Bipartisan Proposal Would Ban Permanent Fencing Around US Capitol

March 29, 2021 Updated: March 29, 2021

A bipartisan pair of senators on March 25 introduced legislation that would ban permanent fencing around the outer perimeter of the U.S. Capitol complex, following widespread criticism about the fencing erected amid security concerns following the Jan. 6 Capitol breach.

The legislation was announced by Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) at a press conference alongside Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who last month introduced an act in the House that would prohibit the installation of permanent fencing on Capitol grounds.

“The Capitol is the citadel of democracy, and we should not turn it into a fortress,” Van Hollen told reporters. “We should not wall the people’s house off from the people of the United States.”

The pair’s bicameral bill, based on legislation introduced in the House, prohibits funding for permanent fencing around the U.S. Capitol complex.

It was erected following the incidents that occurred on Jan. 6, amid fears of violence during President Joe Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration.

The fencing, however, remained after Inauguration Day, prompting more than 40 Republicans to sign a letter (pdf) calling on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to remove what they feared was poised to become “permanent military-style fencing around the Capitol.”

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) holds a news conference one day after Congress passed a $1.9 trillion COVID-related stimulus package at the Capitol Visitors Center in Washington on March 11, 2021. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

On March 24, the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) said that all fencing around the outer perimeter of the U.S. Capitol complex had been removed, saying there’s no credible threat at this time. The USCP said, however, that the fencing closer to the Capitol building, the inner perimeter, will remain in place, as will the National Guardsmen.

“The U.S. Capitol is the most iconic symbol of democracy in the world. How we respond to the January 6th attack will send a clear message to everyone watching,” Blunt said in a statement. “Over the past two months, we have come together in a bipartisan way to look at the security failures that occurred and determine what needs to be done to prevent a similar attack from happening again.”

“There are clearly steps that need to be taken to strengthen security around the Capitol complex, but permanent fencing should not be a part of that response,” the Republican added, noting that the bill has bipartisan backing in both chambers of Congress.

Norton told reporters on March 25 that permanent fencing would send an “un-American and unnecessary message to the nation and the world” by “transforming our democracy from one that is accessible and of the people to one that is exclusive and fearful of its own citizens.”

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Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 21, 2020. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

“Already the distance between government and the people has grown. Trust in government is at historic lows. We should not entrench that distance further by placing intimidating barriers between ourselves as public servants and the people we serve, especially when such barriers are neither effective nor necessary,” she said.

Norton told The Epoch Times last month that a way to bolster security without a fence is to increase intelligence gathering.

“We’re able now to find out what people are thinking and doing through the devices that they use,” she said. “And those are available to intelligence officials, as well.”

Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.