Key Republicans Reject Proposal for Permanent National Guard Force on Capitol Hill

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Michigan National Guard, U.S. Capitol Police around the Capitol grounds.
Members of the Michigan National Guard and the U.S. Capitol Police keep watch as heightened security remains in effect around the Capitol grounds, in Washington, Wednesday, March 3, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The top Republicans on the Senate and House Armed Services Committees rebuffed a proposed full-time National Guard quick reaction force, which would be ready to immediately combat future emergencies in Washington, D.C.

"We firmly oppose creating a D.C. National Guard quick reaction force," Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, the ranking members of the committees that oversee the military, said in a joint statement.

The two lawmakers said a civilian force would likely be a cheaper solution and much more useful, possibly with improved law enforcement capabilities. Many Guardsmen deployed to the U.S. Capitol have little or no law enforcement training and often have military jobs unrelated to security.

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The pair noted Congress hasn't held any hearings to examine the cost of such a mission, which would likely require multiple states to deploy troops or the District of Columbia National Guard to remain on a constant domestic deployment. Either would be hard on Guardsmen, who must juggle civilian careers and are not eligible for government-provided child care.

"The National Guard went above and beyond to protect the Capitol since January 6, but it's time they return home and focus on their core mission," they added. "Use of the uniformed military in D.C. and the Capitol Complex is subject to complex statutory restrictions, and for good reason. We cannot and should not militarize the security of the Capitol Complex."

The joint statement comes after House leaders proposed a $200 million plan to stand up a Guard quick reaction force.

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The proposal is a part of a massive $1.9 billion plan from Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who chairs the House Committee on Appropriations. Her bill followed recommendations by a task force that examined the U.S. Capitol's security measures in the aftermath of the pro-Trump Jan. 6 insurrection. The measure includes a vast roster of boosted security features.

"If Democrat leadership wants to spend an additional $200 million on the National Guard, it would be better spent on rebuilding Guard readiness that suffered as a result of this over-long deployment to Capitol Hill," Inhofe and Rogers added. "We look forward to continuing this discussion with our colleagues."

The Guard's mission has drawn wide bipartisan scorn after five months of the Capitol resembling a militarized zone. Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the Guard's top officer, has joined some lawmakers in criticizing the mission. He has called for troops to be withdrawn amid a lack of specific threats, saying the part-time military force has been stretched thin after a year of pandemic relief, protests and ongoing operations overseas. Hokanson was overridden by the Defense Department.

The Guard's mission in D.C. is set to end Sunday. There are roughly 2,000 troops deployed in the area, compared to the 27,000 who initially responded to the deadly assault on the Capitol.

President Joe Biden's nominee to be the next secretary of the Army believes that the National Guard may be stretched too thin and nearing the breaking point after a year of nonstop activations.

"I am concerned about the possibility of unreasonable demands [on] the Guard. I would want to look closely on how that strain is manifesting," Christine Wormuth told senators at her confirmation hearing last week.

Wormuth's concerns mirror comments made last week by Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville when he told lawmakers that a combination of two decades of war and activations at home might be too much.

"Our force has been heavily committed over the past 20 years in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and around the world," he said during a House Appropriations Committee hearing on the service's budget. "My concern is we want to make sure we reduce the op tempo of our troops, including the National Guard who have been heavily employed, whether that's home or overseas."

-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.

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