Pentagon extends National Guard presence at Capitol through May 23
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has approved keeping nearly 2,300 National Guardsmen at the U.S. Capitol through May 23, the Pentagon said Tuesday evening.
The move extends the Guard’s deployment more than two months past when it was supposed to end this week. The number of approved troops is about half of the 5,100 currently stationed at the Capitol.
“This decision was made after a thorough review of the request and after close consideration of its potential impact on readiness,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement.
During the extension, Pentagon officials will “work with the U.S. Capitol Police to incrementally reduce the National Guard footprint as conditions allow,” Kirby added.
“We thank the National Guard for its support throughout this mission, as well as for its significant efforts across the nation in combating the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
National Guardsmen from around the country poured into Washington, D.C., to shore up security at the Capitol following the Jan. 6 riot by supporters of former President Trump, reaching a height of 26,000 troops.
The Guardsmen were originally meant to bulk up security for President Biden’s inauguration, but the deployment was extended to March 12 over continued security concerns.
The security concerns were in part related to the QAnon conspiracy theory’s mistaken belief that Trump would be reinaugurated on March 4, the original date of presidential inaugurations until 1933, when the 20th Amendment moved it to Jan. 20.
March 4 came and went without incident. But that same day, Capitol Police asked the Pentagon to extend the National Guard deployment for another two months.
A brief statement from Capitol Police last week confirming it requested the Guard’s deployment be extended did not detail what specific threats warranted a continued U.S. military presence at the Capitol.
Kirby similarly demurred Tuesday afternoon when asked about the threat assessment.
“The Guard presence on the Hill, while certainly there to address a requirement that is based on law enforcement’s concerns, is also there to help bolster and support the Capitol Police and their capabilities, which may not be at the level where it needs to be given the fact that we’re in sort of a new environment in this country,” Kirby said at a Pentagon briefing. “So it’s not just about a threat assessment. It’s about assisting and supporting capabilities that the Capitol Police may now lack and may need to look at improving on their own.”
While the extension announced Tuesday ends in May, questions are starting to be raised about whether the National Guard will have a more enduring presence at the Capitol after a security review recommended sweeping changes.
One of the recommendations in the review, authored by a team led by retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, was to set up a permanent quick reaction force to respond to emergencies in Washington, D.C., that could be composed of National Guard members.
Asked Tuesday whether the National Guard’s mission will become an enduring one, Kirby told reporters that “I don’t think anybody can answer that question right now.”
Lawmakers, though, are increasingly questioning whether the Guard is still needed at the Capitol, saying Capitol Police needs to brief them on the threats driving the extension.
Compounding lawmakers’ calls to send troops home are concerns about conditions Guardsmen stationed at the Capitol have faced.
In January, lawmakers were outraged after some Guardsmen were forced to rest in a parking garage instead of inside the Capitol complex. They were quickly moved back inside after photos of them cramped in the garage circulated online.
More recently, lawmakers in both parties have been expressing concern after members of the Michigan National Guard were served food provided by a contractor that was “badly undercooked, raw, moldy and even filled with metal shavings,” as Michigan lawmakers wrote in a letter to the head of the National Guard Bureau last week.
Kirby said Monday the contractor would not be changed after food vendor facilities were inspected multiple times “with no substantial issues having been recorded.”
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