Capitol Fence To Come Down as Soon as Friday

GOP lawmakers say barrier removal is only first step to resuming normal operations

A day after Trump supporters occupied the U.S. Capitol building, in Washington
Security fencing around the Capitol / Reuters
July 8, 2021

The fence surrounding the United States Capitol is finally coming down after months of delays, but some lawmakers are still bristling at the restrictions put in place for the building.

House Sergeant at Arms William J. Walker issued a memo Wednesday to all members of Congress and staff saying that the temporary barriers outside of the building would be removed Friday.

"The board supports the [United States Capitol Police's] recommendation to remove the temporary fencing around Capitol Square," the letter says.

The scheduled removal comes after congressional and community complaints about lack of access to the "people's house" in spite of no known major security threats to the Capitol. Republican lawmakers welcomed the change, which they said is long overdue.

"It should have come down months ago, but as with everything Speaker Pelosi does, it’s about symbolism over substance and politics over the people," Rep. Barry Moore (R., Ala.) said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) did not return request for comment.

The fencing, which was erected in the aftermath of the January 6 riots, has surrounded the Capitol for six months. Although the metal barrier will be removed, Walker noted that "building access restrictions will remain in place."

Rep. Ted Budd (R., N.C.) called the removal of fencing "an encouraging sign" but said that members of Congress must take further steps to open the building to the public.

"The fencing was a stain on our nation's capital, and I'm glad it's finally coming down," Budd said.  "I am still disappointed that the restrictions on building access will remain in place. Continuing to limit access to the People's House can no longer be justified for security or health reasons. Citizens, school groups, and tourists deserve to have access to their elected representatives again."

The Capitol Police did not return a request for comment.

Capitol Police officials reportedly recommended in February that the fence stay up until September. Capitol Police began removing the outer fence surrounding the capital, which caused a major rerouting of traffic, in March.

In May, a $1.9 billion Capitol security bill passed the House, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) expressed reluctance to support the bill. According to one report, "the bill expressly prohibits the funds from being used to install any permanent above ground fencing," although it would set aside funds for some retractable version of a barrier.

Rep. Clay Higgins (R., La.) said Congress should look inward as it attempts to return to pre-pandemic operations. He called on House leadership to eliminate emergency rules that allowed lawmakers to govern from afar at the start of the COVID-19 crisis.

"Congress must resume regular operations at the Capitol. We should also end proxy voting and return to in-person committee hearings," Higgins said. "We must fully reopen the House of Representatives to We the People. Madam Speaker Pelosi should have never locked American citizens out of their own House."

In a June 6 statement, the Capitol Police announced improvements they had made since the building was stormed. The department solidified its Critical Incident Response Plan, which quickly mobilizes local, state, and federal forces, including from the Department of Defense, to respond to "planned and/or no-notice emergencies." It will also open regional field offices in California and Florida to investigate threats that have been made against members of Congress.