Access to the Capitol and surrounding grounds will be noticeably restricted after 3 p.m. today, as Congressional law-enforcement officials prepare for the early-evening ceremonies commemorating the late President Ronald Reagan.
Formal funeral services for the former commander in chief, who died at his California home Saturday, are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. in the Capitol Rotunda, and the public will be allowed to view Reagan’s casket beginning at 8:30 p.m.
Initial security provisions were already visible across the Capitol campus by early Tuesday afternoon, and the Capitol Police Department plans to limit access to the building by mid-afternoon today.
Entrance to both the Senate and House wings of the Capitol will be restricted to lawmakers, staff and visitors on officials business in order to provide law-enforcement officials time to complete security checks of the Rotunda and other areas that will be utilized during the arrival ceremony.
“There will be sweeping of the chamber and other areas, and that will take place anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours before the arrival of the remains of the president,” Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer said Tuesday.
Police officials said Monday the department will operate at its highest alert level, akin to high-security events such as a State of the Union or presidential inauguration, during the three-day ceremony.
Reagan’s funeral service — designated a “National Special Security Event” by the Homeland Security Department — will mark the first time a commander in chief will lie in state in the Rotunda in more than three decades, and therefore requires extra planning.
Handling the Crowd
On Tuesday afternoon, the Capitol Police were working to complete the set-up of a new security checkpoint on the West Front that will be used to screen the 100,000 visitors expected to view the casket between tonight and Friday morning.
In conjunction with the temporary screening facility, Gainer said his agency was also posting instructional signs near the Capitol’s Reflecting Pool, in an attempt to better manage the large crowds. (At public funeral services in California earlier this week, officials planned for up to 60,000 visitors to view Reagan’s remains.)
The Capitol Police plan to screen visitors in a multi-tiered process that will include both civilian and sworn officers, Gainer noted.
The screening procedure will begin at the Reflecting Pool, where officers will conduct an initial screening, and visitors will undergo a secondary screening near the Capitol’s Southwest Drive.
Civilian employees will be on hand to assist with the handling of prohibited items, Gainer explained. In addition to the items normally banned from the Capitol, visitors will be prohibited from carrying large purses, backpacks, and all video and camera equipment.
While he maintains a “firm hope” that publicity on the restrictions will be heeded, Gainer acknowledged that some visitors may not be aware of the restrictions.
To prevent visitors from scattering banned items on the Capitol grounds, the law-enforcement agency will operate a bag check, Gainer said. Items will be collected during the security screening and transported to the Senate side of the Capitol, where they can be reclaimed by visitors exiting the Rotunda.
In addition, the Architect of the Capitol has installed green plastic fencing around the edges of the Capitol grounds to restrict pedestrian and bicycle traffic in the area.
Capitol officials have used similar fencing during other events to more tightly control access to the campus.
The fencing is also designed to help channel visitors through the screening process, noted AOC spokeswoman Eva Malecki.
“We’re working with the police to make sure that the lines stay queued,” Malecki said.
Capitol and District of Columbia officials also issued notices Tuesday regarding numerous road closures and parking restrictions that will be in place.
Through the duration of the funeral services, parking will be restricted on both Capitol drives and will also limited on Maryland Avenue Southwest, according to a Tuesday memorandum issued by House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood.
In addition, the Metropolitan Police Department was scheduled to shut down Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Capitol at midnight Tuesday to secure the route for the funeral procession.
Constitution Avenue will also be closed between the Roosevelt Bridge and the Capitol between 3 and 9 p.m., according to MPD Chief Charles Ramsey.
MPD officials noted that drivers should expect rolling closures throughout the District this afternoon, with at least 18 foreign heads of state scheduled to attend the arrival service.
During that service — which will be limited to the Reagan family, current Members of the House and Senate, heads of state and other dignitaries — Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Senate President Pro Tem Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) are scheduled to speak along with Vice President Cheney and both the House and Senate chaplains.
With President Bush ensconced Tuesday at the G-8 summit in Georgia, White House officials indicated that no information was yet available regarding any plans to attend the Rotunda event. Bush will, however, eulogize Reagan on Friday at a funeral service at Washington National Cathedral.
Spokesmen for several Cabinet officials indicated their secretaries would likely pass up the Capitol event and instead attend Friday’s service. A spokesman for Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta, a Californian who chaired the House Transportation Committee during the Reagan administration, said the chief would attend the Rotunda event.
‘The Final Touches’
Although several Congressional leaders had yet to return from ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy until early this week, Gainer asserted that the planning for the services has gone smoothly.
“The coordination with leadership even while they’re in Europe has been very steady,” Gainer said, noting that planning has been conducted via telephone and e-mail. “Their staff are very attuned and involved in what’s going on.”
In fact, Gainer noted, the Capitol Police began revamping existing plans a little more than a year ago to accommodate a funeral or other procession while the Capitol Visitor Center is under construction on the East Front. The plan was recently completed.
“In reworking our plan, I’d already met with the heads of the Park Police and the Metropolitan Police, so we had been working this issue very regularly and had very recently briefed the [Capitol Police] Board and some others on the final touches of it,” Gainer said.
Although the U.S. Military District of Washington is responsible for ceremonial arrangements, including the funeral procession between the White House and the Capitol scheduled to begin at 6 p.m., the Capitol Police are tasked with organizing events on the Capitol grounds.
Ethan Wallison contributed to this report.