Capitol Police face heat following mob breach
The disturbing breach of security at the U.S. Capitol is raising serious questions about the safety of lawmakers and staff who work there, and drawing criticism toward the security services who are meant to keep them safe.
Images of a mob scaling walls, breaking down fences, and storming the seat of the country’s Democracy have led to criticism that the Capitol Police should have been better prepared for the possible assault.
“What the hell was law enforcement on Capitol Hill thinking by not having secured the Capitol today?” former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta asked on CNBC, calling it one of his great disappointments.
Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), asked Wednesday evening by MSNBC’s Joy Reid if Capitol Police made her feel safe, answered “I did until today.”
Bush, who was elected in November and has made police reform one of her signatures issues, said she had been struck by how friendly Capitol Police had been since her arrival.
Other members of Congress and staff went out of their way to thank the officers dealing with an unruly, armed mob.
When the Senate resumed its work Wednesday night, lawmakers made a point of thanking Capitol Police for putting their bodies in harm’s way.
But behind the scenes, many raised questions as to why security was so easily overwhelmed.
Panetta was one of many voices saying the security services should have been better prepared for the event.
“Everybody knew that there would be a disturbance, everybody knew that there would be people who were interested in doing nothing but creating havoc in the Capitol, and very frankly it was the responsibility of the law enforcement and the Capitol Hill Police to secure the Capitol,” Panetta said.
Conservative commentator Norm Ornstein called the Capitol Police “an embarrassment to the nation,” and National Review Editor Rich Lowry said “it’s hard to understand how the mob was allowed to breach the building in the first place.”
The Capitol Hill Police’s Public Information Office did not respond to requests for comment by The Hill.
The rally in downtown Washington had been planned for weeks, and President Trump himself encouraged his supporters to come to Washington on Jan. 6 for what he framed as the last, best chance to overturn Biden’s election. Trump repeatedly told his supporters, falsely, that the election had been stolen and the results were fraudulent.
The president addressed the rally, heaping scorn upon his own Vice President, Mike Pence, for refusing to agree to overturn the Electoral College certification, a power he does not have.
“This year, they rigged an election. They rigged it like they’ve never rigged an election before,” Trump told the crowd, before encouraging them to head to the Capitol to “cheer on” the effort to invalidate the results.
“We’re going to walk down, and I’ll be there with you,” he said.
In the ensuing violence, at least one person was killed.
In order to secure the Capitol, the entirety of the D.C. National Guard was mobilized, as were members of the Virginia and Maryland national guards, Washington, D.C., police and state troopers. The FBI and other federal law enforcement agents were seen around the Capitol complex.
The complex was not secured for nearly four hours, until shortly before 6 p.m., at which point congressional leaders said they would resume the process of certifying the presidential ballot under consultation from the Pentagon and Justice Department.
“I wouldn’t have bet a million dollars that would have been so easily done,” former Capitol Police Chief Terry Gainer told NPR of the breach, adding that the security apparatus had failed.
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, which funds the Capitol Police, said heads would roll.
“I think it’s pretty clear that there’s going to be a number of people who are going to be without employment very, very soon because this is an embarrassment,” he said, adding that the breach was the result of “enormous strategic and planning failures by the Capitol Police, by the Sergeant at Arms and anybody else who was a part of coordinating this effort.”
Ryan said he’d had conversations with security as recently as the night before, and had been assured that nobody would be allowed near the Capitol, and that the national guard, D.C. metro police and SWAT teams were to be engaged.
The breach is likely to lead to an inquiry and possible hearings as to the events of the day, as well as raise questions about how to beef up security ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration in two weeks.
“There was a strategic breakdown for sure, and you can bet your ass we’re going to get to the bottom of it,” Ryan said.
He also echoed criticisms that the rioters were treated with kid gloves, just months after Black Lives Matter protesters were tear-gassed outside the White House and faced a heavy militarized response in the streets of Washington.
“If Black people were storming the Capitol, they would have been treated so much differently than they were today,” Ryan said.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who chairs the Committee on House Administration, said the committee would work with bipartisan leadership in both chambers to address the breach.
“The breach today at the U.S. Capitol raises grave security concerns,” she said.
A photo of an officer posing for a selfie with a rioter went viral, as did a video that appeared to show officers opening a gate for oncoming protesters, though some commentators noted that they could have been legitimate deescalation tactics for an overwhelming situation.
Tear gas was eventually used to clear protesters in the latter part of the evening.