Thousands of National Guard troops were recalled to their home states over the weekend by governors who were furious that the troops were banished to a nearby parking garage after securing the U.S. Capitol for President Biden’s inauguration.
The governors of Florida, Texas and New Hampshire immediately moved to bring home the troops saying they were being treated as “servants.”
Despite the recall, at least 5,000 troops will remain in Washington through mid-March, National Guard officials said in a statement.
The thinking among defense officials and lawmakers is that former President Donald Trump’s upcoming impeachment trial poses a security concern. Officials fear a repeat of the deadly violence of Jan. 6, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol.
Mr. Trump’s Senate trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 8.
“We are providing assistance such as security, communications, medical evacuation, logistics and safety support to state district and federal agencies,” the National Guard said in a statement.
The announcement comes after it was revealed that more than 100 Guard troops stationed at the Capitol for President Biden’s inauguration have tested positive for COVID-19. Hundreds more troops are in quarantine.
Defense officials are pointing to the cramped rest and working areas as the reason for the spread, pointing to relocating troops to the parking garage as the outbreak’s cause.
Outraged politicians on both sides of the aisle fumed after 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.”
Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman issued a conflicting statement saying that the department did not instruct the National Guard to vacate the Capitol.
“The department is also working with the Guard to reduce the need for sleeping accommodations by establishing shorter shifts and will ensure they have access to the comfortable accommodations they absolutely deserve when the need arises,” she said, in a statement.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle swiftly condemned the move to the garage. At least three governors immediately ordered their troops to return home.
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said they had seen enough.
“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’s servants.”
Mr. Sununu blasted the relocation in a statement.
“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.
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 tweeted. “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.
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.