Democrats and Republicans in Congress don’t agree on much these days, but putting National Guardsmen out in the cold quickly brought the politicians together late Thursday.
Thousands of the guardsmen who have been protecting the Capitol Complex for more than two weeks since the Jan. 6 riot were told yesterday by the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) to pack up and move out of the area they were guarding. The guardsmen were sleeping and resting at various points around the U.S. Capitol, including in congressional office facilities and the Capitol Visitors Center.
The removal order meant retreating into nearby cold, unheated parking garages and elsewhere outside whenever guardsmen took breaks from their 12-hour duty stints. Many faced the cold night in facilities without adequate heat, electrical outlets, Internet reception or bathrooms.
Word of the guardsmen’s plight spread quickly in the early evening thanks in part to a news story in Politico, with multiple Members of Congress registering their concern and springing into action.
One guardsman told Politico that, “yesterday dozens of senators and congressmen walked down our lines taking photos, shaking our hands and thanking us for our service. Within 24 hours, they had no further use for us and banished us to the corner of a parking garage. We feel incredibly betrayed.”
The USCP are under the direct control of congressional leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), an Iraq war veteran who lost both legs when a rocket-propelled grenade struck the U.S. Army helicopter she was piloting, tweeted at 9:02 PM (EST):
“Unreal. I can’t believe that the same brave servicemembers we’ve been asking to protect our Capitol and our Constitution these last two weeks would be unceremoniously ordered to vacate the building. I am demanding answers ASAP. They can use my office.”
An hour-and-half later, Duckworth tweeted:
“I meant ASAP when I said it. Just made a number of calls and have been informed Capitol Police have apologized to the Guardsmen and they will be allowed back into the complex tonight. I’ll keep checking to make sure they are.”
Finally, just past midnight, the Illinois Democrat tweeted: “Update: Troops are now all out of the garage. Now I can go to bed.”
Duckworth was not alone. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) went into action as soon as he heard of the order to the guardsmen. At 9:40 pm, he tweeted a photo of the troops in a parking garage and asked:
“Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Schumer—why are American troops who are tasked with keeping security at the Capitol being forced to sleep in a parking lot? They deserve to be treated with respect, and we deserve answers.”
A little later, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted:
“Yeah, this is not okay. My office is free this week to any service members who’d like to use it for a break or take nap on the couch. We’ll stock up on snacks for you all too.
“(We’re in the middle of moving offices and it’s a bit messy so don’t judge but make yourself at home!)”
Other House Republicans also swung into action, with Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) and his staff buying pizzas and delivering them to the guardsmen.
In a tweet that included video of Cawthorn and staffers distributing the pizzas, the North Carolina Republican said:
“I just visited the soldiers who have been abandoned & insulted by our leaders. I brought them pizza and told them that they can sleep in my office. No soldier will ever, ever sleep on a garage floor in the US Capitol while I work in Congress. Our Troops deserve better.”
Other House and Senate members also offered the use of their offices, including Rep. Tony Gonzalez (R-Texas), who tweeted: “To any members of the National Guard protecting our Capitol — if you need a warm place to rest and recharge, my office is open to you. Mi casa es su casa. Beer & lunch meat are in the fridge, help yourself.”
The controversy late Thursday night capped a turbulent time since the Jan. 6 riot that saw hundreds of protestors taking advantage of a massive demonstration by supporters of President Donald Trump to force their way into the U.S. Capitol, including the Senate and House chambers and offices of top officials like Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Five people died during the riot, including a Capitol Police officer who was struck in the head with a fire extinguisher, a 14-year Air Force veteran among the demonstrators who was shot and killed by an officer, and three people who succumbed during medical crises occasioned by the day’s events.
Upwards of 25,000 guardsmen were hurriedly dispatched to the nation’s capital in the wake of the riot, a large metal fence topped by razor wire was erected around the Capitol complex and access to the area was strictly regulated before, during and after the inaugural ceremonies.
Dozens of individuals have since been arrested on a wide variety charges related to the riot, including people associated with Antifa and Black Lives Matter on the Left and the Proud Boys on the Right.
Dozens of military aircraft that brought the guardsmen from their home states are now beginning the process of returning them. An estimated 10,000 guardsmen reportedly remain on duty, however.
Early Friday morning, Mary Katherine Ham, a conservative book author and commentator, surveyed the scene and called the removal order to the guardsmen, “a dumb, unexplained, disembodied decision that hurts the people who are protecting those who made the decision, & of course, no one takes responsibility. This is government whether the guy you like is running it or no. They’re bad at doing things.”
Contact Mark Tapscott at Mark.Tapscott@epochtimes.com