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Police proposal would start reopening Capitol later this month

Police staffing shortage has delayed lifting pandemic limits

The U.S. Capitol dome is lit by the morning sun on Monday.
The U.S. Capitol dome is lit by the morning sun on Monday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Plans are in the works to reopen the Capitol in phases, starting March 28, according to a proposed Capitol Police plan reviewed by CQ Roll Call.

The first phase would permit limited school tours through Senate and House office buildings, escorted by congressional staff. The second phase, tentatively expected for May 30, would involve a limited reopening of the Capitol Visitor Center.

For the reopening plan to take effect, the Capitol Police Board has to sign off, and that has not yet happened, according to an aide familiar with the process.

Tours in the first phase would be limited to no more than four groups of 50 people who would follow a predetermined route and undergo a secondary screening before arriving in the Capitol.

Permitted official business visitors would go from 9 to 15 people per tour and staff led tours — which are not currently permitted — would be permitted and capped at 15 people. A plan to open the Botanical Garden is also anticipated for the first phase, the aide said.

In phase 1, tours would enter through the House and Senate office buildings, but in phase 2, they would enter through the CVC. Phase 2 would also allow public access to House and Senate galleries. 

The Capitol complex has been closed to the general public since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Reopening the campus has been substantially hampered because of staffing shortages plaguing the Capitol Police. In January, Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger said his department is 447 officers short of “where we need to be,” and that he plans to hire 280 officers in 2022.

“We understand the importance of people’s access to their government, so we are working closely with the Capitol Police Board and its oversight committees to come up with a safe plan to reopen the U.S. Capitol and realign resources based on current operational requirements,” Tim Barber, a spokesperson for the department, said in a statement. “We promise to keep the community updated when decisions are made.”

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