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D.C. to White House: Don’t Fence Us Out

Norton toured the White House perimeter to examine recent security changes. (Courtesy of Norton's office)
Norton toured the White House perimeter to examine recent security changes. (Courtesy of Norton's office)

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton didn’t like the lay of the land during a Monday stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue.  

“On my visit to the White House perimeter this morning, I saw the ugly barriers that keep people a few feet from the fence, with signs affixed to the barriers that said ‘Police Line, Do Not Cross,’” the D.C. Democrat said in a statement released on the eve of a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Secret Service protocol.  

Since Omar J. Gonzalez scaled the north fence on Sept. 19 and ran 70 yards to the unlocked front doors of the White House, the House GOP has been increasingly critical of the agency. New revelations reported by The Washington Post on Sunday, including that it took four days to realize gunfire had struck the White House in 2011, have raised fresh concern. Meanwhile, District officials fear new policies that could be detrimental to D.C. Norton is suggesting the recess panel, where Republicans plan to grill Secret Service Director Julia Pierson, may be nothing more than a “pre-election show hearing,” since the agency has not yet had a chance to complete a full and thorough investigation.  

“‘Change first, investigation later’ doesn’t work, particularly when it comes to protecting the president,” Norton said.  

The appearance of major construction along the north fence concerned Norton, who objects to changes that might block public access to the landmark. She’s also worried that the agency doesn’t appear to be pursuing alternatives she pitched, such as installing a taller or more curved fence. Norton said the unsightly, three-foot high barricades are less of an issue, as long as they are only a temporary, “quick fix” during the investigation.  

In addition to the Oversight panel, the House Homeland Security Committee is putting pressure on Pierson. On Monday, the committee released a letter to Pierson from Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, demanding answers to 11 specific questions about the Gonzalez incident, use of deadly force policies and other issues by Oct. 10.  

“We are also concerned about what could be perceived as a lack of communication between state officials and the U.S. Secret Service concerning potential threats to the President,” McCaul wrote.  

Mayor Vincent Gray and other local leaders recognize the need for scrutiny, but also worry about the economic impact of fencing off one of the city’s major tourist attractions.  

“First and foremost we want to make sure that the president and the White House, that they are safe — that is of paramount importance,” Gray told reporters last week. “At the same time, we obviously don’t want any more, you know, incursions, if you will, into the space in the District of Columbia than absolutely necessary in order to preserve safety. … We want people to feel comfortable moving around this city.  

“Not to be mercenary or crass,” Gray continued, “but we want them to feel comfortable spending their money, because that’s an important part of our economy as well, but we recognize the paramount importance of safety — safety of the president and the White House — and obviously we intend to be as cooperative as we possibly can to help ensure that.”  

You can watch the hearing live here .  

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