Tropical Storm Elsa could affect fencing removal at US Capitol

Security fencing that went up after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol is finally about to come down, but weather related to Tropical Storm Elsa could affect this weekend’s schedule for its removal.

After an extensive review, the Capitol Police Board decided to allow for removal of the fencing, which extends around the Capitol grounds on the west side facing the National Mall, as well as the east side facing the Supreme Court and Library of Congress.

The removal of the fencing could begin on Friday, but, alluding to the wind and rain of Elsa, an email from House Sergeant at Arms William Walker to members of Congress said the fencing would be taken down in two to three days, “weather permitting.”

The statement said the decision to change security “is informed by the current threat environment and available response capabilities.”

During a recent congressional hearing, FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers that he knew of no specific and credible threat to the Capitol.

Members of Congress are currently on break, but for months lawmakers from both parties have said they wanted the security fencing taken down.

“I don’t like the U.S. Capitol looking like it’s still under siege,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat who’s a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Kaine often walks to the Capitol to begin his workday, and he said it makes him “sad” to see the grounds surrounded by the temporary fencing.

“Looking at that Capitol, that beautiful Capitol, surrounded by the security fencing — I still find it chilling,” Kaine said.

Kaine and other lawmakers have noted many people, whether they’re tourists or D.C. residents, usually treat the Capitol grounds like a park.

Over the Fourth of July weekend, and throughout this summer, tourists can be seen taking pictures of the Capitol outside the fencing, which has large signs that read “AREA CLOSED.”

While the fencing is scheduled to come down this weekend, the sergeant at arms said the temporary fencing could go up again if a threat arises. Also, bike racks will be spread out around areas on the east and west side of the Capitol, so it won’t go back entirely to what it looked like before Jan. 6.

Still, the Capitol Visitors Center remains closed to tourists. It’s often filled with schoolchildren and groups that travel to Washington from across the country.

The Capitol has been closed to visitors since the outset of the pandemic.

A security fence that extended several blocks from the Capitol, along with partial road closures, was taken down earlier this year.

The current fencing has remained since the attack in January, though razor wire at the top was removed.

More than 500 people have been arrested in connection with the greatest security breach of the Capitol since the war of 1812.

The Senate has still not approved a $1.9 billion security measure to increase security at the building, which was passed by the House in May.

The National Guard, which provided thousands of personnel to help protect the Capitol, is owed $521 million for emergency costs.

Senators are scheduled to return from their holiday break on July 12, while the House is to return the following week.

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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