GUEST EDITORIAL: Democrats, Republicans must unite to protect the Capitol

Los Angeles Times editorial board (TNS)
Protesters supporting U.S. President Donald Trump break into the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/TNS)

It long has been clear that the Capitol Police were woefully unprepared for the Jan. 6 assault on Congress by rampaging supporters of then-President Donald Trump bent on overturning the results of the 2020 election. But a new report by the agency’s inspector general documents in depressing detail lapses in training, readiness and intelligence assessment.

Inspector General Michael Bolton also reported that the police were ordered not to employ “heavier, less-lethal weapons” that might have dispersed the rioters. And he noted that an operational plan for the protest released on Jan. 5 stated that “there are no specific known threats” — despite a Jan. 3 intelligence assessment that “Congress itself is the target on the 6th.”

In testimony Thursday before the House Administration Committee, Bolton urged several sensible reforms, including a beefed-up Civil Disturbance Unit, additional training for intelligence analysts and classified briefings for members of the Capitol Police on emerging threats. He also called for the Capitol Police to move to the posture of a “protective” agency like the Secret Service, which could position it better to respond to threats such as the Jan. 6 riot.

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It’s obvious that the Capitol Police need to be better prepared for violent protests and to be more alert to intelligence about such threats, given the increase in domestic terrorism in this country. But Congress also needs to support improvements in the operation of the Capitol Police and keep up bipartisan pressure on the agency.

There has been too much partisan skirmishing in the aftermath of the attack. Some Republicans have questioned House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s proposal for a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 riot, fearing that it might become a vehicle for attacks on Trump. Others have suggested, incredibly, that the assault on the Capitol wasn’t that big a deal. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., infamously said it “didn’t seem like an armed insurrection to me.” Last month Trump told Fox News that his supporters — the ones bashing police officers with flagpoles and chanting, “Hang Mike Pence” — posed “zero threat” on Jan. 6.

Predictably, there were partisan overtones to Thursday’s hearing. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., asked Bolton about the role of the Speaker of the House in the operation of the Capitol Police and the Capitol Police Board, its oversight authority. Committee Chair Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., reminded Republicans that one member of the board, which Republicans criticized, had been appointed architect of the Capitol by Trump.

A bipartisan commitment to improvements in the Capitol Police is necessary also because hard decisions must be made about how to balance public access to the Capitol, including for nonviolent protesters, with security for members of Congress at a time of legitimate concerns about violent domestic extremism.

When some of the Jan. 6 invaders suggested that they were doing nothing wrong because the Capitol is “the people’s house,” they were perverting an important principle: that Americans should be able to see their representatives at the seat of the national government. But that wasn’t the goal of the Jan. 6 rioters, whose mission was antithetical to democracy. The Capitol Police must be better trained to anticipate and respond to such violence.

— From the Los Angeles Times editorial board (TNS).