Hall of Columns, Crypt, Rotunda and Statuary Hall.

The Capitol closed to visitors in March of 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. hard.

A phased reopening of the Capitol began in March 2022 with a limited number of tours. In May, the Capitol Visitor Center partially reopened.

The third and final phase of the reopening began in September and included allowing House members to lead tours on the floor when the House was out of session. Lawmakers could also escort people to the House Galleries when in session, with either the member or their staff staying with visitors for the duration of their visit.

Two days after the midterm elections, in which Republicans won a small majority in the upcoming House, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) sent a letter to U.S. Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger, House Sergeant at Arms William J. Walker and others requesting they develop plans to fully reopen the House on Jan. 3.

McCarthy said the “American People have been restricted from exercising their constitutional right to petition the first branch of government” and that the closure involved “973 days without being able to freely visit their Member of Congress at the Capitol Complex” or to “access the House gallery and watch their representatives vote on legislation in person.”

At that time, appointments and an escort were still required to enter House office buildings and meet with members or staff.

In addition to the pandemic, lawmaker security became a consideration in Capitol reopening plans in the aftermath of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot that interrupted the counting of the 2020 Electoral College vote and forced the evacuation of Congress.

In March, Manger discussed Capitol Police staffing shortages as a reason the full reopening of the Capitol needed to be done in phases.

Manger said at a Senate Rules and Administration Committee hearing on Dec. 19 that Capitol Police staffing increases “should enable the department to meet its target of fully reopening the Capitol to pre-COVID levels within the next three months,” while discussing his goal to further increase staffing.

Tags Capitol Visitor Center Coronavirus Kevin McCarthy Thomas Manger

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