‘Good riddance’: In first act in power, Republicans remove metal detectors from the House chamber

The controversial devices went up after Jan. 6 Capitol attack

A magnetometer stands at an entrance to the House chamber on Tuesday, a day before Republicans took over the House majority and removed it. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
A magnetometer stands at an entrance to the House chamber on Tuesday, a day before Republicans took over the House majority and removed it. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted January 3, 2023 at 3:32pm

As Republicans took control of the House on Tuesday, they wasted no time in erasing a symbol of the previous era. They removed the metal detectors that stood outside the House chamber for the last two years.

Just minutes before the clock struck noon, security officials arrived to haul away the detectors, which Democrats had installed to screen lawmakers for weapons.

“I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time,” said Rep. Lauren Boebert. “I think they need to be removed from the Capitol, filled with Tannerite and blown up.”

The Colorado Republican celebrated by recording a video in front of the main chamber entrance before heading onto the floor as the 118th Congress convened.

Erected shortly after a mob attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, the metal detectors have been polarizing ever since. Depending on who you ask, their removal is either a victory over Democrats’ tyrannical post-insurrection rules, or an eerie reminder of the threat of violence that still lingers.

Some Democrats have said the devices gave them peace of mind during a time of partisan strife, especially as many Republican colleagues refused to denounce the supporters of Donald Trump who stormed their workplace. Threats against members of Congress have increased 400 percent in the last six years, Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger said in December during testimony before the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. More than 9,000 threats against members were registered in 2022 alone, Manger said.

Those problems haven’t gone away overnight, Democrats said. While lawmakers in previous years were used to mingling freely outside the House chamber, the Capitol attack left some fearful of their own colleagues. The metal detectors were needed to make sure members of Congress could not bring guns or other weapons onto the floor, they said.

“I think it’s clear that the Republican majority is having a hard time figuring out how to govern and that Kevin McCarthy will do anything to appeal to the extreme right wing of his party to get votes for the speakership,” Rep. Sara Jacobs said Tuesday.

As the California Democrat enters her second term, the memories of her first are still vivid, including the tense minutes she spent trapped in the House gallery as rioters breached the Capitol.

“I think our safety and security here is the most important thing that the speaker should be looking out for, and it’s clear that’s not Kevin McCarthy’s priority,” Jacobs said.

In his bid to land the speakership, McCarthy offered a series of concessions to the most extreme flank of his party. But getting rid of the metal detectors was a popular move among Republicans that appealed to hard-liners and moderates alike. Many resented the security screening outside the House chamber and the suggestion that lawmakers could pose a danger to their colleagues.

GOP Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Bill Huizenga of Michigan both said they thought it was time for the metal detectors to come down. Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey said “good riddance.” None had concerns about their safety with the metal detectors gone.

Georgia Republican Rep. Andrew Clyde, one of the fiercest critics of the metal detectors, went further, calling them “unconstitutional” and part of “the Left’s dangerous political narrative that ‘the enemy is within the House.’”

Clyde was repeatedly fined for breezing past Capitol Police officers and sidestepping the devices when walking onto the floor. He filed a 2021 lawsuit in federal court appealing the fines, joined by Louie Gohmert of Texas and Lloyd Smucker of Pennsylvania. A judge ruled against the lawmakers, saying it was an internal House matter.

“As Speaker Pelosi’s reign of terror finally comes to an end, so too must her authoritarian rules,” Clyde said Tuesday.

Even some Democrats breathed a sigh of relief. Rep. Jim Himes said he was “delighted” to see the metal detectors go.

“I hated them from moment one,” the Connecticut Democrat said. “I have lots of safety concerns, but getting shot on the House floor is not one of them.”

The removal of the metal detectors was a promise that Republicans could easily deliver on even as the 118th Congress got off to a chaotic start, with members of McCarthy’s party opposing his bid for speaker and gumming up the works. 

Another promise they touted was a full reopening of the Capitol campus, which had been partially closed to visitors since the coronavirus pandemic. Security concerns after the Capitol attack had complicated reopening plans, but last week Republicans announced that under their watch, tourists would once again be allowed into the gallery overlooking the House floor and that visitors on official business could enter House office buildings without an escort.

While lawmakers themselves are now free to stroll onto the House floor without passing through a metal detector, security screenings will remain in place for tourists and visitors as they enter the Capitol.