WASHINGTON – They slept on the marble floors, lined up for coffee in the 24-hour snack bar, and marveled at the marble resemblances of the nation’s founders in the Rotunda and Statuary Hall. They took pictures with their phones, ate pizza and sometimes played cards, their M4 rifles by their side.
Crowds of armed, camouflage-clad members of the National Guard surrounded the Capitol and lined its hallways on Wednesday, weapons, helmets and backpacks seemingly stacked in every corner of the complex. The heavily militarized presence provided a shocking and disappointing backdrop to the House chamber as a majority of lawmakers moved to impeach a sitting U.S. president for inciting an insurgency on the nation’s Capitol.
It brought to mind reminders of rioters who a week earlier stormed the complex as its terrified occupants took refuge in the House’s boarded up chamber and secure areas across the Capitol – and the recriminations that remained ahead President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. inauguration.
“It has no place here,” said Representative Elaine Luria, a Democrat from Virginia and a veteran who served 20 years in the Navy, of the military presence in the building. “It’s something that’s out of place.”
“I hate the idea that we are going to change in a way, be more difficult, more difficult or more cumbersome for people to come and enjoy the historic monument than it is because of what happened last week” , she added.
Much like lawmakers, aides and reporters still exchanging accounts about where they stood during the siege of Trump supporters, Capitol Hill on Wednesday appeared to be torn between caring for the open wounds left by deadly riots and the need to lay the foundation for healing. under new administration.
Capitol workers have worked feverishly in recent days to complete preparations for the Jan. 20 inauguration – hanging blue curtains over the entrance to the rotunda and brushing dust off the statues – among reminders of the violence . Windows remained shattered and cracked in parts of the Capitol and two holes were left on the entrance to the office of President Nancy Pelosi of California after rioters stole her embossed wooden plaque.
First-year lawmakers gave their first speech on whether to charge President Trump with serious crimes and misdemeanors for inciting insurgency. After a majority in the House voted to impeach Mr Trump, Ms Pelosi spoke from the same pulpit that a Trump loyalist was pictured walking happily across the Capitol.
“I don’t have enough adjectives to describe how disgusted I am with what happened and how far we are – it’s sad, it’s disgusting, it’s sad,” a said Rep. Brian Mast, Republican of Florida. A veteran of the army who lost his legs while serving in Afghanistan, he gave a tour of the Rotunda to members of the Guard as a thank you for their service. (Mr. Mast also voted to overturn the results in Arizona and Pennsylvania, and expressed no regrets about those votes. He was not among the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Mr. Trump.)
Some lawmakers lamented the threat that made the military presence necessary, with many Democrats angered at the role they said their own Republican colleagues played in stoking the rage of the mob that attacked the Capitol, putting the life of legislators in danger.
“This should not and will not be tolerated,” Representative Hakeem Jeffries, Democrat of New York, told reporters. “And that is why extraordinary security measures have been taken.”
In part in response to concerns about Republicans bringing guns upstairs to the House, new magnetometers were installed outside the chamber doors, a security measure that was difficult for several lawmakers. Usually allowed to bypass magnetometers at building entrances, several Republicans grumbled about the added level of security and some insisted on repelling the police despite the alarm going off.
“You are completely taking valuable resources where they belong without any consultation, and you have done it without any consultation from the minority,” said Representative Rodney Davis of Illinois, the senior Republican on the committee, on Tuesday. administration of the House. to Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, Majority Leader. With several people testing positive for the coronavirus after taking refuge in a room with Republicans without masks, Democrats have also imposed a system of fines for refusing to wear a mask on the bedroom floor.
The magnetometers and heightened security were a little comfort during Mr Trump’s impeachment vote as several lawmakers were still shaken and questioned whether it was possible to attend the inauguration safely. Ms Pelosi said on Wednesday the House would vote this month on a rule change that would impose a system of fines for refusing to adhere to the new security protocols, deducting $ 5,000 and $ 10,000 from pay deputies for the first and second offenses.
“What we’re dealing with now is fighting an insurgency, so I feel like it’s all upside down,” said Rep. Colin Allred, Democrat of Texas, who recalls removing his jacket on the floor of the House and prepare to defend his colleagues against the rioters. . “Seeing the National Guards sleeping in the hallways, having the protection to have metal detectors set up to go on the floor of the House – I know the word ‘unprecedented’ is used a lot, but it’s unprecedented. And it’s also so sad, so sad.
“It is intended to be open,” added Mr. Allred of the Capitol. “It’s a museum, it’s a place where ordinary Americans should feel like they can come and see the work of government.”
But while it is home to both artifacts of American history and those in the highest office of American democracy, the Capitol complex is in ordinary times an accessible fortress. But with tourists banned as a way to stop the spread of the coronavirus, the presence of hundreds of armed soldiers was even more disconcerting after months of nearly empty hallways.
Several of the soldiers craning their necks to look at the paintings and sculptures carved into the ceiling of the rotunda said they had never been to the Capitol, even as tourists. Their colleagues could be seen dozing in another room next to a plaque commemorating the troops stationed in the Capitol in 1861, at Statuary Hall, and a small group posed for a photo with the Rosa Parks statue.
John ismay and Luke broadwater contribution to reports.