U.S. lawmakers are calling for an investigation of the police force that protects the Capitol, while also offering praise for their actions, after Wednesday’s storming of the seat of the country’s legislative branch by a mob of pro-Trump supporters.
The push for answers was led by two Democrats who in the new Congress will lead the subcommittees that have budget oversight for the U.S. Capitol Police.
“There will be many videos, some [will] raise concern, some will show heroism. We need a full investigation on how the Capitol's security was breached this quickly,” said Senator Chris Murphy.
Congressman Tim Ryan pointed to a lack of preparation ahead of Wednesday’s planned rallies where supporters of President Donald Trump gathered to back his continued baseless rejection of his election loss.
“I think it’s pretty clear that there’s going to be a number of people who are going to be without employment very, very soon because this is an embarrassment both on behalf of the mob, and the president, and the insurrection, and the attempted coup, but also the lack of professional planning and dealing with what we knew was going to occur,” he said.
Congresswoman Ilhan Omar added: “We spend billions of dollars on national security and today failed to protect our Nation’s Capital from a lawless mob. Unacceptable!”
Wednesday’s series of events began with Trump speaking at a noon rally on the Ellipse, just south of the White House, urging the crowd to continue fighting the election results as members of Congress were preparing to certify the count two kilometers away.
“We’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue … and we’re going to the Capitol … we’re going to try and give our Republicans … the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country,” he said.
By 1:30 p.m., U.S. Capitol Police were telling people in a House of Representatives office building and an adjacent Library of Congress building to evacuate. Just after 2 p.m., alerts went out about “an external security threat located on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol Building,” followed soon by another alert signaling a “security threat inside the building.”
Lawmakers and staff were told to find cover, lock doors and stay away from windows.
Robert Contee, chief of the city’s Metropolitan Police Department, said Capitol Police had at that point already called his department seeking help.
In some of the many videos of the mob’s actions shared on social media and by news organizations, Capitol Police officers can be seen being overwhelmed by the vastly larger crowds who stormed through waist-high barricades and evaded officers who were trying to halt their progress. Other rioters scaled walls as members of the crowd smashed windows to get inside.
Members of the House and Senate, along with Vice President Mike Pence, who was presiding over the certification session, were evacuated.
The mob spent hours inside the building, including the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, leaving behind smashed doors and furniture before exiting with little resistance as officers pushed to secure the site.
By 6 p.m. when Capitol Police, helped by local officers as well as the National Guard and federal law enforcement agencies, regained control, police had shot dead one woman and three other people were dead from medical emergencies, according to Contee.
Metropolitan Police said they arrested 52 people, and 14 of the department’s officers were injured.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser issued a curfew order that went into effect a short time later, set to last all night. Around 9 p.m., lawmakers were back inside the Capitol to resume their session.
“I just walked through the Capitol on my way back to the House floor,” Republican Congressman Kelly Armstrong said late Wednesday. “The Capitol Police are still there. Exhausted, bloodied, bandaged, some are on stretchers. They did their job today and they did it well. They are still here. Protecting the United States Capitol so that the House and Senate can convene and fulfill our constitutional duty.”
Republican Senator Mitt Romney tweeted his thanks to the Capitol Police, FBI, Secret Service and National Guard, commending their “professionalism and bravery.”
“Grateful to you for keeping us safe every day, & especially today,” he posted.
Congressman Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon, thanked those he called the Capitol’s “unsung heroes.”
“Maintenance workers, cafeteria employees, and support staff didn't deserve to be terrorized today. I appreciate you all,” he said.
As the clocked turned from Wednesday into Thursday, the FBI issued a call for the public to provide any photos, videos or information about the rioters.
At 1:13 a.m. came a final U.S. Capitol Police alert: “The USCP has cleared the internal security threat incident. Return to normal operations."
With the west front of the Capitol set to host President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20, Bowser said she extended an emergency order for 15 days “to ensure peace and security.”
The U.S. Secret Service leads security efforts for the inauguration, but typically gets help from numerous agencies such as the Capitol Police, Metropolitan police, Federal Aviation Administration and National Guard.
The U.S. Capitol Police website lists the agency’s annual budget at approximately $460 million with a staff of more than 2,300 officers and civilian employees.