DC Lawmaker Pushes for Takedown of Capitol Fencing, Calls for More Modern Protection

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber is a senior reporter for The Epoch Times based in Maryland. He covers U.S. and world news.
February 18, 2021Updated: February 18, 2021

A Democratic congresswoman is pushing to have the fencing that remains up around the U.S. Capitol taken down, arguing that authorities can protect the area with more modern solutions.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) last week introduced a new act that would prohibit the installation of permanent fencing on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol complex, in part to respond to U.S. Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman’s call for a permanent perimeter fence.

“I’m perfectly aware that security officials think that there is some need for the fencing in the near term, and I have understood that there’s been a concern that it should go several months longer than I had anticipated. I’m sure that that’s based on intelligence,” Norton told The Epoch Times.

“But my aim, and the aim of my bill, is to make sure that the nation’s capital does not look like an authoritarian regime, but that the openness of the capital, which is one of the hallmarks of the capital, is not ruined because we failed to do our job on Jan. 6.”

Protesters breached the Capitol that day, interrupting a joint session of Congress. The law enforcement preparation and response to the breach has drawn intense scrutiny and is being probed by lawmakers. Additionally, the Capitol Police head and the House and Senate sergeant-at-arms resigned due to concerns about the events that day.

Norton isn’t the only member of Congress to push for the fence’s removal. Forty-two Republicans asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) earlier this month to call for removal of the barbed wire fence, as well as sending National Guard troops home.

“In particular, we are concerned with recent reports that the fencing surrounding the Capitol may become permanent,” they wrote.

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

Then-Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told reporters on Jan. 7 that the seven-foot-tall “non-scalable” fence would remain in place for at least 30 days.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, said late last month that city officials “will not accept extra troops or permanent fencing as a long-term fixture in D.C.”

“When the time is right, the fencing around the White House and U.S. Capitol, just like the plywood we’ve seen on our businesses for too long, will be taken down.”

A spokeswoman for the mayor referred a request for comment to the Capitol Police. That agency, the House sergeant-at-arms, and Pelosi’s office didn’t immediately respond to requests by The Epoch Times for comment.

Norton has argued that the fencing has affected the quality of life for nearby residents, preventing them, for instance, from using the Capitol grounds to sled after the recent snowfall. She told Pittman and other Capitol Police Board members in a recent letter that permanent fencing “would send the wrong 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 citizens.”

President Joe Biden’s administration halted construction of the wall at the southern border shortly after he took office, as Biden asserted the wall wasn’t necessary.

Norton told The Epoch Times that the decision was made because of “the kind of state-of-the-art measures” now available. “If we’re not going to use a fence at the border, why should we use a fence at the Capitol?”

One way to bolster security without a fence is to increase intelligence gathering, the congresswoman said.

Epoch Times Photo
A woman walks past a razor-wire-topped security fence outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Feb. 10, 2021. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

“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.”

On the Senate floor, she told colleagues that permanent fencing is a “form of security theater—it would make the Capitol ‘look’ safe but mask the lack of state-of-the-art security measures that could actually prevent attacks in the future.”

Most Democrats, she believes, also want the fencing to come down, potentially setting up a bipartisan effort.

Curtis Kalin, a spokesman for Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.), told The Epoch Times via email that the congressman “certainly agrees with the premise that the Capitol should not have permanent fencing,” though he declined to comment on Norton’s bill specifically.

For now, the legislation is a tool in the event that Pittman keeps pushing forward with the attempt to make the fencing permanent.

“It didn’t take a bill to put it up,” Norton said. “And we can take it down, in my judgment, without a bill. But in case it doesn’t come down without a bill, then I have a bill to make sure it comes down.”