Key Lawmakers Question Justification for Keeping Troops at Capitol Through Spring

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National Guard keep watch on the Capitol, Thursday, March 4, 2021, on Capitol Hill
National Guard keep watch on the Capitol, Thursday, March 4, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Some lawmakers are growing irritated at the prolonged National Guard deployment at the U.S. Capitol and the lack of information on specific threats troops are hypothetically there to combat.

The U.S. Capitol Police on Thursday asked the Defense Department to keep thousands of troops in D.C. for up to two more months. The Guard was supposed to start withdrawing from the city on March 13.

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said the mission should not continue indefinitely, adding that protecting the Capitol long term is not the Guard's mission.

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"I'm outraged that U.S. Capitol Police have requested to keep the nearly 5,000 National Guardsmen at the Capitol complex for another two months without presenting clear and specific information," he said in a statement.

Troops from virtually all states and territories deployed to D.C. following a deadly Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob that left five people dead, including Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick. There are now 5,200 troops on the Capitol mission vs. 26,000 at its peak, according to Maj. Matt Murphy, a Guard spokesman.

On Wednesday, Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman said at a hearing that threats to lawmakers are up 93% during the first two months of this year compared to last year. However, Capitol Police have not detailed specific threats facing the Capitol or what makes it necessary for thousands of armed troops and metal fencing with razor wire to surround the area.

"I haven't been satisfied with any explanation Congress has received at numerous briefings that all these personnel, resources and barbed wire are needed," Inhofe said. "The Capitol Police have clearly stated that no specific credible threat exists -- and what's more, they haven't provided the Department of Defense with any of the information needed to justify this request."

Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., said it's critical for Congress to get a detailed briefing on why an aggressive military posture is needed at the Capitol.

"We all have the same goal: to get back to the point where Capitol Police is capable of protecting us without the Guard's help," Slotkin, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said on Twitter. "Our National Guard members have carried out their mission at the Capitol with the utmost professionalism, but this isn't supposed to be their job forever. We need a plan to protect the Capitol that ultimately doesn't depend on the Guard."

-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon

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