Fencing, tightened security at US Capitol staying in place for now

The Capitol has been closed to the public since last spring because of the Covid-19 pandemic. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - The razor wire-topped fences and National Guard patrols in place around the US Capitol grounds since the Jan 6 mob attack will remain for the time being despite agitation among many lawmakers for the complex to be reopened to the public.

Capitol officials who briefed senators on security Wednesday (Feb 24) provided no timetable for when the extra security measures, including National Guard troops, would be eased, lawmakers said.

"I am very interested in a plan to move as quickly as possible to have the Capitol again be a place where the public is welcome," said Mr Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat. "I just think it sends kind of a bad message about our country to have our Capitol surrounded by razor wire."

He and other senators said they didn't hear in the private briefing call any general plan for easing restrictions, which also include street closures in the area.

The Capitol has been closed to the public since last spring because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Following the Jan 6 riot, in which a mob of then-President Donald Trump's supporters overwhelmed police and rampaged through the building, security was tightened significantly with fencing and National Guard patrols as law enforcement officials look into continuing threats against Congress from extremists.

The chief of the Capitol Police force and two other top congressional officials resigned in the wake of the breach, and multiple congressional inquiries into security failings on Jan 6 are under way.

In prepared testimony for a House hearing Thursday, acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman says that intelligence reports on the threat to Congress before the insurrection were "muddled or contradictory."

Members of both parties said they were anxious for things to return to normal and for the National Guard to be sent home.

"I don't think the poor handling of Jan 6 should lead us to punish the public," Mr Kaine said.

"I said there's got to be an end to this thing," said Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee. "And I haven't heard anything in the presentation that leads me to believe there's going to be an end, or that there's really justification."

Senator Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, was even more emphatic, though he said he was unable to join the briefing call because of nomination hearings.

"There's nothing they could have said at that security briefing that would justify having fences and barbed wire," Mr Burr said. "That is a bunch of malarkey. They ought to tear these fences down and send them home today."

Mr Burr was one of seven Republican senators who voted to convict Mr Trump on an article of impeachment charging him with inciting the Jan 6 attack.

Not all senators are ready for the barriers to come down immediately, however.

Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, a Democrat, said the law enforcement officials who conducted the briefing told senators that threats against individuals members of Congress have gone up by 90 per cent.

Ms Hirono also said that domestic terrorists and White supremacists feel "emboldened" to carry out violent attacks." "I think most of us would like to see a day when the fencing and especially the fencing with barbed wire comes down, but there's still a threat out there and as I say they feel quite emboldened now to plot, plan and go dark in communicating with each other," Ms Hirono added.

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