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Lawmakers struggle with Capitol security after latest attack

Lawmakers struggle with Capitol security after latest attack
© Greg Nash

Lawmakers are struggling to balance maximizing security at the Capitol with wanting to maintain its traditional open campus in the wake of the latest attack on the grounds.

Members of both parties have clamored for removing the fence around the Capitol since it went up after the Jan. 6 insurrection, with some even introducing legislation to ban any permanent fencing around the complex.

But barely a week had passed after security officials finished taking down the outer fence to allow traffic on surrounding streets when a man rammed a car into a security barricade and hit two Capitol Police officers on Friday, killing one and injuring the other.

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The deadly incident is now raising questions about whether authorities scaled back perimeter protections too soon and how long the remaining fence around the Capitol should stay in place.

“I think we’ve got to start moving in the direction of taking the fencing down. But I also think that until we have a real game plan in place — the manpower in place, the National Guard in place, these kinds of things — then we've got to be very careful in taking it down,” Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanBusinessman Mike Gibbons jumps into GOP Senate race in Ohio Biden's gun control push poses danger for midterms Trump faces test of power with early endorsements MORE (D-Ohio), who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Capitol Police budget, told CNN on Monday.

The suspect in Friday’s attack, Noah Green, allegedly rammed his car into a barricade and killed one of the police officers at a security checkpoint along the Capitol fence that still borders Constitution Avenue. Green was fatally shot by another Capitol Police officer on the scene after exiting his vehicle with a knife.

Green’s motive remains unclear, but his family and friends told The Washington Post over the weekend that he had shown signs of paranoia and mental health issues.

The Capitol Police didn’t return a request for comment Monday on whether security checkpoints would be fortified in the aftermath of Friday’s attack. But as long as there is a gap in the Capitol fence for security checkpoints like the one involved in Friday’s attack, police officers remain vulnerable on the perimeter.

At the same time, the remaining fencing is still drastically different from pre-Jan. 6 security, when members of the public could freely walk onto the Capitol grounds.

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“I don’t know how you get to the balance of the 100 percent security plus the public’s right to have access to their Capitol,” said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerNew US sanctions further chill Biden-Putin relations Democrats brace for new 'defund the police' attacks Intelligence leaders push for mandatory breach notification law MORE (D-Va.).

“I’m not sure what would have prevented ... a tragedy last week. I still hope we can get to a circumstance where we can make this safe for the staff and members, but also the public,” Warner told reporters in the Capitol on Monday.

Other lawmakers remain convinced that the Capitol fence should come down as soon as possible.

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - CDC in limbo on J&J vax verdict; Rep. Brady retiring Senate GOP to face off over earmarks next week Greitens Senate bid creates headache for GOP MORE (Mo.), the top Republican on the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, questioned the effectiveness of the fence given that it “was right there when the car drove through.”

“I think it would be a mistake for fencing to be a permanent part of the Capitol. The message we send is the wrong message. Frankly, we're probably preparing for the wrong thing. The idea that what happens next at the Capitol will be what happened last is almost certain not to be the case,” Blunt said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.

Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman initially endorsed the idea of permanent fencing shortly after the January insurrection, but that suggestion quickly drew bipartisan pushback.

Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenLawmakers struggle with Capitol security after latest attack Democrats torn on Biden's bipartisan pledge Democrats wrestle over tax hikes for infrastructure MORE (D-Md.), District of Columbia Del. Eleanor Holmes NortonEleanor Holmes NortonHouse committee approves DC statehood bill House committee expected to pass DC statehood bill on Wednesday DC delegate pushes for removing Capitol fence despite car attack MORE (D) and Blunt all introduced bills over the past two months, before Friday's attack, that would prohibit any permanent fencing around the Capitol complex.

And in recent weeks, conservative firebrand Reps. Lauren BoebertLauren BoebertJuan Williams: The GOP is now the party of grifters and kooks The Memo: Boehner's blasts don't move today's GOP Overnight Energy: Progressives fear infrastructure's climate plans won't survive Senate | EPA to propose vehicle emissions standards by July's end | Poll shows growing partisan divide on climate change MORE (Colo.) and Marjorie Taylor GreeneMarjorie Taylor GreeneRep. Marjorie Taylor Greene says she's meeting with Trump 'soon' in Florida QAnon site shutters after reports identifying developer Republicans head to runoff in GA-14 MORE (Ga.) decried the Capitol fence as symbolizing “Fort Pelosi” and called on Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHouse Republican proposes constitutional amendment to prevent Supreme Court expansion Business groups oppose Paycheck Fairness Act, citing concerns it could threaten bonuses and negotiating New US sanctions further chill Biden-Putin relations MORE (D-Calif.) to demand its removal.

For now, officials are keeping the remaining fencing in place while security repairs are made to the main building. Lawmakers, meanwhile, are considering an array of recommendations from a task force led by retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré that reviewed security failures around the Jan. 6 insurrection by a mob of former President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden administration still seizing land near border despite plans to stop building wall: report Illinois House passes bill that would mandate Asian-American history lessons in schools Overnight Defense: Administration says 'low to moderate confidence' Russia behind Afghanistan troop bounties | 'Low to medium risk' of Russia invading Ukraine in next few weeks | Intelligence leaders face sharp questions during House worldwide threats he MORE’s supporters.

Those recommendations include the installation of a retractable fence that could go up in emergencies and the hiring of more Capitol Police officers.

Honoré said Sunday that he didn’t think the outer Capitol fence came down too soon.

He said the justification for keeping the outer perimeter stemmed from concerns about the Jan. 20 inauguration and March 4, which some supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory believed would be when Trump would be inaugurated for a second term. Honoré added the onus is now on Congress to pass a supplemental funding bill to maintain the Capitol security posture and enact his recommendations.

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“We gave them the plan. We worked hard to give it to them. Now they’ve got to work to make that plan come through,” Honoré said on ABC’s “This Week.”

The chief of the Capitol Police union offered his own recommendation by calling for ramping up security now that two attacks in the past three months have resulted in two officer deaths and dozens of injuries to others.

Capitol Police Union Chairman Gus Papathanasiou said there should be a focus on retaining members of a demoralized police force and hiring new officers, noting that "we are struggling to meet existing mission requirements even with the officers working massive amounts of forced overtime.”

"There are immediate steps Congress can take to address this. The question is, will Congress do so?” Papathanasiou said.