‘Wrong message.’ Blunt, others reassert opposition to Capitol fencing after deadly attack

An eight-foot-tall steel security fence continues to encircle the U.S. Capitol following the death of a Capitol Police officer last week on April 05 in Washington, DC. Officer William Evans was killed when he and another officer were struck by a vehicle at the security perimeter on April 2. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/TNS

WASHINGTON — Last week’s attack on the Capitol was the second in the span of three months that resulted in the death of a police officer.

The violence has put a focus on the security around the complex that houses Congress. But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are adamant that the security fencing that has encircled the Capitol since the Jan. 6 riot should not be made permanent.

And that view hasn’t changed since last week when a knife-wielding man intentionally rammed a car into a security checkpoint, killing Capitol Police Officer William Evans. The suspect was fatally shot by police.

“I don’t think it does the job. In fact, the fencing was right there when the car drove through,” Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos during a Sunday appearance on “This Week.”

The retiring Missouri lawmaker will play a significant role in the debate over security as the top Republican on the Senate Rules Committee, which oversees the Capitol’s operations.

Blunt invoked comments from retired Lt. General Russell Honore, who is leading a House review of the Jan. 6 security breakdown, and said that permanent fencing gives a false sense of security.

He said he supports the use of temporary fencing that can be put up quickly when needed and quickly taken down.

“But I think it would be a mistake for fencing to be a permanent part of the Capitol. The message we send is the wrong message,” Blunt said. “Frankly, we’re probably preparing for the wrong thing. The idea that what happens next at the Capitol will be what happened last is almost certain not to be the case.”

Blunt and other Kansas City area Republicans have been outspoken in their opposition to permanent security fencing around the Capitol. They’re aligned on that point with Democrats from the Washington, D.C., area.

Blunt introduced a bill last month with Maryland Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen that would prohibit permanent fencing around the Capitol. Democratic Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the non-voting House member who represents the District of Columbia, introduced identical legislation in the House.

“The Capitol is the citadel of our democracy, and we should not turn it into a fortress. We can secure Congress without walling it off from the American people,” Van Hollen said at the time.

“We didn’t build a fence after the British burned the Capitol in 1814, and we don’t need one now,” he added.

Van Hollen’s office confirmed Wednesday that the Maryland Democrat continues to oppose permanent fencing and said he “hopes to review further details of Friday’s attack when they’re available and supports providing additional resources to ensure the safety of the Capitol and support the men and women of the Capitol Police.”

Kansas Republican Sen. Roger Marshall posted a video to Twitter in February in which he borrowed President Ronald Reagan’s line about the Berlin Wall and called on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to “tear down this wall.” He also contended that there was more freedom of movement around the Kremlin in Moscow than around the Capitol in Washington.

Marshall confirmed Tuesday that he continues to oppose fencing around the Capitol and will support Blunt’s legislation if it comes to the floor.

“There is no doubt that we need to ensure security at the U.S. Capitol is improved. But, it must be improved in a way that maximizes safety and protects the ability for Kansans to participate in the legislative process,” Marshall said in a statement.

“All Americans deserve the right and they have the responsibility to tell their elected officials what is on their mind and the fencing has kept them from doing that. This is not what democracy is supposed to look like.”

Republican Sen. Jerry Moran’s office also confirmed the Kansas senator’s support for Blunt’s bill, but declined to elaborate on his reasons.

But while there’s bipartisan opposition to permanent fencing, there’s not a clear timeline for removing the fencing currently in place. While security measures have relaxed slightly since January, a contingent of National Guardsmen continue to patrol the area around the Capitol.

It’s unclear whether the April attack will extend the heightened security protocols that have been in effect since January. Pelosi’s office did not immediately respond to a question Wednesday about how Friday’s attack had affected the conversation around security.

Blunt said Sunday that he supports passing supplemental funding for Capitol security. He’s also called for improved training for officers and better coordination between capital area security agencies, but he and other lawmakers were unspecific about other steps that could be taken that would enhance security without impeding public access to the Capitol.

‘BALANCING ACT’

Democrats from the Kansas City region urged a cautious and balanced approach to the issue.

“Security and safety at the Capitol is critical. So is access to the people’s house. There are ongoing investigations and recommendations that have already been made for upgrades to security in the wake of the Jan. 6th attack. These should continue to guide the security response so we can protect those that work in and visit our nation’s Capitol,” said Kansas Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids.

Missouri Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver warned against efforts to make the debate about Capitol security into a partisan issue.

“We must do everything in our power not to politicize the security of the U.S. Capitol. It cannot turn into: If you are on one side, you want everything to come down immediately and if you’re on the other, then you want everything to stay up,” Cleaver said. “The review and potential overhaul of security practices at the U.S. Capitol needs to be driven entirely by facts. The kind of politicization we’re seeing with every single issue is something that keeps me up at night.”

Cleaver said he supports the creation of a rapid response team made up of guardsmen and military reserves in case a security crisis erupts unexpectedly, a recommendation that comes from Honore’s initial review.

“There is no simple solution following the insurrection at the Capitol earlier this year. This is a balancing act that we’re going to have to figure out as we go because we have to ensure that we are accessible to our constituents, while at the same time doing everything possible to protect our underpaid staffers and the workers of the Capitol,” Cleaver said.

Last week’s attack appears to be unconnected to the January riot, which was carried out by right-wing groups attempting to prevent Congress from affirming President Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory.

The suspect in the latest attack, Noah Green, was reportedly a follower of the Nation of Islam, a Black nationalist organization that has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for racist, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBT rhetoric.

Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley said on Twitter Saturday that he was “sickened to hear of the violent attack” and pointed to Green’s status as a follower of Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam.

“Media and elected officials must condemn these attacks and the violent, extremist ideology that motivated them,” Hawley said.

Hawley faced a wave of criticism related to the January attack after he became the first senator to announce plans to object to Biden’s victory and after he was photographed raising his fist in solidarity to a crowd of former President Donald Trump’s supporters shortly before the riot.

Hawley sits on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, one of the committees probing the events of Jan. 6. His office did not respond to inquiries Tuesday about whether he supports Blunt’s legislation and whether there are any measures to increase security that he would support enacting.

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