Capitol’s Top Cops Prepare for Joint Session

Sergeants-at-arms pivot quickly from inauguration

Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Frank J. Larkin greets President Donald Trump after his swearing-in as the 45th president of the United States on Jan. 20 as Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt and Vice President Mike Pence look on. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Capitol’s top law enforcement officers are applying what they learned from this month’s presidential inauguration to prepare for Capitol Hill’s next big event — President Donald Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress — in a city that has been wracked by protests ever since Trump was sworn in. 

“We’re readjusting our vector to that,” Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Frank J. Larkin told Roll Call. “Each of these events builds on each other.”

Larkin and his House counterpart, Paul D. Irving, said they are generally pleased with how the 2017 presidential inauguration unfolded, saying extensive planning and rehearsals helped things run relatively smoothly. But they will continue to keep a keen eye on making smart adjustments for future inaugurals.

“There are always minor tweaks,” Irving said.

Meanwhile, Trump’s address on Feb. 28 will mark the second time in just more than a month in which all three branches of government will be under one roof for a highly publicized occasion — and the first since protests erupted across the world, ranging from the Women’s Marches to this past weekend’s impromptu rallies at airports to protest Trump’s travel ban on refugees and visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

Presidents in their first year in office deliver such remarks to joint sessions around the time the annual State of the Union address is typically delivered. Since a new president isn’t technically summing up the “state of the union” because he’s new to his surroundings, it isn’t regarded as a formal State of the Union, although, in style and delivery, it is usually is fairly close.

Pope Francis’ visit to the Hill in 2015 has served as a point of reference for how Capitol Police and other law enforcement secure the campus during high-level visits.

For the inauguration, Larkin said active communication with organizers of groups who wanted to protest the Trump inauguration also helped to tamp down what ended up being minor skirmishes around the perimeter that were quickly quashed.

The increased level of security on Capitol Hill may be one reason why protests erupted in other parts of Washington, D.C., where demonstrators dragged newspaper racks into streets and set a limousine on fire. 

“From my perspective, it went about as flawless as it could have,” Larkin said. “In a critical assessment, I give it high marks.”

Both men said, at this point, there is little they would have done differently, but security plans continue to evolve with each coming event.

Law enforcements agents from in and around the Washington area were involved in coordinating this year’s inauguration. They included forces from D.C., Maryland and Virginia as well as the military.

This was Larkin’s first inauguration as Senate sergeant-at-arms and Irving’s second in his current role. Both men previously worked in the Secret Service, where they handled the executive side of the inauguration, strictly focusing on the security of incoming and outgoing presidents.

Larkin and Irving escorted the incoming president to the inauguration platform, a highly visible stage just outside the West Front of the Capitol  building.

It held 1,600 people this year, including former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and outgoing President Barack Obama. It also seated members of Congress, justices of the Supreme Court, Cabinet nominees, governors and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and, this time around at least, a major cash rainmaker for Trump, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

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