Some 2,000 National Guard troops are leaving the Capitol, nearly five months after they were deployed there to boost security after the January 6 riot. The building won’t be opened to the public due to a police shortage.
The troops will begin the full withdrawal from the Capitol grounds on Sunday, retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who is leading a review of the Capitol’s security, confirmed to CBS’s ‘Face the Nation’ in an interview aired on Sunday.
The troops are heading home as the Capitol Police, despite reports of their ranks being severely depleted, did not request an extension of the mission past the May 23 deadline, the DC National Guard spokesman told the media earlier this week.
The National Guard has been in the nation’s capital two months longer than originally planned. The troops were scheduled to leave on March 12, but the Capitol Police asked the Pentagon to extend the deployment, drawing criticism from the National Guard Association, which blasted the continuing presence of soldiers in the city as “completely inappropriate at best, illegal at worst.”
While at the time, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby defended the decision to keep the troops there by saying it would give the Capitol Police “some time and space” to prepare to take over the protection of the Capitol, Honoré revealed that the police still won’t be able to ensure public access to the building.
“One of the missions they will not be able to probably accomplish as designated by both houses and… parties, is the open campus,” Honoré said, citing the “strain on the Capitol Police” whose staff numbers dropped to around 230 officers.
Honoré also called on the Senate to pass a $1.9 billion bill, aimed at strengthening security at the Capitol. Around $700 million in the bill is earmarked to pay the Capitol Police, the DC police, and the National Guard, while $200 million would be used to establish a ‘quick reaction force’ to support Capitol Police in case of a future emergency.
The bill narrowly passed the House on Thursday. All the Republicans in the House were joined by three Democrats in voting against it, while another three Democrats voted present. While Republicans opposed the legislation, citing its cost and concerns about the Capitol grounds remaining militarized, the dissenting Democrats sounded the alarm about the bill’s possible implications for people of color, who they claim will be at the receiving end of the domestic terrorism laws.
While the bill’s fate remains uncertain, Honoré argued that the extra funding is essential to secure the grounds. “The longer they think, the less secure the Capitol will be,” he said.