Lawmakers struggle with Capitol security after latest attack
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.
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 Ryan (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.
“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 Warner (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 Blunt (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 Hollen (D-Md.), District of Columbia Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (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 Boebert (Colo.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) decried the Capitol fence as symbolizing “Fort Pelosi” and called on Speaker Nancy Pelosi (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 Trump’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.
“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.
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