Support for the National Guard to continue its mission securing the U.S. Capitol has hit rock bottom, with the call from lawmakers to pull out growing louder. Even the top chief for the Guard has warned the Pentagon that the mission is an unwieldy burden for the force.
In a memo obtained by Fox News, Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, suggested withdrawing the nearly 2,280 troops remaining in D.C., saying states are unwilling to continue the mission. He added that the unclear mission parameters hinder the Guard's ability to juggle its other domestic missions, such as vaccine distribution and deployments abroad. Hokanson was reportedly overruled by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
A spokesman for the National Guard Bureau declined to comment, saying he could not "discuss internal deliberations.”
"Faced with pressing needs within their states, numerous adjutants general and governors have expressed their unwillingness to order the involuntary mobilization of [National Guard] personnel to man the mission," Hokanson wrote in the March 2 memo. "Moreover, I am concerned that the continued indefinite nature of this requirement may also impede our ability to man future missions as adjutant generals and Guardsmen alike may be skeptical about committing to similar endeavors."
The National Guard is expected to remain at the Capitol at least through May. Capitol Police said threats against lawmakers have nearly doubled since a Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob. But neither law enforcement nor the Pentagon have described any specific threats that warrant a constant armed military presence, drawing key lawmakers' ire.
On Thursday, Reps. Adam Smith, D-Wash., and Mike Rogers, R-Ala., the top lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee, rebuked the Pentagon's push to keep soldiers on Capitol Hill.
"We are deeply troubled by the current level of security around the United States Capitol. More than two months after the January 6 attack, the seat of our nation's democracy remains heavily protected by guardsmen and surrounded by a perimeter fence," the pair said in a joint statement.
The two agreed there should be some troops in the D.C. area to respond to credible threats but said, "The present security posture is not warranted at this time."
Despite calls from lawmakers and the National Guard itself to drop the mission in Washington, D.C., a task force charged with making recommendations to boost congressional security after the Jan. 6 siege proposed establishing a permanent military presence ready to go at a moment's notice.
The security review, led by retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who ran military relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina, recommended establishing a permanent National Guard quick reaction force, or QRF, for all of D.C.
The task force also made an unprecedented request, suggesting that the commander of the D.C. National Guard should have broad authority to deploy troops without a greenlight from the president or the Defense Department in an emergency. Such a move could be seen as a direct challenge to the idea of civilian control and oversight of the military.
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.