Lawmakers push to prohibit permanent fencing around the Capitol complex

Bipartisan sponsors want to prevent creation of ‘fortress’

From left, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Sen. Roy Blunt hold a news conference Thursday to introduce their Capitol fencing legislation.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
From left, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Sen. Roy Blunt hold a news conference Thursday to introduce their Capitol fencing legislation. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted March 25, 2021 at 5:36pm

A bipartisan group of lawmakers wants to prevent the construction of a permanent fence around the Capitol complex.

Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt and Maryland Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen introduced legislation on Thursday that would prohibit the use of federal funds to install permanent fencing around the complex. D.C. Democratic Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton introduced the House version in February.

Members and staff grew weary of the fence after it was erected in response to the riot by a violent mob of pro-Trump insurrectionists who breached the Capitol on Jan. 6. As of Wednesday, an outer fence that blocked many roads around the complex was taken down, opening up the House and Senate buildings to public access. An inner fence around the Capitol remains.

"This Capitol is the citadel of democracy, and we should not turn it into a fortress. We should not wall the people's house off from the people of the United States of America," Van Hollen said. "We can achieve security here without building a wall, and we know that from various people who have weighed in."

Blunt said the Capitol is an iconic building that people come from all over to visit and it is important to keep it a welcoming place while still maintaining a proper level of security.

"Certainly, we want people to have all the security possible, but at the same time with all the freedom that they'd expect to have in a society and a country committed to freedom," Blunt said.

Blunt, ranking member of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, said he's already seen enthusiasm for the bill from a couple of colleagues he's mentioned it to. Van Hollen added that he's optimistic about the possibility of the bill's success in the chamber.

Norton has been leading the push to take down the fence, as many of her constituents live on Capitol Hill and have seen their neighborhoods turned into what she has previously described as "militarized zones."

Blunt, asked about when the inner fence should come down, said, "I think it should be down now."

Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman has previously said permanent fencing is necessary to ensure the safety of Congress.

Earlier this month, retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré and his task force recommended a mobile fencing option that can be constructed and deconstructed quickly along with an integrated, retractable fencing system to protect the Capitol grounds for the long term. The team of experts acknowledged the importance of balancing public access with robust security.

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