Threats to lawmakers spur request for more National Guard help
About 5,000 National Guard troops still on deployment in Washington since the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol were set to return home by March 12.
The head of U.S. Capitol Police on Thursday asked the Defense Department to extend the National Guard presence at the U.S. Capitol, according to a statement from the police force.
About 5,000 National Guard troops still on deployment in Washington since the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol were set to return home by March 12. The Capitol Police cited a spike in threats against lawmakers during the first two months of this year in the request for continued support from the Guard.
The Capitol Police statement said only that acting Chief Yogananda Pittman asked for the extension without giving a specific timeframe.
A new emergency declaration would allow Guard personnel to remain at the Capitol for another two months, according to a person familiar with the request, who asked not to be identified because the details aren’t public. The exact strength or footprint of the Guard during that time could change, but some presence will likely stay in place to allow for a quick response if needed, the person said.
Tensions were heightened this week amid warnings of another planned attack on the Capitol Thursday by a right-wing militia group, which did not come to fruition. Nevertheless, the House canceled plans for votes and other events late Wednesday as a result of the threat, which was cited in alerts by the FBI, Homeland Security and Capitol Police. The Senate remained in session.
Law enforcement officials from various federal agencies say there are continuing security threats to the Capitol building and lawmakers. In addition to the National Guard forces still deployed at the Capitol, a barrier of fencing and razor wire was established around the complex after a mob of former President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the building on Jan. 6.
Robert Salesses, an acting assistant defense secretary, told two Senate committees on Wednesday that military officials do not yet know how long National Guard troops will stay at the Capitol. He said a meeting is planned next week on the subject.
During a press conference on Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said deployment decisions are up to security officials.
But Pelosi added that there is now a draft report of an initial security review headed by retired Lieutenant General Russel Honoré of the Capitol Complex security in the wake of the January assault.
Senator Roy Blunt, the top Republican on the Rules Committee, said he has talked to Honoré about the recommendations for security at the Capitol, which he understands could include leaving National Guard at the Capitol “quite a bit longer” than two months.
Blunt said an extended troop presence could relieve the Capitol Police “from some of their duties that have been overtime and all-time for longer than they should have been.”
The Missouri Republican said Guard troops were assigned after Sept. 11, 2001 for what he believes was two years, and they functioned as military police who worked alongside Capitol Police.
Blunt also said former acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller and former Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy should appear before the Rules Committee to explain what he described as “disturbing” testimony from other security officials about delays for National Guard reinforcements to be authorized on Jan. 6 as the attack was underway.
“I think they owe it to themselves, frankly, to be here to explain what is wrong with that timeline, and if not, what they were thinking that would have possibly justified the slow action that they took,” he said.
Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said it’s “outrageous“ to keep National Guard troops at the Capitol for so long.
“It’s outrageous because that’s not their function,” he said. “That’s not what they’re supposed to be. That’s not their mission. We have Capitol Police -- that is their mission.”
Rules Committee Chair Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, said the National Guard support should stay at the Capitol as warranted by security needs, but “probably at a smaller number.“
“You want to listen to the law enforcement intelligence about what is safe,“ Klobuchar said.
National Guard spokeswoman Darla Torres said there hasn’t been any decision on extension requests. She said that approval would come from the secretary of Defense.