The National Guard has completed its five-month deployment at the Capitol complex and the departure of troops is underway, defense officials confirmed Monday. But an open campus is not yet in sight.
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, who assumed office just weeks after the Jan. 6 riot, said in a press release that the National Guard performed “magnificently.”
“As these troops depart for home and a much-deserved reunion with loved ones, I hope they do so knowing how much the nation appreciates their service and sacrifice — and that of their families and employers. I hope they know how very proud we are of them,” Austin said.
At its peak, the number of National Guard troops at the Capitol reached over 25,000 and included servicemembers from all states and territories.
Retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who oversaw a Capitol security review in the wake of the deadly Jan. 6 riot by a pro-Trump mob, announced that the Guard would leave during a Sunday segment on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” The decision came amid growing pressure from lawmakers and the National Guard Association of the United States, among others, that the Guard should not be tapped for long-term law enforcement at the Capitol.
“God bless the National Guard. They’ve done significant work and they are leaving today, 137 days after the attack on Jan. 6,” Honoré said.
But he warned that a totally open Capitol complex is not yet possible, given the strain on the already short-staffed Capitol Police.
“One of the missions they will not be able to accomplish as designated by both houses is the open campus. They will not be able to return immediately to the open campus where people can openly visit the Capitol because of the strain on the Capitol Police. Their numbers are down over 230,” Honoré said.
The Guard’s departure follows a House vote last week to pass a $1.9 billion spending bill that Democrats hoped would pay for bills incurred since the insurrection, the Capitol’s police force and improve the complex’s security.
But the bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where it is likely to be rewritten amid objections from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
One point of contention in the package is a $200 million provision that would establish a “quick reaction force,” or QRF, made up of National Guard troops that would be used as a supplement to the Capitol Police in emergencies.
But Republicans objected to the force, which would be housed under the D.C. National Guard and not under the authority of Congress.