WASHINGTON – The acting Capitol Police chief has proposed erecting permanent fencing around the U.S. Capitol, a step that drew immediate condemnation from District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser, city officials and some members of Congress.
Fencing topped with spools of wire was put up around the Capitol the day after the violent breach on Jan. 6, though former Army secretary Ryan McCarthy said at the time that the 7-foot-tall fence would only remain in place for 30 days.
But on Thursday, acting Capitol Police chief Yogananda Pittman said security experts have long argued that “more needed to be done to protect the U.S. Capitol” and members of Congress.
“In light of recent events, I can unequivocally say that vast improvements to the physical security infrastructure must be made to include permanent fencing, and the availability of ready, back-up forces in close proximity to the Capitol,” Pittman wrote.
Her statement infuriated local officials and some U.S. lawmakers, who maintained that the Capitol’s historic grounds should remain open to the public.
“What we saw on the 6th was horrendous, but it also included so many failures of the U.S. Capitol Police. To just build an unscalable perimeter fence and turn the people’s house into a fortress from the people is just wrong,” said D.C. Council member Charles Allen, a Democrat whose district includes Capitol Hill. “These areas our part of our community, part of neighborhood – cutting off public access because they failed to anticipate when they knew what was coming, is just very wrong.”
Pittman apologized Wednesday for “failings” that allowed rioters to take control of the building, saying the department should have been better prepared.
The fencing proposal would require approval by the Capitol Police board, which includes the Senate and House sergeants-at-arms as well as the Architect of the Capitol. Appropriations for large sums of money, such as a bill to permanently fortify the Capitol, would also need approval by the House and Senate.
“This is the People’s House. I am adamantly opposed,” tweeted Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y. “There has been no threat briefing given to Members of Congress to justify this proposal.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has tasked retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré to conduct a separate review of Capitol security, and met with him Thursday to hear his initial assessment.
“I salute the urgent, diligent and strategic work that he and his team continue to do in this mission, which is critical to protecting the Capitol and, indeed, our very Democracy,” Pelosi said in a statement. “I want to thank the General for reviewing what is necessary for the Capitol Police to do their jobs.”
Bowser, a Democrat, has said upcoming events, such as the impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump, will require extra security, including the fencing and presence of National Guard troops.
“But we will not accept extra troops or permanent fencing as a long-term fixture in D.C.,” she said on Twitter. “When the time is right, the fencing around the White House and U.S. Capitol, just like the plywood we’ve seen on our businesses for far too long, will be taken down.”
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson agreed, tweeting that he was “vehemently opposed” to the proposal. Allen said he’s heard from constituents who are angry about the fencing with barbed wire coiled across the top.
Allen called on congressional leadership to find a way to boost security without walling off the complex saying the issue reflects the disenfranchisement of D.C. residents who live in a district that lacks statehood.
“I can tell you, if D.C. had two senators, this wouldn’t be happening,” Allen said. “If we had our own representation this wouldn’t be happening.”
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The Washington Post’s Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.