- The Washington Times - Monday, May 17, 2021

Thousands of National Guard troops stationed on a rotating basis at the U.S. Capitol since Jan. 6 will head home this weekend as officials weigh whether to create a permanent military unit charged with protecting lawmakers and the building.

The move to demilitarize the Capitol drew cheers from downtown officials and businesses looking forward to the return of tourists as memories of postelection riots fade and the risks of COVID-19 recede.

“It’s a big thing that they are leaving,” restaurant owner Hulya Bolukbasi told The Washington Times. “It definitely did impact us as a business in this area.”

Ms. Bolukbasi and her husband own the French restaurant Bistro Cacao, a few blocks from the Capitol.

“Because it has been guarded and closed, I think people chose not to visit D.C.,” she said.

“So [the] effect on my business was that there were less people, less tourists in D.C. … and of course these people would have come and eaten at Bistro Cacao as a very close-by restaurant, and that was one of the negative impacts that I had seen.”

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton told The Times that it is “well past time for the troops to leave.”

“We’ve long had word that there were no credible threats,” Ms. Norton said.

The nearly 2,200 guard members serving as part of the Capitol Mission will leave Sunday, Army Capt. Chelsi B. Johnson, National Guard spokeswoman, said Monday.

“Once the mission concludes, the D.C. National Guard will return to normal operations and the out-of-state guard members will return to their home station,” she said.

The riot at the Capitol by Trump supporters exposed significant security flaws that House leaders are hoping to address with a $1.9 billion bill introduced last week.

The bill proposes $520.9 million to cover the costs of the National Guard’s monthslong deployment in the region, which at one point comprised more than 26,000 troops from across the nation.

Officials say $200 million should fund a quick reaction force of guard members to assist U.S. Capitol Police in other emergencies.

House Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat, said the proposal “addresses the insurrection with $1.9 billion in funding to respond to the tragic events of that day.”

“It is long overdue recognition of the work of the Capitol Police, the sacrifices that they and their families have made, and the changes they need,” Ms. DeLauro said in the bill summary.

The ideas stem from a congressional task force report released last month that also suggests reestablishing a military police battalion as an alternative to the quick reaction force.

“Another option would be to create a [force] that permanently resides within the D.C. Guard by reestablishing a military police battalion and staffing it with active Guard reserve troops who live in or near the city year-round, perpetually on active duty,” the 15-page Capitol Security Review report states.

The report does not detail how a permanent National Guard unit would work. Guard members have full-time jobs outside their military duties, which require them to serve one weekend per month. Members, however, can be deployed on an as-needed basis.

The permanent force could resemble the Joint Task Force Empire Shield established in New York City after the 9/11 attacks. The task force was established using $3 billion in federal funds to employ nearly 500 state guard members who work full time in conjunction with local law enforcement.

The House bill also includes $250 million to replace the nonscalable fencing erected around parts of the Capitol grounds after the riot with “retractable or ‘pop-in’ fencing.”

Officials say the nonscalable fencing will stay up until other security measures are in place.

Ms. Norton introduced a bill to prohibit permanent fencing, said “retractable fencing is the appropriate measure to protect the Capitol complex.”

“The fencing risked sending the message to the world that the strongest nation couldn’t protect its own Capitol,” Ms. Norton, a Democrat, said in an email. “The Capitol is surrounded by an open parklike space that must be inviting to the public, not fenced in.”

The Capitol Police, with more than 2,300 officers, applauded the legislation.

“The Department is grateful for the support and the focus on providing enhanced capabilities and resources for our workforce,” the agency said in a statement last week. “This support will directly help the Department move forward to meet our evolving mission.”

• Emily Zantow can be reached at ezantow@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide