Thousands of National Guard troops who flew into Washington to secure the inauguration have been allowed back into the U.S. Capitol amid bipartisan outrage from lawmakers after they were “banished” to a small parking garage.
The National Guard Inauguration Task Force commander confirmed in a statement late Thursday that troops will be taking their breaks near Emancipation Hall in the Capitol.
Photos of the troops hunkering down in a cold, cramped parking garage instead of the Capitol quickly went viral. Guard members were moved to the garage to take their break time, according to Politico, which first reported the story.
The photos showed Guardsmen resting between 12-hour shifts crowded together on the ground with some resting their heads against cement pillars.
Guardsmen were told they could no longer access areas of the Capitol complex, including a Senate office cafeteria that had been their rest area while protecting the building, Politico reported.
“We honestly just feel betrayed,” one Guardsman told the news outlet. “After everything went seamlessly, we were deemed useless and banished to a corner of a parking garage.”
On Thursday afternoon, Capitol Police asked the National Guard to relocate the troops who had been resting in the Capitol in between shifts, National Guard Bureau spokesman Maj. Matt Murphy told CBS News.
“As Congress is in session and increased foot traffic and business is being conducted, Capitol Police asked the troops to move their rest area,” Mr. Murphy said. “They were temporarily relocated to the Thurgood Marshall Judicial Center garage with heat and restroom facilities.”
The Capitol Police offered a conflicting explanation, insisting that they did not instruct the National Guard to vacate the Capitol Complex, according to a statement by acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman.
Ms. Pittman said the department is working with the National Guard to reduce the need for sleeping accommodations by establishing shorter shifts.
By afternoon the Capitol Police and National Guard issued a joint statement saying they coordinated to ensure that guardsmen will be stationed in “appropriate spaces” throughout the complex, including the Capitol itself.
“Off-duty troops are being housed in hotel rooms or other comfortable accommodations. The National Guard
appreciates the continuous support of congressional members who expressed concern for our National Guard
men and women,” the statement said.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle swiftly condemned relocating troops to the garage. At least two governors reacted by immediately ordering their troops to return home.
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott both said they had seen enough.
“They did an outstanding job serving our nation’s capital in a time of strife and should be graciously praised, not subject to substandard conditions,” Mr. Sununu said in a statement.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, followed suit Friday.
“I mean, these folks are soldiers,” Mr. DeSantis said in an interview with Fox News. “They’ve served our country all around the world. They’ve served our State of Florida after natural disasters. … They’re soldiers. They’re not Nancy Pelosi servants.”
Federal lawmakers on both sides were also angered.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, called the move “outrageous” and vowed to get to the bottom of it.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, called the situation unacceptable. He said Congress needs to transition to a more sustainable law enforcement presence rather than supplement the Capitol Police with uniformed troops.
Rep. Madison Cawthorn, North Carolina Republican, tweeted that he had visited the troops, brought them pizza and told them they could sleep in his office.
“No soldier will ever, ever sleep on a garage floor in the U.S. Capitol while I work in Congress,” he wrote. “Our Troops deserve better.”
Rep. Elise Stefanik called the move, “absolutely unacceptable and despicable.”
“We need to demand answers now and this needs to be fixed immediately,” she wrote.
First Lady Jill Biden on Friday made an unscheduled stop at the Capitol to visit with commanding officers and the troops. Ms. Biden brought the troops a basket of chocolate chip cookies.
“The National Guard will always hold a special place in the hearts of all the Bidens,” she told the troops invoking the memory of President Biden’s late son, Beau, who served in the Delaware National Guard.
More than 26,000 troops were deployed to Washington to secure the inauguration in response to fears of more rioting after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. Those fears never materialized with only a few minor arrests on Inauguration Day.
Roughly 10,600 troops remain.