WASHINGTON – They slept on the marble floors, lined up for coffee at the 24-hour snack bar, and marveled at the marble likenesses of the nation's founders in the Rotunda and Statuary Hall. They took pictures with their phones, ate pizza, and sometimes played cards with their M4 carbines at their sides.
Masses of armed, camouflage-fatigued members of the National Guard surrounded the Capitol and lined the halls on Wednesday, weapons, helmets and backpacks seemingly lay in every corner of the complex. The heavily militarized presence provided a shocking and sobering backdrop to the House of Representatives as a majority of lawmakers accused a sitting US president of instigating an uprising in the Capitol.
It brought back memories of the rioters who stormed the complex just a week earlier when the terrified residents took refuge in the barricaded House room and secured locations across the street from the Capitol – and the allegations that persisted before the elected President Joseph R. Biden Jr. inauguration.
"It doesn't belong here," said Virginia Democrat Representative Elaine Luria, a veteran who served in the Navy for 20 years, of the military presence in the building. "It's something out of place."
“I hate the idea that we are going to change in some way, become harder, harder or more cumbersome for people to enjoy the historic landmark that this is because of what happened last week,” she added.
Just like the lawmakers, assistants and reporters who still were By exchanging reports of where they were during the siege of Trump supporters, Capitol Hill appeared to be torn on Wednesday between caring for the open wounds left by deadly riots and the need to lay the groundwork for a cure under a new administration.
Capitol employees have been working feverishly over the past few days to complete preparations for the January 20 inauguration – they hung blue curtains over the entrance to the roundabout and brushed dust from the statues – amid the memories of the violence. Window panes remained splintered and cracked in parts of the Capitol, and there were two holes across the entrance to California speaker Nancy Pelosi's office after rioters stole her embossed wood plaque.
Freshman lawmakers delivered their first-floor speeches on the merits of accusing President Trump of high crimes and felonies for instigating an uprising. After a majority of the House voted to impeach Mr. Trump, Ms. Pelosi spoke from the same lectern that a Trump loyalist was photographed cheerfully transported on the Capitol.
"I don't have enough adjectives to describe how disgusted I am at what happened and the point we are at – it's sad, it's disgusting, it's sad," said Florida Republican Representative Brian Mast. An Army veteran who lost his legs while serving in Afghanistan. He gave tours of the Rotunda to members of the Guard as a way of showing their gratitude for their service. (Mr. Mast also voted to reverse the results in both Arizona and Pennsylvania, and expressed no regret for those votes. He was not among the 10 Republicans Who Voted To Impeach Mr. Trump.)
Some lawmakers complained about the threat necessitating the presence of the military, with many Democrats outraged at the role they said their own Republican counterparts had played in fueling the anger of the mob that attacked the Capitol , endangering the lives of legislators.
"It should not and will not be tolerated," New York Democrat Representative Hakeem Jeffries told reporters. "And that's why extraordinary security measures have been taken."
In response to concerns about Republicans bringing weapons to the floor of the House, new magnetometers have been installed outside the doors of the room, a security measure that has challenged several lawmakers. Typically allowed to bypass the magnetometers at the entrances to the building, several Republicans grumbled about the extra layer of security, and some tried to push police officers past despite the alarm going off.
"You are taking valuable resources completely from where it needs to be without any consultation, and you did it without any consultation from the minority," Illinois Representative Rodney Davis, the top Republican on the House Administration Committee, said Tuesday. to Maryland Representative Steny H. Hoyer, majority leader. With several people tested positive for the coronavirus after sheltering in a room with maskless Republicans, Democrats also fined Democrats for refusing to wear a mask on the chamber floor.
The magnetometers and increased security were of little consolation during the vote to impeach Mr. Trump, as several lawmakers were still shocked and questioned the possibility of safely attending the inauguration. On Wednesday, Ms. Pelosi said the House would vote this month on a rule change that would enforce a fine system for refusing to adhere to the new security protocols, deducting $ 5,000 and $ 10,000 from members' pay for the first and second violations. .
"What we're dealing with right now is fighting an uprising, so I feel like everything is turned upside down," said Texas Democrat Representative Colin Allred, who recalled putting his jacket on the floor of the House and prepared to defend his colleagues from the rioters. "To see National Guardsmen sleeping in the hallways, to have the necessary protection to hang metal detectors to go to the house floor – I know the word 'unprecedented' is used a lot, but this is unprecedented And it's so sad, just so sad. "
"It's supposed to be open," added Mr. Allred of the Capitol. "It's a museum, it's a place where ordinary Americans should feel like they can come and see how government works."
But while it houses artifacts from American history as well as the holders of the highest offices of American democracy, the Capitol complex is an accessible fortress in ordinary times. But since tourists were out of the question as a way to stop the spread of the coronavirus, the presence of hundreds of armed forces was even more troubling after months of nearly empty corridors.
Several soldiers who stretched their necks to look at the paintings and sculptures etched into the ceiling of the Rotunda said they had never been to the Capitol, even as tourists. Their colleagues could be seen dozing in another room next to a plaque commemorating troops stationed in the Capitol in 1861, in Statuary Hall, and a small group posed for a photo with the Rosa Parks statue.
John Ismay and Luke Broadwater contributed reporting.