Capitol fence remains contentious 2 months after riot. What we know about the barrier
WASHINGTON – Authorities have begun adjustments on the fence erected around the Capitol after the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, but the barrier remains contentious in Congress, which must determine how much fencing is necessary and how much it will cost going forward.
The 7-foot, chain-link fence topped with razor wire has been moved closer to the Capitol in several locations as threats to the campus are reassessed, according to Brett Blanton, the architect of the Capitol, who oversees the buildings and grounds.
A section along Third Street was completed Monday, he said. A section along Louisiana Avenue moved this week, he said. And work began Thursday night on a section along Washington Avenue, he said.
“It will be incremental,” he told a House Appropriations subcommittee Thursday.
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But the fence has proven a target of criticism from lawmakers of both parties for restricting access to the historic building.
“The view of our nation’s Capitol through concertina wire is not something that we’re very proud of,” said Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash.
Capitol grounds have traditionally been open, allowing joggers, sledders and tourists to enjoy the campus. The fencing has forced motorists and pedestrians to find new routes.
“That stretch of Second Street behind the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court is absolutely treacherous,” said Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va.
Members of the National Guard open a gate in the razor wire-topped perimeter fence around the U.S. Capitol on Monday, allowing another member in at sunrise. (Photo: Carolyn Kaster, AP)
The Capitol Police Board approved the installation of fencing after rioters overwhelmed officers behind modest metal barricades. About 140 officers were injured and one officer died during the attack when rioters broke through doors and windows to vandalize offices, temporarily halting Congress’ counting of Electoral College votes.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Wednesday there haven’t been threats since the riot. He said the fence and the continuing National Guard deployment have been overdone.
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“I’m extremely uncomfortable with the fact that my constituents can’t come to the Capitol with all this razor wire around the complex. It reminds me of my last visit to Cabo,” McConnell said. “It looks terrible to have beacon of our democracy surrounded by razor wire and National Guard troops.”
A House security review led by retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore recommended having movable fences that could be deployed and dismantled when needed. But the potential costs of various options weren’t included in the report Monday and lawmakers are still studying their options. Any spending decisions could go before the House and Senate.
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The current fencing cost $1.9 million per week when it was installed, but negotiations reduced the cost to $1.2 million per week, Blanton said. The costs for continuing fencing – whether permanent or movable – would be part a security review, in consultation with Capitol police and the National Guard, to determine how much fencing is needed, he said.
“If we look at fencing at the perimeter we have now, that’s going to be very, very, very expensive,” Blanton said. “If we look at just the targeted fencing in areas that we can bring in fencing later, which is what I’m more proposing, that would have less of an up-front cost.”
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