© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Security fences, erected in the aftermath of the January 6 attack, are seen around the U.S. Capitol in Washington, United States
By Jonathan Landay
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden’s first speech to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday will take place at a U.S. Capitol on alert, with fresh memories of the deadly Jan.6 attack on the building by supporters of his predecessor, Donald Trump.
The crowds inside the Capitol will be only a fraction of the hundreds of members of Congress, Supreme Court justices, senior officials and guests who typically attend, to allow for greater social distancing in a pandemic of COVID-19 that has killed more than 572,000 Americans.
But security will be higher than usual, even for what is officially referred to as a “special national security event,” with the secret service in charge of security.
“The Secret Service and all law enforcement and public security partners have worked hard together to prepare for securing this important event,” a secret service representative said, adding that “every security contingency is taken into account “.
The white-domed building is still surrounded by a black steel lattice fence with some 2,250 armed District of Columbia National Guard soldiers and 18 states serving in the city, remnants of a much larger force fielded. place after Trump supporters stormed the building as Congress voted to certify Biden’s election victory.
Five people, including a US Capitol Police officer, have died as a result of the violence and dozens of police officers have been injured in clashes with rioters. More than 400 people have been charged in connection with the attack, and authorities expect at least 100 more to be charged, federal prosecutors said in a court filing last week.
Authorities in the District of Columbia have asked the Pentagon to allow the District National Guard contingent to help local police deal with any anti-Biden protests that coincide with Wednesday’s speech.
“The DC National Guard stands ready to support DC law enforcement, pending approval” by Acting Secretary of the Army John Whitley, the DC National Guard said in a statement.
It was not immediately clear whether Whitley would approve the request. The deployment of the National Guard has already cost more than $ 520 million, according to the Office of the United States National Guard.
Secret service officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on security preparations.
‘THE FENCE IS EVERYWHERE’
The howl of leaf blowers mingled with the roar of heavy machinery this week around the fenced-in Capitol Building as ground staff cleaned up faded leaves and construction crews worked on renovating a fountain at the base of the complex .
Steel barriers lined the sidewalks, glistening in the sun. Ambulances sat in front of the House of Representatives.
Gena Whalon was among a handful of out-of-town visitors taking selfies outside. She reflected on the insurgency and the failure of the U.S. Capitol Police to prevent Trump supporters from entering the building.
“If all these people were black, they would have fired tear gas,” said Whalon, an African American from Austin, Texas.
“The fence is everywhere,” she said, standing outside. “This is completely understandable because of the dangers of the protesters. It sucks, however, because the fence prevents you from taking good photos.”
Capitol Police said on Monday they arrested a 22-year-old man who climbed the fence on Sunday evening.
Congress is just beginning to grapple with the consequences of violence.
Michael Bolton, the Capitol Inspector General of Police, appeared before a House committee earlier this month to present findings of “gaps” within the unit that handles public unrest and poor coordination and training in his intelligence unit.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is working to gain Republican support for a bipartisan commission that would investigate the riot.