In the aftermath of the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, the acting chief of the Capitol Police and the acting House sergeant-at-arms both recommended a permanent fence to fortify the Capitol against possible future attacks. The day after the mob attack on the Capitol, a “temporary” seven-foot fence with coiled barbed wire went up around the Capitol Complex in advance of President Biden’s inauguration. It remains today, an eyesore that obstructs views of the majestic dome and inconveniences residents long accustomed to using the grounds. There is no hint about when it might come down.
Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer have said they want to await an outside security review that is expected to be completed next month. “I would tend to defer to the experts as to what is the safest way to be,” Mr. Schumer tweeted. “The speaker,” her spokesman said, “looks forward to General [Russel] Honoré’s final assessment in order to understand what infrastructure changes are necessary to ensure the safety of the U.S. Capitol Complex.”
It is prudent to undertake a review of security issues, but, if experience is any guide, the inclination of the security experts will be to take the easy way out by simply putting up more barriers to public access. Never mind that the problem on Jan. 6 was not the absence of a fence but the failure of Capitol Police to take seriously — and properly plan for — warnings about the threat posed by supporters of President Donald Trump, which included members of extremist groups prone to violence. Washington has been the scene of many mass demonstrations and marches that never got out of hand because law enforcement planned properly.
“There are many state-of-the-art options that wouldn’t needlessly wall off the Capitol complex like a fortress that needs to be protected from the people we represent,” Ms. Norton wrote in a tweet on Monday announcing the bill. There is agreement from some Republicans who wrote to Ms. Pelosi urging removal of the temporary fencing and raising alarms over prospects of a permanent structure. “It is appalling that Communist China allows their citizens more freedom to visit historical sites like Tiananmen Square than currently exists for Americans who want to visit the Capitol in Washington D.C.,” wrote the 42 Republicans.
The Capitol Police Board — which consists of the House sergeant at arms, the Senate sergeant at arms and doorkeeper and the architect of the Capitol, with the Capitol Police chief a nonvoting member — would likely be the one to formally request the fence. The House and Senate sergeants-at-arms are effectively selected by the speaker and the Senate majority leader, which means, if they agree on a matter, Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer effectively control the board. They need to use their influence to secure the Capitol without defacing it.