Congressional leaders defer to Capitol Police on security posture

Capitol Police request National Guard extend presence at Capitol

U.S. Capitol Police and National Guard troops conduct a security briefing on Independence Avenue on Thursday, March 4, 2021. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
U.S. Capitol Police and National Guard troops conduct a security briefing on Independence Avenue on Thursday, March 4, 2021. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted March 4, 2021 at 6:50pm

As congressional committees continue to review the breakdown of Capitol Police security preparations on Jan. 6, some congressional leaders are deferring to the department when it comes to a vital decision: how long the robust National Guard presence at the Capitol will remain.

Security has been enhanced after the Capitol Police received intelligence of a potential plan by a right-wing militia group to attack the Capitol on Thursday. In the wake of those reports, the House scrapped plans for a Thursday session and the Associated Press reported that Capitol Police are now asking the National Guard to stay another two months, a move confirmed by the department later in the day.

“Today, US Capitol Police Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman formally asked the Department of Defense to extend the support provided by the National Guard to remain at the Capitol beyond March 12th,” according to a statement from the department. The statement went on to say that threats to members in January and February have increased and that “the Department takes its mission seriously and will do whatever is necessary to achieve that mission.”

There are around 5,200 troops from the National Guard in Washington, supporting the current security mission that stemmed from the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Whether the Defense Department approves the Capitol Police’s request is yet to be determined.

“We do not have an authorized extension of that mission at this time,” Wayne V. Hall, a National Guard spokesperson, said in an emailed statement. “The approval would be at the Secretary of Defense level, so [the Office of the Secretary of Defense] would provide initial announcement of any extension.”

The reason for the March 4 concerns stems from baseless theories that it would be the day former President Donald Trump is inaugurated, despite his Electoral College loss to President Joe Biden. March 4 was the day previously set for inaugurations until the date was moved to Jan. 20 by the 20th Amendment to the Constitution.

Senate Rules and Administration Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar, whose panel has conducted oversight hearings to examine what went wrong leading up to and during the pro-Trump insurrection, is deferring the National Guard decision to the Capitol Police.

Klobuchar told reporters that “you’ve got to listen to law enforcement.” The Minnesota Democrat added that the National Guard was present for a substantial amount of time following 9/11.

When Speaker Nancy Pelosi was asked at her Thursday press conference about the Capitol Police’s request to extend the National Guard’s time on Capitol Hill, she said that is a question for security leadership and noted there is a draft of recommendations by retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré, an official tasked with leading a full review of security on the campus.

“The issue about the National Guard is one that will be made by the Capitol Police and the police board and the rest,” the California Democrat told reporters. “But I'm not in a position to respond to that.”

Pelosi called for former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund to resign the day after the Capitol siege and Sund resigned Jan. 8. But several members of Sund’s team, including Pittman, are still leading the department Klobuchar and Pelosi are deferring to.

Oklahoma Sen. James M. Inhofe, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, was outraged with the notion of the National Guard staying months longer.

“It’s outrageous because that’s not their function. It’s not their mission,” Inhofe told reporters, adding later that it is the Capitol Police’s mission to protect Congress.

The structure of the Capitol Police Board — composed of the House and Senate Sergeants-at-Arms and the Architect of the Capitol and the Capitol Police chief in a non-voting role — has been criticized as antiquated and dysfunctional by both Democrats and Republicans.

Former House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving and former Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger, who also resigned after Jan. 6, have both, along with Sund, expressed a need to overhaul the structure because it led to confusion, and ultimately played a role in delaying the arrival of National Guard troops during the violent insurrection that killed five people.

Lindsey McPherson and Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.