The Capitol Police has asked the National Guard to extend its deployment to the Capitol beyond next week amid mounting concerns over domestic extremists seeking to target Congress, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
A congressional official familiar with the Capitol Police’s request described the timetable for the troop presence as indefinite, with no specific end date. More than 5,200 Guard members, drawn from multiple states, are currently deployed to Washington, D.C., in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. The existing deployment authorization expires on March 12.
Capitol Police issued a statement later Thursday confirming that it had asked for an extension. The Pentagon is considering the request and has not made any final decision, a defense official said.
“There has been no decision on any extension requests,” said National Guard spokesperson Darla Torres.
It’s unclear, though, if the department’s request has the full support of the Capitol Police Board. Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman wrote to congressional leaders on Thursday asking for their help in securing an extension of the Guard’s deployment.
In her letter, which was obtained by POLITICO, Pittman writes that the Capitol Police “has not received the required authorization to request an extension of National Guard support.” She noted that the House sergeant-at-arms has approved her request, but said nothing about the Senate sergeant-at-arms. Both officials are members of the Capitol Police Board.
The request from Capitol Police underscores the gravity of the ongoing security threats to the building that have lingered after the Jan. 6 insurrection. The prospect of open-ended troop deployment on the Hill comes amid warnings from federal law enforcement officials about a potential attack on Congress by a militia group on Thursday and an unspecified plot to attack the Capitol during President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, which has yet to be scheduled.
Pittman’s letter highlights the dysfunctional nature of the Capitol Police Board, which has come under fire from lawmakers who have suggested that the existing protocols have put the Capitol at greater risk.
The Associated Press first reported the request for an extension of the Guard’s deployment.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that the decision to extend the Guard’s stay would be up to Capitol security officials.
“The issue about the National Guard is one that will be made by the Capitol Police and the Police Board,” Pelosi said. “We should have them here as long as they are needed.”
Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt — the top Republican on the Rules Committee, which is investigating the security failures of the Jan. 6 attack — said he was not briefed on the Capitol Police’s latest request to keep troops at the complex past this month.
“I do think that some active military police guard in a more permanent basis near the Capitol could be a good idea for the foreseeable future, principally because they would actually be able to relieve the Capitol Police,” Blunt said. He noted that some troops remained at the Capitol for two years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Pittman’s letter to congressional leaders included a “white paper” from the Capitol Police Board that outlined potential security enhancements at the Capitol. But Pittman said it wasn’t clear to her whether they were “mandates or recommendations,” and whether the document “represents the opinions of the entire Board.”
It states that the National Guard is requesting up to 2,200 troops to remain at the Capitol beyond March 12.
A Department of Homeland Security intelligence bulletin issued on Tuesday noted that extremists have eyed May 20 as another date for an attempted attack.
Lawmakers were already grappling with the collective stress and political questions raised by the significant gaps in Capitol security that were exposed when insurrectionists supportive of Trump stormed the building on Jan. 6.
“It’s going to take more money to protect the Capitol in a way that enables people in a way to come here, children to come and see our democracy in action, all of you to cover what happens here safely, members to be comfortable that they are safe,” Pelosi said at her Thursday press conference.
Indefinitely extending the National Guard’s stay is likely to become a flashpoint on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers — primarily Republicans — have demanded that leaders scale back the intensive security measures imposed after the Jan. 6 assault. Lawmakers from both parties have demanded briefings on the security threats to the Capitol.
“No one likes seeing the fortress-like security around the Capitol. And no one wants to again have a security problem in and around this symbolic place,” Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), a former intelligence analyst, said Thursday morning. “Whether an extension has been requested or the mission is indeed terminating on March 12, it’s critical that members of Congress get a briefing on what’s behind these decisions.”
Pelosi said she hoped that retired Lt. Gen Russel Honoré — whom she’s tasked with a review of Capitol security measures — will be able to present his draft recommendations to the full House next week.
“With all the president’s men out there, we have to ensure with our security that we are safe enough to do our job,” Pelosi said, referring to Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Blunt said he has been in touch with Honoré, and said it was his impression that Honoré prefers to keep National Guard troops at the Capitol for “quite a while longer.”