Complex, overlapping layers of security and a growing distance from the American public have led successive presidents to label the White House “the crown jewel of the federal penitentiary system.” But the mansion may have competition for the title if an immediately controversial proposal goes through at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Days after apologizing for her agency’s “failings” in keeping the Congress secure on Jan. 6 against a rampaging mob whipped up by Donald Trump, acting Capitol Police chief Yogananda Pittman called for permanent fencing at the House and Senate.
“In light of recent events, I can unequivocally say that vast improvements to the physical security infrastructure must be made to include permanent fencing, and the availability of ready, back-up forces in close proximity to the Capitol,” Pittman said in a statement.
While she did not explicitly call for the new barrier to completely surround Congress, Pittman noted “a 2006 security assessment specifically recommended the installation of a permanent perimeter fence around the Capitol.” (It was unclear to what she was referring, and Capitol Police did not return a phone call and an email seeking details.)
The proposal landed a little more than three weeks after a pro-Trump mob determined to overthrow Joe Biden’s electoral victory stormed the Capitol and ransacked some of its offices. It also followed a remarkable Department of Homeland Security warning to the public about the growing threat of “ideologically-motivated violent extremists” driven by “perceived grievances fueled by false narratives.”
One result has been an increasingly vitriolic debate among members of Congress about the threat those conspiracy theories pose.
Another question: To what degree lawmakers who have espoused them are a danger to colleagues.
The issue extends well beyond the 147 Republicans who voted to overturn the election results despite an absence of evidence of significant voter fraud, supporting Trump’s baseless claim he was cheated out of a second term.
The Capitol riot has also prompted new scrutiny of ties between some Republican lawmakers and extremist groups, members of which took part in the Jan. 6 violence. And Democrats have taken particular note of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), the first open congressional adherent to the QAnon extremist ideology based on false claims the FBI has designated a domestic terrorism threat.
Greene has faced calls for resignation after “a string of reports revealed her repeated endorsements of political violence and extremism.”
“The enemy is within the House of Representatives,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared yesterday.
“We have members of Congress who want to bring guns on the floor and have threatened violence on other members of Congress,” she said.
Extremist ideas and conspiracy theories increasingly endorsed by Republican lawmakers isn’t something fencing can keep out.
But beefing up security in and around federal buildings is a debate that has been around for decades.
The 1981 assassination attempt against President Ronald Reagan, the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and even White House fence-jumpers have all driven officials to call for tighter security at the Capitol and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
“It should be seen as a responsible security step necessary to preserve our freedom, not part of a long-term restriction of our freedom,” President Bill Clinton said in a May 20, 1995 radio address announcing that he was closing the two blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House to vehicular traffic.
Such efforts have always taken on a political dimension. During the 1996 presidential campaign, Clinton’s Republican challenger, Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), declared on the stump “they ought to open it up. ... There ought to be other ways to protect the president."
But lawmakers have a history of beating back calls for ringing Congress with a fence that would send a message more akin to “Fortress Capitol” than “the People’s House.”
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser immediately came out against the recommendation, saying on Twitter “we will not accept extra troops or permanent fencing as a long-term fixture in DC.”
Some lawmakers also quickly denounced the idea. Republican Reps. Rick Crawford of Arkansas and Elise Stefanik of New York — both of whom voted Jan. 6 to overturn the election results — expressed their opposition on Twitter.
Crawford’s comment referred to the seven-foot security fence put up to protect the Capitol a day after the riot, which left five people dead, including one police officer. (The head of the Capitol Police union later said that about 140 officers had been injured.)
Earlier in the day, Pelosi met with retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, whom she has asked to conduct a security review of the Capitol complex.
Asked whether she supported Pittman’s request, Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill replied: “The speaker looks forward to General Honoré’s final assessment in order to understand what infrastructure changes are necessary to ensure the safety of the U.S. Capitol Complex.”
Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (Ky.) communications director, David Popp, was similarly circumspect. “If the leader issues a statement on this, I’ll be sure to let you know.”
At her weekly press conference, Pelosi placed emphasis on “security, security, security” and said when Americans “come to the Capitol, whether to work as a legislator, a staffer, a journalist, whatever, we want people to be safe.”
Congress’s current front line of defense includes its massive visitor center, about three-quarters the size of the Capitol itself, through which tourists pass on their way to guided tours. Armed police and magnetometers guard access to the domed building and its satellite offices.
But visitors and D.C. residents alike love the unsecured grounds — the view of the National Mall, the park through which the Supreme Court can be seen.
“Since 1983, increased security measures have been put into effect, including the installation of barriers at vehicular entrances,” the Architect of the Capitol notes on its website. “However, the area still functions in many ways as a public park, and visitors are welcome to use the walks to tour the grounds.
Pittman’s push is far from the first time someone has suggested permanent fencing.
In 2004, one of her predecessors cited a 2003 General Accounting Office report suggesting “an aesthetically pleasing perimeter security fence could be constructed around the Capitol Building grounds. … This would markedly increase security.”
Still, the White House, not the Capitol, tends to draw out the stranger suggestions — including, at one point, a moat, the Washington Post said in 2015, citing reporting by NBC 4 investigative reporter Scott MacFarlane.
“The moat was axed, according to documents obtained by MacFarlane, because of ‘maintenance concerns’ and the logistical challenges of retrieving ‘an intruder from a moat.’”
What’s happening now
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The pipe bombs found near the Capitol on Jan. 6 are believed to have been placed the night before. Finding the person suspected of planting both bombs remains a priority for federal authorities, Dalton Bennett, Emma Brown, Sarah Cahlan, Josh Dawsey and Joyce Sohyun Lee report.
The Novavax vaccine protects against symptomatic coronavirus infections in global hot spots but proved less effective in South Africa, where a worrisome strain dominates. The biotech company also noted that a third of the participants in its South Africa trial appeared to have already been infected with the original strain, Carolyn Johnson reports. Some of those participants became infected again, suggesting that natural immunity gained by an infection might not fully protect against the new variant.
The single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 66 percent effective at preventing moderate and severe illness, per findings released this morning. The vaccine’s performance was stronger in the U.S. but also weaker in South Africa. The study’s results put a third vaccine in the horizon for the U.S., one with logistical advantages that could simplify distribution and expand access to shots worldwide, Johnson reports.
The E.U. is expected to authorize the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine with limitations. European officials have raised concerns about the limited knowledge of the vaccine’s effectiveness in older people, who represented only 6 percent of clinical trial participants, Loveday Morris and Michael Birnbaum report. The U.S. is waiting for further trial data before authorizing the vaccine, whereas Britain and India have authorized it for all adults.
Lunchtime reads from The Post
- “As Senate prepares for a speedy impeachment trial, some are urging a slower, more deliberative approach,” by Paul Kane: “But advocates of this approach believe that the initial 55-45 vote signaled that the only way to change GOP minds would be to produce evidence showing that Trump was more complicit than is currently known.”
- “RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel is trying to hold together a party that Donald Trump might want to tear up,” by Josh Dawsey and Manuel Roig-Franzia: “Trump’s role in the party during his post-presidency ‘is going to be up to him in a lot of ways,’ McDaniel said. … ‘If he forms a third party, he would be letting down the 74 million people who supported him,’ McDaniel said in the interview. ‘Just like if the Senate convicts him, the Republicans who vote for it will be letting down the 74 million who supported President Trump and the Republican Party.’”
- “U.S. handling of American evacuees from Wuhan increased coronavirus risks, watchdog finds,” Dan Diamond reports: “As the first American evacuees from Wuhan, China, touched down at a California military base a year ago, fleeing the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, they were met by U.S. health officials with no virus prevention plan or infection-control training — and who had not even been told to wear masks, according to a federal investigation.”
- “Trump officials moved most Bureau of Land Management positions out of D.C. More than 87 percent quit instead,” by Juliet Eilperin: “The reorganization plan reestablished the bureau’s headquarters in Grand Junction, Colo., moved 328 positions out of the main D.C. office of the Department of the Interior — BLM’s parent agency — and left 60 jobs in place. … Several experts, including former high-ranking Interior officials, said the shake-up has deprived the agency of needed expertise and disrupted its operations.”
- “A Georgia medical center gave teachers vaccines. So the state took away its supply for six months,” by Jaclyn Peiser: “In an effort to get students back in school, a medical center in rural northeast Georgia decided to let teachers, bus drivers and cafeteria workers from a local district sign up to get vaccinated. The act ended up costing the facility in Elberton, Ga., its vaccine supply altogether.”
… and beyond
- “GOP ignored its early fears about Marjorie Taylor Greene,” by Axios’s Jonathan Swan and Alayna Treene: “John Cowan, Greene's opponent in August's primary runoff for Georgia's 14th District seat, recalls separate conversations he had with McCarthy and Scalise, the House GOP whip, in which both men acknowledged Greene was a serious problem for the party. … It wasn't enough to overcome the vocal support for Greene from Trump's then-chief of staff Mark Meadows.”
- “After years of struggle, New York’s street food vendors win long-sought reforms,” by the Counter’s Sam Bloch: “‘We want to make sure that they’re not criminalized for honest work,’ said Jessica Ramos, a Democratic state senator who represents Queens, at a Wednesday press conference.”
The first 100 days
Georgia’s Democratic senators are pushing for fast action on stimulus checks as Republicans reject reconciliation.
- Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock argued that their promise to deliver an aid package won their party the Senate majority and needs to get done, Erica Werner, Seung Min Kim and Jeff Stein report.
- The discussions came as Democrats formalized plans to move forward on their own with the stimulus bill, despite warnings from Republicans that they might regret doing so. Pelosi said the House and the Senate would take initial votes next week on a budget bill that would allow subsequent party-line passage of a sweeping relief package.
- Pelosi portrayed the budget reconciliation approach as a fallback position to pressure Republicans to pass it. Republicans are already shooting the reconciliation option down, saying it goes against Biden’s promises of bipartisanship. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who said she had a “friendly” phone call with Biden, told reporters that reconciliation is “certainly not helpful.”
Biden’s team has derided Trump’s vaccination playbook but has so far only made modest changes to it.
- The new administration’s ability to make large modifications is limited by cost, but there are a few differences, Bloomberg News reports. Biden has promised to order new doses by exercising options in contracts negotiated by the Trump administration, which thought it premature to order more vials. Biden is also endorsing federally run vaccination centers, wants to provide states with a three-week supply preview, and is looking to find more vaccinators. But, overall, the biggest pieces of the distribution effort remain unchanged.
Biden signed two executive orders yesterday that he said will “undo the damage Trump has done” on health care and reproductive rights:
Federal employees would be eligible for paid leave up to 12 weeks under a new bill.
- Most federal workers already may take up to 12 weeks of paid time off within 12 months of birth, adoption or foster placement of a child. But only unpaid time is allowed for other purposes including medical conditions and obligations related to a spouse, Eric Yoder reports.
Biden wants an all-electric federal fleet. How will he achieve it?
- The federal fleet has some 645,000 vehicles, and every year those vehicles are driven about 4.5 billion miles, using almost 400 million gallons of gasoline and spewing more than 7 billion pounds of planet-warming greenhouse gases. Out of all those vehicles, only 4,475 were electric, Sarah Kaplan reports.
- One of the biggest issues is that just three automakers currently manufacture electric vehicles in the United States, and none of those cars meet Biden’s criteria of being produced by union workers from at least 50 percent American-made materials.
Quote of the day
“For Christ’s sake, watch yourself,” Biden said of his brother Frank's potential business dealings, according to Politico. “Don’t get sucked into something that would, first of all, hurt you.”
Tracking Biden's nominations
Biden tapped Robert Malley, an Obama administration official, as special envoy to Iran.
- Malley, a Middle East expert, helped negotiate the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, John Wagner reports. He will be tasked with trying to persuade Iran to curtail its nuclear program and agree to new negotiations.
Biden instructs Susan Rice, the head of Biden’s Domestic Policy Council, to focus on racial equity across the government.
- Now, every federal agency has a little under 200 days to review certain programs and report to Rice on systemic barriers hampering access to benefits, services and procurement opportunities, Joe Davidson writes.
Biden administration halts an effort to install several Trump loyalists on Defense Department advisory boards.
- The new administration is reviewing a series of unusual appointments that were made in the last days of Trump’s administration, Dan Lamothe reports. Appointees include former Trump campaign managers Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, who had been named to the Defense Business Board in December.
- Neither Lewandowski or Bossie had been sworn in yet, but others who were installed on department boards serve at the pleasure of the defense secretary, which means Secretary Lloyd Austin can oust anyone with whom he is not comfortable. Austin is weighing his options, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said.
Alejandro Mayorkas, nominated to become homeland security secretary, is headed toward confirmation Monday.
- White House press secretary Jen Psaki said she expects Mayorkas to lead an effort to reunite migrant families separated at the border. “We’ll have more to share soon about the members of the task force and how it will work as we look ahead to address this really horrific challenge, Psaki told MSNBC.
Hot on the left
In San Francisco, it’s liberals vs. liberals as the school board's decision to change the names of 44 schools that honored figures like Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Paul Revere. Mayor London Breed lashed out at the decision, and the San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial board wrote that members of the board had “largely quit the education business and rebranded themselves as amateur historians,” the NYT reports. The school board’s rationale was that those “who engaged in the subjugation and enslavement of human beings; or who oppressed women, inhibiting societal progress; or whose actions led to genocide, or who otherwise significantly diminished the opportunities of those among us to the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” had no right to have their names on a school sign.
Other names scrubbed from schools include George Washington, Herbert Hoover and Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, because a stolen Confederate flag outside City Hall was replaced in 1984, when she was San Francisco mayor.
Hot on the right
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), ignoring calls to pull back from attacking members of his own caucus, lashed out against colleague Liz Cheney during a rally in the Republican congresswoman’s home state of Wyoming. "Defeat Liz Cheney in this upcoming election, and Wyoming will bring Washington to its knees," Gaetz told a largely maskless audience, Politico reports. "How can you call yourself a representative when you don't represent the will of the people? That's what all the neocons ask about the Arab dictators. I figure maybe we ought to ask the same question of a beltway bureaucrat turned fake cow girl that supported an impeachment that is deeply unpopular in the state of Wyoming." Gaetz plans on campaigning against Cheney after she and nine other House Republicans voted to impeach Trump.
Hunger in America, visualized
The number of hungry Americans relying on food benefits from the federal government jumped 14 percent in September 2020 compared with the same month in the previous year.
This week in Washington
Biden and Harris met with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to discuss the costs associated with a delay in congressional action on the coronavirus relief bill.
The president will travel to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center this afternoon to visit with wounded troops. This will be his first official travel since Inauguration Day and his first visit to Walter Reed since arriving in the White House.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) met with the former president in his Florida home:
Stephen Colbert tried to explain one of this week’s biggest controversies – GameStop: