The Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Armed Services Committee think it’s time to wind down the National Guard mission at the U.S. Capitol.
Just days after Defense Department officials announced the guardsmen would remain stationed around Capitol Hill until late May, committee chairman Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., and ranking member Mike Rogers, R-Ala., said they are “deeply troubled” by the continued heavy military presence around Congress.
“As the U.S. Capitol Police continues to build its personnel capacity, there is no doubt that some level of support from the National Guard should remain in the National Capital region to respond to credible threats against the Capitol,” the pair said in a joint statement. “However, the present security posture is not warranted at this time.”
About 5,000 Guardsmen are currently deployed to the Capitol security mission, according to spokesman Lt. Col. Robert Carver. Troops were sent to the site in response to the Jan. 6 attack on Congress, where hundreds of supporters of former President Donald Trump attempted to disrupt lawmakers’ certification of last November’s presidential election results.
The mission was set to end later this month, but on Tuesday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved a request from Capitol Police to extend the Guard’s deployment until May 23.
Smith and Rogers — whose committee oversees operations policies for the military — said they are concerned both over the ongoing costs of the deployment and the potential negative impact an extended tour could have on readiness.
“We appreciate our guardsmen answering the call to protect the Capitol, but it’s time for us to review what level of security is required, so they can return home to their families and communities,” they said.
The comments came just hours after Guard officials announced a service member deployed to the Washington, D.C. mission had died from what appeared to be a personal medical condition while he was off-duty. No further details were announced, and the death is under investigation.
Last week, before the mission extension approval, Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said he was “outraged” by the moves to keep troops on Capitol Hill longer.
“I haven’t been satisfied with any explanation Congress has received at numerous briefings that all these personnel, resources and barbed wire are needed,” he said in a statement.
“Keeping the Capitol Complex safe — and open to the public, as it has been forever — is a federal civilian law enforcement responsibility. What this solution should not look like is keeping the National Guardsmen here indefinitely, as has been rumored.”
In the weeks after the Jan. 6 attack and the Jan. 20 inauguration of President Joe Biden, about 26,000 Guard personnel were deployed across Washington, D.C. on security missions.
Even as Congress has worked to return to normal operations in recent weeks, Guardsmen are still a prominent feature in the halls of office buildings and guarding the two layers of security fencing stretched across Capitol Hill. Multiple hearing rooms, parking lots and cafeterias remain closed off or restricted to provide space for Guard operations.
Last month, acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman told lawmakers that extremists may be considering another attack on the complex when Biden offers his address to Congress later this spring. White House officials have said there is no planned date for that event yet.
Earlier this week, a security review team led by retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré recommended Congress create a permanent Guard unit to provide “rapid response” security capabilities in the event of future violence on Capitol Hill.
However, that unit would be staffed either by Guardsmen already living in the National Capital region or through a series of short-term rotations of personnel from other locations.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.