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Senate at Work Won’t Stop Memorial Day Concert

Setup for the Memorial Day concert will go on as planned. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Setup for the Memorial Day concert will go on as planned. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Despite the impending weekend Senate session , the 26th Annual National Memorial Day Concert on the West Lawn of the Capitol will go on — and that means some inconvenience for congressional staffers and thousands of dollars worth of overtime work for Capitol Police.  

As of Thursday afternoon, the Senate was scheduled to be in session and voting Saturday on legislation related to expiring surveillance authorities under the Patriot Act. And a reauthorization of expiring highway authorities was also on track to be unresolved by the weekend.  

Still, the event, to honor members of the military, is set to continue without a change, except for likely increased security.  

If Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and like-minded lawmakers insist on debate time, the Senate would almost assuredly be in session throughout the weekend, perhaps around the clock. That means senators could still be at work during the Sunday concert at 8 p.m. or the Saturday evening dress rehearsal, which draws some D.C. residents and tourists hoping to see a version of the concert but skip the crowd.  

Capitol Police spokeswoman Lt. Kimberly Schneider said the department would manage both in a Thursday email. She declined to comment on overtime costs.  

But the show going on as planned could mean big overtime costs for Capitol Police, despite recent efforts to cut the cost of staffing for Capitol Hill’s biggest summer celebrations. In 2014, the agency used a combined 12,174 hours of overtime work for the Memorial Day and July Fourth holidays during setup, rehearsals and the concerts themselves. The price tag was $735,252.  

In April, top congressional leaders backed a plan from Capitol Hill law enforcement to rein in festivities. The plan endorsed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, limits access to the Capitol building to members of Congress, invited guests, and authorized staff.  

“The safety and security of our guests remains our paramount concern, and these changes will allow us to continue honoring these holidays in a manner consistent with the dignity and history of the Capitol,” Boehner and McConnell said in a joint statement, responding to a March 12 letter that implied the patriotic parties had grown out of control.  

Though police will likely be on guard if the Senate is still working during the concert, other aspects, such as production and seating arrangements, will not change. A favorite spot for concertgoers is on the West Front steps, and attendees will still be able to sit on the steps even if lawmakers are in the building.  

A source with the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms said Thursday afternoon the established perimeters for the concert would not be affected if the Senate is still in session, meaning the perimeter would not be widened to move concert goers further away from the Capitol.  

Though the thousands attending the concert might not notice a change, Senate staffers working through the weekend could be inconvenienced by concert parking restrictions. Starting at midnight Friday, streets around the Capitol will be closed to parking until 4 a.m. Monday, according to a notice sent to Sergeant-at-Arms employees.  

No parking will be allowed on First Street NW, between Constitution and Pennsylvania Avenues; Pennsylvania Avenue NW, between First and Third Streets; New Jersey Avenue, NW, between Constitution Avenue and C Street; and two parking lots adjacent to Union Station.  

According to the concert website, general admission gates located at the southwest corner of the Capitol grounds will open at 5 p.m. Sunday. All bags will be checked and concert attendees will have to enter through a metal detector.  

This year’s concert will be hosted by Tony Award winner Joe Mantegna and Emmy Award winner Gary Sinise with performances by Gloria Estefan, “The Voice” winner Tessanne Chi, and the National Symphony Orchestra.  

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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