Inside the Capitol for Impeachment: National Guard in Every Corner

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WASHINGTON — They slept on the marble floors, lined up for coffee in the 24-hour snack bar and marveled at the marble likenesses of the nation’s founders in the Rotunda and Statuary Hall. They snapped photos with their phones, ate pizza and sometimes played cards, their M4 carbines at their sides.

Throngs of armed, camouflage fatigue-clad members of the National Guard ringed the Capitol and lined its halls on Wednesday, weapons, helmets and backpacks stacked seemingly in every corner of the complex. The heavily militarized presence provided a jarring and sobering backdrop to the House chamber as a majority of lawmakers moved to impeach a sitting American president for inciting an insurrection on the nation’s Capitol.

It evoked reminders of the rioters who just one week earlier had stormed the complex as its terrified occupants took shelter inside the barricaded House chamber and secure locations across the Capitol — and the recriminations that remained before President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s inauguration.

“It doesn’t belong here,” Representative Elaine Luria, Democrat of Virginia and a veteran who served 20 years in the Navy, said of the military presence in the building. “It is something that is out of place.”

“I hate the idea that we’re going to change in a way, be harder more difficult or more cumbersome for people to come enjoy the historic monument that this is because of what happened last week,” she added.

“What we’re dealing with now is combating an insurrection, so I feel like everything upside down,” said Representative Colin Allred, Democrat of Texas, who recalled whipping off his jacket on the House floor and preparing to defend his colleagues against the rioters. “To see National Guardsmen sleeping in the halls, to have the necessary protection of having metal detectors put up to go onto the House floor — I know the word ‘unprecedented’ is used a lot, but this is unprecedented. And it’s also so sad, just so sad.”

“It’s intended to be open,” Mr. Allred added of the Capitol. “It’s a museum, it’s a place where ordinary Americans should feel like they can come and watch the government work.”

But while it houses both artifacts of American history and the holders of the highest offices of American democracy, the Capitol complex is in ordinary times an accessible fortress. But with tourists barred as a way to stop the spread of the coronavirus, the presence of hundreds of armed troops was even more disconcerting after months of near-empty hallways.

Several of the soldiers craning their necks to look at the paintings and sculptures etched into the ceiling of the Rotunda said they had never been to the Capitol, even as tourists. Their colleagues in another room could be seen dozing next to a plaque commemorating troops who were quartered in the Capitol in 1861, in Statuary Hall, and a small group posed for a photo with the statue of Rosa Parks.

John Ismay and Luke Broadwater contributed reporting.



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