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Push for permanent fencing at Capitol draws resistance

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An effort by the Capitol Police Department to make fencing around the Capitol permanent following the Jan. 6 riot is facing swift pushback from members of Congress and the public.

Detractors in and around Washington, D.C., are cautioning against the symbolism of permanent fencing surrounding the building. Lawmakers say keeping a barrier around “The People’s House” cuts against a message of transparency and accountability to their constituents.

“Permanent fencing would send the wrong message to the nation and the world, by transforming our democracy from one that is accessible and of the people to one that is exclusive and fearful of its citizens,” Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), D.C.’s lone member of the House, wrote in a letter to law enforcement this week.

Norton tore into the proposal, saying it would not solve the Capitol’s security problem that broke open during the riot this month. Instead, she called it “another form of security theater,” saying “it would make the Capitol ‘look’ safe but mask the lack of state-of-the-art security measures that could actually prevent attacks in the future.”

Several other lawmakers echoed similar sentiments against making the fence erected around the Capitol grounds permanent.

“I adamantly oppose this action. A fence didn’t fail us. Law enforcement leaders did. I believe we can keep Members, press, staff, my constituents, and all those who work here safe without walling off the symbol of our democracy. It’s the People’s House—let’s keep it that way,” Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) tweeted this week.

Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.) tweeted it would be a “mistake to turn the home of our democracy into a fortress” and called for the complex to remain open to “constituents, press, and visitors.”

“This is the People’s House. I am adamantly opposed,” added GOP Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.). “There has been no threat briefing given to Members of Congress to justify this proposal.”

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) took an adamant stance against the fence on Thursday afternoon, saying that the District would “not accept” permanent fencing “as a long-term fixture in DC.” 

The rebukes come after acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman called for fencing to be made permanent around the Capitol to prevent further violence following the Jan. 6 riot, which left several people dead.

The ransacking of the Capitol shook lawmakers and city officials’ confidence in the security measures in the Capitol after law enforcement appeared woefully unprepared for the mob despite knowing in advance the gathering could become violent.

The events sparked a swath of new security measures, including a beefed-up law enforcement presence, more physical obstacles including the fencing, as well as the deployment of about 25,000 National Guard troops to protect the Jan. 20 inauguration proceedings.

Several journalists who cover Capitol Hill acknowledged the security lapses that occurred during the insurrection but also expressed alarm at how permanent fencing would reduce accessibility to the Capitol.

“There’s no question the failure to establish a perimeter around the Capitol complex was an enormous (if not the central) failure on Jan. 6. But it is worth considering what we stand to symbolically lose by putting up a permanent fence around the People’s House,” tweeted MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt. 

“One of the great things for DC residents and millions of visitors is the public space at and around the Capitol. It will be a sad day if that goes away,” added CNN’s Abby Phillip. “But also, what is being done about the intelligence failure that allowed this attack to happen in the first place?”

Tags Capitol breach Capitol Hill riots Capitol security Eleanor Holmes Norton Elise Stefanik Fence Jennifer Wexton Muriel Bowser

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