The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday concerns security at the U.S. Capitol. I discussed this topic with a family member recently and asserted that Nancy Pelosi was responsible for the lack of security at the Capitol Building on January 6, 2021.
I did not know much about the security procedures, and I based my assertion on a simple fact: The Speaker of the House is the highest-ranking government official – third in line for the presidency after the president and vice president – in Congress. It seemed reasonable to me to have the highest-ranking official working in the building to be the top official making decisions about the building.
In my mind, the U.S. President is the highest-ranking official in the executive branch, which is based in the White House, so the POTUS is the person ultimately responsible for the security of the White House (Secret Service). The same is true of Congress and the Supreme Court, the other two branches of government. The Speaker of the House is responsible for the security at the Capitol Building (Capitol Police), and the Chief Justice is responsible for security at the Supreme Court Building (Supreme Court Police).
My family member insisted that security at the Capitol Building was under the direction of a special board from the Senate and House. I asserted that any such board would be at least partially supervised by the Speaker of the House. As a result of that discussion, I decided to do some research about security at the U.S. Capitol and will share the results with you.
I learned that the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) is appointed by the POTUS. The AOC “is responsible to the United States Congress for the maintenance, operation, development and preservation of 16.5 million square feet of buildings and more than 450 acres of land throughout Capitol Hill.” The Capitol complex involves much more than I suspected. It “includes the House and Senate office buildings, the U.S. Capitol, Capitol Visitor Center, the Library of Congress buildings, the Supreme Court buildings, the U.S. Botanic Garden, the Capitol Power Plant, and other facilities.”
The duties of the AOC include the responsibility to provide “professional expertise with regard to the preservation of architectural and artistic elements entrusted to its care.” The AOC also “provides recommendations concerning design, construction and maintenance of the facilities and grounds.”
The Architect of the Capitol is one of three members of the Capitol Police Board. This board “oversees and supports the United States Capitol Police in its mission.” The Capitol Police Board “helps to advance coordination between the [Capitol Police] Department and the Sergeant at Arms of the House of Representatives and the Sergeant at Arms and Doorkeeper of the Senate, in their law enforcement capacities, and the Congress.” The Capital Police Board “establishes general goals and objectives covering its major functions and operations to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its operations.”
The Capitol Police Board consists of the Sergeant at Arms of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Sergeant at Arms and Doorkeeper of the U.S. Senate, and the Architect of the Capitol. The Chief of the United States Capitol Police serves in an ex-officio non-voting capacity. The Chairmanship alternates annually between the House and Senate Sergeants at Arms.
There are three official members of the Capitol Police Board: The Sergeant at Arms of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Sergeant at Arms and Doorkeeper of the U.S. Senate, and the Architect of the Capitol. The Chairmanship alternates annually between the House and Senate Sergeant at Arms. There is a fourth but unofficial member of the board who has no-voting capacity – the Chief of Capitol Police. The Chief of the Capitol Police is apparently hired/appointed by the Capitol Police Board because the “Chief reports directly to the Capitol Police Board.”
The Chief of Police is responsible for administering the Department in accordance with applicable laws and regulations, and ensuring that organizational objectives are met…. [The Chief] is assisted in the management of the Department by the Assistant Chiefs of Police and the Chief Administrative Officer. These leaders collectively are recognized as the United States Capitol Police Executive Team, the highest-level management team within the Department.
The Sergeant at Arms and Doorkeeper of the Senate is nominated by the Senate Majority Leader and “elected by the members.” This official “serves as the protocol and chief law enforcement officer” of the Senate. This official is the principal administrative manager for a host of support services in the Senate.”
As chief law enforcement and protocol officer, the sergeant at arms enforces all rules of the Senate—its Standing Rules, Standing Orders, Rules for the Regulation of the Senate Wing, and Rules for Impeachment Trials—and coordinates all official events and visits for the Senate. This includes escorting the president, other heads of state, and official guests while they attend official functions in the Capitol. As the Senate’s chief law enforcement officer, the sergeant at arms can compel senators to come to the Senate Chamber to establish a quorum. In addition, the sergeant at arms supervises the Senate wing of the Capitol, maintaining security in the Capitol and in all the Senate buildings and controlling access to the Senate Chamber and galleries.
The Sergeant at Arms of the House of Representatives is nominated by the Speaker of the House and elected by the members of the House.
As an elected officer of the House of Representatives, the Sergeant at Arms is the chief law enforcement and protocol officer of the House of Representatives and is responsible for maintaining order in the House side of the United States Capitol complex. The Sergeant at Arms reviews and implements all issues relating to the safety and security of Members of Congress and the Capitol complex. The Sergeant at Arms also coordinates extensively with the U.S. Capitol Police and various intelligence agencies to assess threats against Members of Congress and the Capitol complex.
Duties include overseeing the House floor and galleries, the House Appointments Desk, the House garages and parking lots, as well as administering all staff identification badges.
On January 6, 2020, there was an assault on the U.S. Capitol Building. There is a lot of “he said, she said” stuff going on about whether President Donald Trump ordered or offered National Guard to provide security on that date. Included in the discussion is a question about who turned down the offered troops. The following information was published by NPR:
The former chief of U.S. Capitol Police says security officials at the House and Senate rebuffed his early requests to call in the National Guard ahead of a demonstration in support of President Trump that turned into a deadly attack on Congress.
Former chief Steven Sund – who resigned his post last week after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for him to step down -- made the assertions in an interview with The Washington Post published Sunday.
Sund contradicts claims made by officials after Wednesday's assault on Capitol Hill. Sund's superiors said previously that the National Guard and other additional security support could have been provided, but no one at the Capitol requested it.
Sund told the Post that House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving was concerned with the "optics" of declaring an emergency ahead of the protests and rejected a National Guard presence. He says Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger recommended that he informally request the Guard to be ready in case it was needed to maintain security.
Like Sund, Irving and Stenger have also since resigned their posts.
Sund says he requested assistance six times ahead of and during the attack on the Capitol. Each of those requests was denied or delayed, he says.
The above quote from NPR gives us a lot of information. It tells us that the House Sergeant at Arms on January 6, 2020, was Paul Irving, the Senate Sergeant at Arms was Michael Stenger, and the Chief of the Capitol Police was Steven Sund. Please remember that the Capitol Police Board has three official members and one unofficial member without voting ability. The three official members are the Architect of the Capitol (AOC), the Senate Sergeant at Arms, and the House Sergeant at Arms. The unofficial member was Chief of the Capitol Police.
The quote also tells us that the Chief of the Capitol Police requested that the AOC accept/ask for help from the National Guard several times before and during the assault, but his request was rejected or delayed. House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving did not like the “optics” of calling on the National Guard for help and rejected the presence of the National Guard. The Senate Sergeant at Arms suggested that they request that the National Guard be ready to act. The order of the two statements is unknown. We do not know if Stenger’s suggestion (that the National Guard stand by) came before or after Irving rejected the presence of military.
This information might suggest that the House Sergeant at Arms was the Chairman of the Capitol Police Board for 2020. If so, did Paul Irving consult with Nancy Pelosi before rejecting the presence of the National Guard? Or maybe, Nancy Pelosi had previously told Irving to handle all the security problems. According to AP News, Drew Hammill, a spokesperson for Pelosi, made the following statement:
“The Speaker believes security officials should make security decisions. The Speaker immediately signaled her support for the deployment of the National Guard when she was presented with that recommendation on the afternoon of January 6th. Public testimony confirms that the fact that the Speaker was not made aware of any request for such a deployment prior to then,” Hammill said in a statement this week.
Sund, Irving, and Stenger resigned their posts after the January 6 attack on the Capitol, and their posts were filled by temporary substitutes until the Senate and House could go through the proper process for replacing them. The new Capitol Police Board ordered a security fence put up around the U.S. Capitol, and the fence remained for six months. The Supreme Court Police did the exact opposite by erecting a fence around the Court Building before releasing their decisions, particularly the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
I maintain that Nancy Pelosi was responsible, either directly or indirectly, for the Capitol Building being unsecured on January 6, 2020. She either rejected the offer for the National Guard presence if she was aware of it, or she lacked proper supervision for the House Sergeant at Arms. She should have known that there would be an enormous crowed at the Capitol on January 6 and helped her Sergeant at Arms to set up proper security. The fact is that Irving should have consulted with Pelosi on such an important task, or she should have called him in to discuss it. Either way, the buck stops with Nancy in my mind.
The bottom line is that two things must happen for the National Guard to be called into action. The first thing is that the Commander in Chief must offer the troops, AND the person in charge (the governor, the mayor, the Speaker of the House, etc.) must request the troops. This is the reason the National Guard did not go into Minneapolis, Portland, and Seattle during the George Floyd riots of 2020. The POTUS offered the troops, but the people in charge of the states/cities did not request the troops. It is called federalism.