Proposed legislation would bar permanent fencing around US Capitol

Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen (middle) with D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt announce proposal to bar permanent fencing around the U.S. Capitol. (WTOP/Mitchell Miller)

Bipartisan legislation that would prohibit installation of permanent fencing on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol was unveiled Thursday.

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and U.S. Sens. Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat from Maryland, and Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, were present to discuss their proposal.

The “No Fencing at the United States Capitol Complex Act” would prohibit the use of federal funds to create permanent fencing around the Capitol.

“This Capitol is the citadel of democracy, and we should not turn it into a fortress,” Van Hollen said. “We should not wall the People’s House off from the people of the United States of America.”

The task of taking down fencing around the outer perimeter of the Capitol complex was completed on Wednesday. It had been up for more than two months, following the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

More on the Capitol riot

“We need to put that terrible day behind us,” Norton said. “You can’t do it as long as this fencing is up to remind people that they can’t get into the Capitol.”

Blunt noted that discussions with lawmakers in the Senate are just beginning, but he believes it will get widespread support.

“I have a feeling that the support is broad,” Blunt said, noting that when he mentioned the bill to some colleagues Thursday on the way to the news conference, they said, “Put me on the bill” as co-sponsors.

There is still fencing surrounding the grounds closest to the Capitol, and armed members of the National Guard continue to assist Capitol Police.

The legislation that would prevent new and permanent fencing was first introduced in the House and was introduced in the Senate on Thursday.

Lawmakers from both parties have complained about the fencing around the Capitol, which has also been criticized by residents of Capitol Hill, who often jog, walk and ride bikes in the area.

Norton noted that there was a day recently when so many entrances were blocked off that she — a member of Congress — couldn’t get to the Capitol.

In January, following the massive security breach at the Capitol, acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman said she thought that permanent fencing should be installed.

In recent months, retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore led a review of security around the Capitol. He stated in a Washington Post opinion piece earlier this month that fencing “provides a false sense of security.”

Honore’s task force has suggested a wide range of changes to improve security, including the use of temporary barriers. The recommendations are included in a report that calls for a major overhaul of security around the Capitol, including a rapid-reaction force that could quickly respond to a threat.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has proposed the creation of a 9/11-type of commission to review what went wrong when a mob stormed the Capitol and to recommend steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

But momentum for the idea has faded, with Democrats and Republicans disagreeing over what the scope of the review would entail.

Former President Donald Trump was impeached by the House but acquitted at a Senate trial on a charge of inciting the insurrection at the Capitol.

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Mitchell Miller

Mitchell Miller has worked at WTOP since 1996, as a producer, editor, reporter and Senior News Director. After working "behind the scenes," coordinating coverage and reporter coverage for years, Mitchell moved back to his first love -- reporting. He is now WTOP's Capitol Hill reporter.

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