A pair of prominent defense Republican lawmakers are opposing efforts to form a National Guard “quick reaction force” to aid with Capitol Hill security, saying the move would unnecessarily militarize the halls of Congress.
The move not only puts the future of the proposed Guard unit in doubt but also could complicate Guard efforts to get reimbursement for more than $520 million in extra operations costs related to the still-ongoing Capitol Hill security mission, money that will be needed to maintain drill activities through the summer and fall.
Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and House Armed Services Committee ranking member Mike Rogers, R-Ala., said in a statement Wednesday that any security improvements to the Capitol building and surrounding congressional offices should fall under civilian law enforcement officials, not military ones.
“Use of the uniformed military in D.C. and the Capitol Complex is subject to complex statutory restrictions, and for good reason,” they said. “We cannot and should not militarize the security of the Capitol Complex.”
About 2,300 Guard troops are stationed on Capitol Hill right now, winding down the final days of a more than four-month mission to help secure congressional offices. All troops are scheduled to leave by May 23.
Nearly 26,000 were stationed around Washington at the height of operations, prompted by the Jan. 6 violent attack on Congress and the inauguration of President Joe Biden a few weeks later.
Conservative lawmakers have criticized congressional leaders for the length of the mission, saying that no ongoing imminent threat to the Capitol remains.
In March, a security review of congressional operations led by retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré recommended a National Guard quick reaction force to be formed by “mobilizing military police from Guard elements across the United States on rotations of three to six months” or staffing it with “active Guard/Reserve troops who live in or near the city year-round.”
Last week, Democratic leaders included $200 million in new funding to set up the unit, “a ground force equivalent of the 113th Wing within the District of Columbia Air National Guard at Joint Base Andrews, which defends National Capital Region airspace.”
That plan is included in a $1.9 billion emergency supplemental to be voted on by House lawmakers later on Wednesday. No timeline has been set for when the Senate may bring up the measure.
Officials from the National Guard Association of the United States on Wednesday voiced concerns about the quick reaction force proposal.
“While the National Guard is able to pivot and take on a multitude of missions, our soldiers and airmen should only perform law enforcement as a last resort,” said NGAUS Chairman Michael McGuire said in a statement. “The Guard mission at the Capitol is coming to end. It’s time for local law enforcement to take it from here. All of it.”
Inhofe and Rogers said not enough public debate has been held on the quick reaction force idea, and that the money to be spent on it would be better used for “rebuilding Guard readiness that suffered as a result of this over-long deployment to Capitol Hill.”
The supplemental does include $521 million for Guard expenses related to the Capitol mission. On Tuesday, National Guard Bureau Chief Gen. Daniel Hokanson said if that money is not delivered by the start of August, Guard units will have to delay or cancel planned training.
Whether the Republican objections to the quick reaction force also delay the reimbursement funds remains to be seen.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has promised to bring the supplemental package to the Senate floor for a vote. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., suggested there may not be any Republican votes for the spending plan. At least 10 GOP members would have to back the legislation in the evenly-divided Senate to advance the proposal.
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.