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Congress moves to ease National Guard defense of the Capitol

Delays in deploying the Guard on Jan. 6 allowed rioters to overwhelm Capitol Police officers

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar chairs the panel in charge of Senate security.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar chairs the panel in charge of Senate security. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Congress has sent to President Joe Biden legislation to allow the Capitol Police to request assistance from the National Guard without approval from the Capitol Police Board, removing a bureaucratic step that critics say could hinder the police force’s ability to react quickly in an emergency. 

The Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent on Monday and the House followed suit on Tuesday evening.

The bill reflects one of several recommendations made by the Senate Rules and Administration and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurrection, when a mob stormed the Capitol in an effort to overturn Biden’s presidential win. 

A Senate report released June 8 found the Capitol Police Board’s failure to request National Guard assistance prior to Jan. 6, despite Capitol Police intelligence indicating that there was a threat, meant that the D.C. National Guard was not “activated, staged and prepared to quickly respond to an attack on the Capitol.”

“January 6th showed us that every minute counts during an emergency. Our report found that Capitol Police officers and their law enforcement partners were left alone to defend the Capitol and our democracy itself from violent insurrectionists, while the Chief of the Capitol Police was delayed in obtaining approval to request help from the National Guard,” Rules Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said in a press release.

Klobuchar teamed up with the Rules panel’s ranking Republican, Roy Blunt of Missouri, in sponsoring the bill. 

According to the Senate report, the Capitol Police Board’s failure to plan ahead meant that when it became clear that the National Guard would be needed to secure the Capitol, a request had to be sent to the Defense Department, which further delayed action as Pentagon leaders debated whether to grant it. 

The board is made up of three voting members who govern the Capitol Police force: The House and Senate sergeant-at-arms and the architect of the Capitol. 

January 6 fallout

A day after the insurrection, then-House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving and then-Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger both resigned. In the following weeks, former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund also left his position. 

“This legislation will help ensure the Capitol Police Chief has the authority needed to call for reinforcements at the Capitol swiftly during emergencies,” Klobuchar said in her statement. 

Blunt said that the structure of the Capitol Police Board creates unnecessary delays when decisive action is needed. 

“Our bipartisan investigation into the response failures on January 6th clearly demonstrated the need for the Chief of the U.S. Capitol Police to have more unilateral flexibility to quickly request assistance in an emergency,” Blunt said in a statement. 

Klobuchar and Blunt were joined in introducing the bill by Sens. Angus King, I-Maine, Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Alex Padilla, D-Calif., and Mark Warner, D-Va.

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