National Guard troops are slated to decamp from Capitol Hill this week, nearly five months after thousands were deployed to safeguard Congress amid fears of further unrest after the violent Jan. 6 insurrection.
The military presence has been a regular fixture for lawmakers and staff since mid-January, with troops scattered throughout the Capitol for high-profile events such as the impeachment of former President Donald Trump and the inauguration of President Joe Biden. Their exit comes as Capitol Police and other Hill security officials have raced to address shortcomings exposed by the riot — including through the installation of new leadership.
The departure of roughly 2,000 troops will return control of the complex back to the Capitol Police, which is now seeking a major expansion of its own capacity after its top brass faced criticism during the riot.
“These airmen and soldiers protected not only the grounds, but the lawmakers working on those grounds, ensuring the people’s business could continue unabated,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement Monday.
For many lawmakers and aides, the Guard’s goodbye will be the latest sign of the Hill’s return to routine after months of stringent security measures, including a massive fence that still surrounds the Capitol grounds.
The Guard had been gradually drawing down its forces for months: In January, about 26,000 troops had converged on the Capitol as officials identified further threats of violence following the riot. By March that figure had dropped to roughly 5,000 troops.
A spokesperson for the National Guard did not return a request for comment about specific departure details. The Associated Press first reported that the Guard troops had formalized their departures, starting on Monday.
Some top lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, say the drawdown is long overdue, warning that the troops’ extended presence would have high costs, both financially and in terms of national readiness. Still, the Guard personnel will leave Washington, D.C., amid a political dispute over the future of Capitol defenses, with big questions about how to better protect the complex — including equipping its police force — left unresolved.
House Democrats last week passed a roughly $1.9 billion emergency funding bill intended to bolster Capitol security, including tens of millions of dollars to help Capitol Police boost hiring, training and other support services. The National Guard would also receive a half-billion dollars for “unanticipated pay” and operations costs for their deployment from Jan. 6-May 23.
But no House Republicans supported the bill, with some arguing that it contains extraneous provisions. Senate GOP leaders have not indicated that they will back it either.
“The Senate must act,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement Monday, calling for the GOP to back the security funding bill and a separate commission to investigate the events of Jan. 6. “There is no time to waste or room for partisanship in keeping our Capitol and country safe.”
Retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who was tasked with a security review of the Capitol earlier this year, also urged Republicans to back the funding bill.
Honoré cautioned senators that “the longer they think, the less secure the Capitol will be” and noted that lawmakers needed to pay both the National Guard and Capitol Police officers after months of extra work.
“That’s just logistics,” Honoré told CBS’s “Face The Nation on Sunday. “That has to be paid.”