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Plan to militarize Capitol security with Guard troops faces multiplying questions in Senate

A National Guard quick reaction force was among the post-Jan. 6 security measures suggested by retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore.

Updated: May 26, 2021 - 10:55pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Legislation that would create a National Guard quick reaction force for the Capitol complex is set to encounter more intense opposition in the Senate than it received in the House of Representatives.

The House last week approved a $1.9 billion emergency funding bill intended to protect the U.S. Capitol. The measure, introduced in response to the Jan. 6 riot in and around the complex, includes a provision to establish a National Guard quick reaction force (QRF) to be activated in case of emergency. But the bill, which barely squeaked through the House on a 213-212 vote, is being heavily lobbied against as it heads into the Senate.

The QRF was among the security upgrades suggested in a proposal from retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, who this year spearheaded a review of Capitol security. In his proposal, Honore also recommended pop-up fencing and additional funding for riot gear.

Those who oppose a National Guard QRF argue that while the complex and its inhabitants must be protected, the mission does not belong to the National Guard.

Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), the ranking members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, respectively, released a joint statement highlighting that issue.

"Use of the uniformed military in D.C. and the Capitol Complex is subject to complex statutory restrictions, and for good reason," the two legislators said. "We cannot and should not militarize the security of the Capitol Complex."

The National Guard Association of the United States agreed.

"This is a law enforcement mission," association spokesman John Goheen told Just the News. "Law enforcement is best left to law enforcement. Let's put this in the hands of the Capitol Police. It's always been their job. Let's keep it their job."

In the days following the Jan. 6 breach of the Capitol, some 26,000 National Guard troops arrived from around the country to protect the complex. As no additional violence took place at the Capitol, the troops gradually dwindled to about 2,300. The last of those troops departed Washington on Sunday, when the Capitol Police resumed full control of security for the complex.

If a National Guard QRF is approved, troops would be permanently near at hand in case of emergency. Such a force would fall under the Washington, D.C. National Guard, but it remains unclear how the force would be called into action.

"Congress has held precisely no hearings to examine the creation of a Quick Reaction Force to weigh costs, benefits, and fundamental questions about its nature and responsibilities," Inhofe and Rogers said in their joint statement.

"It gets murky," Goheen said, because the Washington, D.C. National Guard has a unique chain of command, unlike typical Guard units commanded by their states' governors. "The mayor can request the Guard, but doesn't have the command authority that a governor would have. It's a federal district." 

"The chain of command goes up through the Secretary of the Army and the Secretary of Defense," Goheen explained.

The Guard's overall mission in the District lacked clarity in January, and remains to be addressed for future missions, according to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

"Aspects of the Guard's presence here were not fleshed out as clearly or coherently as either Congress or the servicemembers deserved, and Members of Congress will continue to discuss and debate whether it is appropriate for uniformed military personnel to play an ongoing role in policing the U.S. Capitol going forward," McConnell said Monday in the Senate.

If approved, the QRF measure would further stretch an already heavily worked National Guard, Goheen said. It would be "another personnel-intensive mission at a time when we seem to be picking up personnel-intensive missions all the time." These include administering vaccines, handing out food, or working at morgues — and responding to hurricanes, floods, and wildfires.  

"I've never seen the Guard do so many things," he said. "You can understand why the Guard is on everyone's speed dial. The reality is, we have a lot to do."

Ultimately Congress will make the decision, Goheen said. "If Congress appropriates the money and tells us to do it, then we'll do it."

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