Armed Services leaders call for “drawdown” of Capitol Guard troops in Washington

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The top Democrat and Republican on the House Armed Services Committee have called for a “measured drawdown” of National Guard troops at the U.S. Capitol, after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved a request from the U.S. Capitol Police for guardsmen to remain at their post through May 23. 

“We are deeply troubled by the current level of security around the United States Capitol,” Armed Services Chair, Democrat Adam Smith, and ranking member, Republican Mike Rogers, said in statement Thursday. “More than two months after the January 6 attack, the seat of our nation’s democracy remains heavily protected by guardsmen and surrounded by a perimeter fence.”

The request for an extension came after the FBI and Department of Homeland Security issued a security bulletin that said violent extremists discussed plans to travel on or around March 4 to Washington, D.C., to take control of the U.S. Capitol and remove Democratic lawmakers. Inauguration Day from 1793 to 1933 took place on March 4, and conspiracy theorists discussed March 4 of this year as the day former President Trump would take office again.   

The extended stay is designed so that there is enough support for four shifts of 500-600 troops at a time. Austin’s approval allows for 2,300 troops to continue providing support to the U.S. Capitol Police for an additional 60 days, Pentagon press secretary John F. Kirby announced Tuesday. More than 5,000 National Guardsmen are currently assigned to Washington. 

“Part of this is obviously valid requirements to have them there, but also to help backfill some of these capabilities as they look at themselves as an institution and what they need to do for their long term future,” Kirby said.

He added that the Guard’s continued presence on Capitol Hill is more than just a reaction to the events of Jan. 6. “… While certainly there to address a requirement that is based on law enforcement’s concerns, [it’s] also there to help bolster and support the Capitol Police and their capabilities, which may not be at the level where [they] need to be, given the fact that we’re in sort of a new environment in this country,” he said. “It’s not just about a threat assessment, it’s about assisting and supporting capabilities that the Capitol Police may now lack and may need to look at improving on their own.”

The bipartisan Armed Services leaders agreed that “some level of support from the National Guard should remain in the National Capital Region to respond to credible threats against the Capitol.” They wrote, however, that “the present security posture is not warranted at this time.”

The lawmakers also shared concern over the price tag of an extended deployment. “In addition, we cannot ignore the financial costs associated with this prolonged deployment, nor can we turn a blind eye to the effects it will soon have on the National Guard’s overall readiness,” the statement reads.

The extension is expected to cost an additional $111 million, pricing the total deployment at $521 million, according to Department of Defense Spokesman Chris Mitchell.

“The National Guard estimates the cost for the extension of the mission from March to May at $111 million,” Mitchell said in a statement provided to CBS News. “After a review, original January-to-March cost estimate of $482.8 million was revised to $410 million due to under-execution. The new, projected cost estimate for the entire mission is $521 million.”

Smith and Rogers said they “appreciate our guardsmen answering the call to protect the Capitol, but it’s time for us to review what level of security is required, so they can return home to their families and communities.”   

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