Awaiting Successor, Lenhardt Eyes Exit
Sergeant-at-Arms Alfonso Lenhardt is preparing to leave his Senate post as early as next month, according to sources. The move comes at a time of heightened terror alerts which have helped increase the significance of what is one of the chamber’s top patronage jobs.
A successor has not been selected.
An appointee of then-Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.), Lenhardt has remained the chamber’s top law-enforcement official despite the switch in party control three months ago. Then-Majority Leader Trent
Lott’s (R-Miss.) resignation of his leadership position in December halted plans to install longtime Mississippi aide Robbie Maxwell as Sergeant-at-Arms. Lenhardt kept his job with the understanding that new Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) would eventually install his own person.
Lenhardt indicated at the onset of the 108th Congress that Frist was searching for someone to succeed him and that he had agreed to stay in the post until a replacement had taken over.
He echoed those comments this week, saying that he would ensure a “smooth and orderly transition” and brief his successor on the detailed security plans his office has helped coordinate. “I am committed to that,” Lenhardt said.
He declined to comment further, however, until Frist names the next Sergeant-at-Arms, saying only: “There is a search process under way.”
A senior leadership aide confirmed that a search is in process. “It’s approaching the final stages, but it’s not complete,” the aide said.
Frist’s office declined to comment.
A spokesman for Daschle said that the Minority Leader was pleased Lenhardt had stayed on this long while Frist finds “a replacement of his caliber.”
“It’s not a mistake that Lenhardt is still here,” Press Secretary Jay Carson said. “It’s a sign of his sense of responsibility and commitment to this institution.”
A 32-year veteran of the Army who retired as a major general, Lenhardt has overseen a crucial period for the Sergeant-at-Arms operation since his appointment in July 2001. He formally took over the post just a short time before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and the changes in the Capitol’s security posture consumed his office’s focus for months.
Because of its relatively newfound importance, it’s not surprising that it’s taken Frist this long to find a replacement, a Democratic aide said. “These appointments are difficult,” the aide said referring to the Sergeant-at-Arms. “People didn’t used to view this job with the seriousness that they do now.”
The Sergeant-at-Arms is officially charged with enforcing chamber rules and protecting Senators. Additionally, the office also oversees most of the Senate’s support services, including technology, printing and graphics, and telecommunications.
But the past year and a half has put the focus on the Sergeant-at-Arms as the Senate’s chief security officer. His influence is magnified by the rotating chairmanship of the Capitol Police Board, which is made up of the House and Senate Sergeants-at-Arms and the Architect of the Capitol. The two Sergeants-at-Arms switch off chairing the powerful decision-making panel, and this year it is the Senate’s turn to head it.
Decisions such as where Members would go in the event of an attack in Washington, how to protect staff and visitors, and procedure changes for the Capitol Police all fall under the office’s jurisdiction.
As important as it has become to contingency planning and continuity of Congress issues, the Sergeant-at-Arms post, along with that of the Secretary of the Senate and the Parliamentarian, are patronage positions customarily turned over when there’s a change in leadership.
Frist named Emily Reynolds, who served as chief of staff in his personal office, to succeed Jeri Thomson as Secretary of the Senate. Longtime Lott aide Susan Wells was in line for the job, but she instead became staff director at the Rules and Administration Committee. Lott took over that committee after he was forced from his leadership post.
Former Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Howard Liebengood, who held that post under then-Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), replaced Reynolds as chief of staff in Frist’s personal office. Frist kept Senate Parliamentarian Alan Frumin in his position.