Senate

Senators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence

Senators say they were given little new information during a briefing on Wednesday about security in the Capitol, including no clear indication of when National Guard troops would be sent home or when perimeter fencing would come down.

Senators say they raised both issues with Yogananda Pittman, the acting Capitol Police chief, and Jennifer Hemingway, the acting Senate sergeant at arms, during the briefing, which took place on a Zoom call. 

"What I didn't hear on the call was, obviously everything depends on conditions, but I think there should be sort of a general plan of, 'we think we'll come back to some normal by X day and if circumstances change we'll have to change,' " said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.).

Asked if there was any timing guidance, Kaine added: "Not that they were saying to us." 

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) added that there was not an indication of when the fencing would come down and "numerous senators expressed concern about that." 

The call marked the first all-member briefing the Senate has received since the attack on the Capitol, when supporters of former President Trump breached the building in an effort to overturn the results of the November election. 

National Guard troops have been deployed to the Capitol since the attack and fencing quickly went up around the complex, including closing down access to nearby streets.

"You know there's a fair bit of, I think anxiety and frustration with the infrastructure around here. How long is going to last," said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.).

Though down substantially from its peak, the Pentagon said this week that there are still 5,279 guardsmen stationed at the Capitol. 

Sen. James Inhofe (Okla.), the top Republican on the Armed Services Committees, said he pushed back on the continued National Guard presence during the call. 

"I can tell you what I said, I said there's got to be an end to this thing. And I haven't heard anything in the presentation that leads me to believe there's going to be an end, or that there's really justification. That's not the Guard's function. That's not what they do for a living. And they can't continue to do that," Inhofe said.

The Associated Press reported last week that the Capitol Police were suggesting keeping the perimeter fencing in place until Sept. 30, over concerns about threats to lawmakers and the complex.

But lawmakers, in both chambers, have raised concerns about the optics of leaving the beefed up security in place without a clear threat to the complex.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) told reporters that he didn't have time to listen to the briefing because of multiple confirmation hearings, but "there's nothing they could have said at that security briefing that would justify having fences and barbed wire."

"That is a bunch of malarkey. They ought to tear these fences down and send them home today," he said.

Senators suggested after the briefing that security officials are concerned about potential upcoming events including March 4, a day some conspiracy theorists incorrectly believe former President Trump will resume office.

Cramer indicated that security officials were also looking at the eventuality that President Biden would address a joint session of Congress. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has indicated it won't take place until after Democrats pass a coronavirus relief bill, something they want to get to Biden's desk by mid-March. 

"There's one thing that you know is coming up and is not yet scheduled, of course, is eventually, the president addressing the joint session so I think there's, there's some focus on that," Cramer said.

Senators were also briefed on the spike of threats against lawmakers, who have publicly and privately pushed leadership to boost security for members particularly while traveling.

"One of the things that certainly caught my attention was that targeting individual members has gone up 90 percent. Threats against individual members has gone up 90 percent, that got my attention," said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). 

The briefing comes as several congressional committees are holding public hearings this week on the Jan. 6 attack and congressional leaders appear to be at loggerheads over forming an 9/11-style commission.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) asked Pittman and Hemingway to help with his request that every officer or official working in the Capitol on Jan. 6 submit to the Senate Rules Committee a review of what they were told prior to Jan. 6 and their actions on that day, according to a Senate official familiar with the call.

Schumer wants the accounts to include details on what intelligence individuals received prior to Jan. 6, where they were stationed and their actions on Jan. 6 and ideas for addressing vulnerabilities.

The Rules Committee is one of two Senate panels probing the attack.

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