Two top security officials in Congress were poised to lose their jobs over the embarrassing and deadly security breach of the Capitol by President Donald Trump’s supporters.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said he will fire Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Mike Stenger when Democrats take the majority later this month. And Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving will be resigning after the Capitol was overrun Wednesday by a pro-Trump mob that even some Republicans are calling “domestic terrorists.”
Pelosi also called for the resignation of Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund and said she has been unable to reach him. A spokeswoman for Sund said earlier he has no plans to step down.
Thus far, Stenger has not been relieved of his post serving under Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) But Schumer said he will act in 13 days.
“If Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Stenger hasn’t vacated the position by then, I will fire him as soon as Democrats have a majority in the Senate,” Schumer said in a statement to POLITICO.
McConnell said ultimate blame lies with “unhinged criminals” that desecrated the Capitol, but nonetheless suggested that the Congress would have to address the “shocking failures in the Capitol’s security posture and protocols.”
While Pelosi, McConnell, Schumer and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy were huddled together in a secure location during the riot, they made a frantic push to get more police on the scene. All of the “big four” congressional leaders hopped on the phone with the secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, the Army Secretary, and “many other officials,” according to Schumer.
“In the early moments, there were not enough forces there,” Schumer said at a press conference in New York. “And the question is, why weren’t they there in advance? And then why didn’t they get there ASAP? All of that needs a looking into.”
“How could they fail so miserably? We’re 20 years from 9/11. Yesterday they could have blown the building up. They could have killed us all. They could have destroyed the government,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who said those who breached the Capitol are “domestic terrorists” and not patriots. “Warning shots should have been fired. Lethal force should have been used once they penetrated the seat of government.”
The next test of Capitol security is coming immediately, with President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration fewer than two weeks away. Senate Rules Chair Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who oversees the inauguration, said “You want to take one more really hard look at what you thought your crowd security concerns might be for Jan. 20.”
Graham briefly but pointedly dressed down sergeant-at-arms staff about the unprecedented security breach in the Capitol on Wednesday, according to two sources familiar with the conversation. He also said Thursday that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was pushing for a more forceful response.
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), the House Democrat who oversees funding for the Capitol police, told reporters there would be swift fallout from the deadly security breach.
Ryan praised the rank-and-file Capitol police for doing “everything they could” to hold back the mob but said higher ranking officials will be taken to task and likely fired. At least 15 police officers were hospitalized due to the chaos with one in critical condition, according to Ryan.
“For us not to have an expeditious plan – the breach happened at 1 hour and 15 minutes of the Capitol police being able to hold off the mob,” Ryan told reporters Thursday. “You can be assured that somebody’s going to be held responsible for this.”
And Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Ryan’s counterpart in the Senate, said “we need a full investigation on how the Capitol’s security was breached this quickly.”
“Inside that building yesterday were the top three people in the line of succession to become president and it took nearly three hours for any Department of Defense response to arrive at the Capitol,” Murphy said. “Why are we spending $700 billion on the military every year if the military can’t effectively defend the United States Capitol from attack?”
The House floor was buzzing with talk of immediate firings Wednesday night as lawmakers gathered to restart certification of Biden’s victory. Lawmakers did not coalesce around a specific plan but generally agreed that there needed to be swift leadership changes both within the Capitol Police, including Sund, and the Sergeant-at-Arms offices, according to multiple sources familiar with the conversations.
Ryan and House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) on Thursday announced an investigation of the Capitol Police failures that led to Wednesday’s mob-rule.
Rioters stormed the Capitol, crashing through glass windows and busting down doors, invading some of the most secure areas of the Capitol, including the Senate chamber and Pelosi’s office. Ryan said he was disturbed by videos from Wednesday that appeared to show Capitol police opening the barriers to allow the rioters onto Capitol grounds and then later freely leave the Capitol after destroying it. One woman was shot and killed inside the complex during the chaos.
During other moments like Trump’s impeachment or the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, the security and law enforcement presence inside the building was pronounced, but at times on Thursday there were barren halls turned over to the rioters. And not until the trespassers were expelled from the Capitol did the number of officers reach overwhelming levels.
“It was unfathomable,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) told MetroNews in West Virginia on Thursday. “I think it was the lowest day.”
Marianne LeVine, Sarah Ferris and Melanie Zanona contributed to this report.