The House and Senate Galleries, where the public can view legislative proceedings, have been closed since the COVID-19 pandemic began but The Epoch Times has learned exclusively that the galleries will finally be reopened to visitors.
“We are in the process of reopening them in September," a spokesman for the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) told The Epoch Times via email.
COVID-19 ShutdownCurrently, the public can get tours of the building through the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center or their representatives' offices but are blocked by ropes from going near the House and Senate chambers. The galleries of the Senate and the House of Representatives are the balcony seats above the floor where the public, media, and visitors can watch the proceedings when either body is in session.
Capitol PoliceAsked about the current police staffing numbers, a spokesperson said, “For security reasons, we cannot provide the exact number, but the Department needs to hire roughly 200 people to reach authorized staffing levels, and the Chief has said publicly he believes we are about 300 short of where we would like to be.”
“There are many reasons for the staffing shortages, to include people reaching eligible retirement (a lot of people came on around 9/11 and they are now eligible to retire),” the spokesperson said. “Law enforcement across the country has seen a lot of retention and attrition issues in the last 5–10 years. Many agencies are down people.”
The People’s HouseEarlier this year, political pressure to reopen the legislative branch to the public built up and the Senate passed by unanimous consent on March 1 a resolution to reopen the buildings to the American people.
The resolution expressed the sense of the House that “the right of people to petition their Government is severely hindered by the closure of the Capitol and the people’s House.” It also said the USCP should “prioritize” reopening the House wing of the Capitol.
January 6During the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol protest, a group of Democrat lawmakers were social distancing in the gallery seats and got stuck there for a period while the police cleared the rest of the Members from the floor. Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.), in a story a year later about the so-called “Gallery Group,” told the Associated Press, “They had evacuated the House floor first. And they forgot about us.”
Before the shutdown, visitors to the Capitol had to get passes to enter the galleries and watch the legislative debate and vote. Visitors with passes could also view the galleries when the House and Senate were not in session on weekdays. For now, the American people can only view the legislative branch in action from the C-SPAN cameras that are in the closed galleries.