Thousands of National Guard troops in DC return to Capitol after relocated to parking garage
WASHINGTON - "Garage kept" may be great for classic cars -- but for National Guard members it may be disrespectful.
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Reports of shabby treatment of National Guard troops at the U.S. Capitol were sparking bipartisan outrage among lawmakers and other officials Thursday -- with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott calling for the return home of his state's Guard members.
Thousands of National Guard troops from several states had deployed to the U.S. Capitol to protect Wednesday's inauguration of President Biden against threats of violence following the Jan. 6 riot.
Photos of Guard members sleeping on the marble floors of the Capitol quickly went viral -- until they later received cots. Then on Thursday came another insult: According to reports, the Guard members were abruptly told to take their break time inside a parking garage instead of inside the Capitol.
Security measures are taken around Capitol building by National Guard soldiers on the day before the inauguration ceremonies for President-elect Joe Biden, in Washington, D.C., United States, on January 19, 2021. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agenc
The Guardsmen, who had been resting inside the Capitol between 12-hour shifts, were moved to a nearby parking garage where photos obtained by Politico and other outlets showed members crowded together on the ground -- some resting their heads against cement pillars.
By Thursday evening, Abbott was among those who had apparently seen enough.
"I have instructed General Norris to order the return of the Texas National Guard to our state," the Republican governor wrote on Twitter, referring to Major Gen. Tracy Norris of the Texas National Guard.
Abbott previously objected to reports that Guard members were being "vetted" over concerns about a possible "inside" attack during the Biden inauguration.
More outrage came earlier Thursday from other lawmakers and officials, both Republicans and Democrats.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., tweeted about the parking garage reports, "If this is true, it's outrageous. I will get to the bottom of this."
U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., tweeted, "This is absolutely unacceptable and despicable treatment of our brave and dedicated National Guard who answered the call to serve. We need to demand answers now and this needs to be fixed immediately."
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., called the treatment of Guard members, "outrageous, shameful, and incredibly disrespectful."
"We need it fixed and we need answers on how it happened," she tweeted.
Sinema was one of several lawmakers to offer the use of her office to the Guardsmen and at around 10:30 p.m. ET she tweeted that the members had all been "welcomed back to the Capitol tonight. No more parking garages."
CBS reporter Kris Van Cleave reported early Friday the National Guard said the troops are out of the garage and will take their breaks in Emancipation Hall at the Capitol Visitors Center from now on. He included a video of the troops leaving the garage.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., confirmed that she had made several calls and had been informed the "Capitol Police have apologized to the Guardsmen and they will be allowed back into the complex tonight. I’ll keep checking to make sure they are."
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who also offered her office, confirmed the Guardsmen were being allowed back in the Capitol and said an offer of snacks "still stands."
One Guardsman told Politico that on the day of the inauguration dozens of lawmakers had taken photos with them, shook their hands and thanked them for their service. He added, "Within 24 hours, they had no further use for us and banished us to the corner of a parking garage. We feel incredibly betrayed."
Politico reported the unit that had been using space in the Dirksen Senate Office building were asked to move to the garage by the Capitol Police.
"After significant outcry, it seems like there is movement right now to get Guard members back inside the Capitol, into the visitors center," Politico reporter Natasha Bertrand, tweeted.
Politico reporter Lara Seligman said a Guard source told her "all units at the Thurgood Marshall parking garage are ordered to relocate to the CVC immediately."
The U.S. Capitol Police put out a statement on the report saying, "The United States Capitol Police immensely appreciates the integral support of the U.S. National Guard in helping to secure the Capitol Complex leading up to, and including the Inaugural ceremony. The Department is grateful for their service and our strong partnership during this time."
It continued, "The Department’s request for National Guard assistance included a specific number of personnel to allow the National Guard to provide, at a minimum, 12 hours of off-campus rest time for the troops, and understood that this would be carried out throughout their deployment. Recently, the Department requested that the troops’ schedules be changed so they work no more than 8-hour shifts to allow for more off-campus rest time post-Inauguration."
The Guardsmen have been using the garage only for breaks between their long shifts and have recently had hotel rooms to sleep in at night, Van Cleave tweeted.
A spokesman for the National Guard told Politico, "As Congress is in session and increased foot traffic and business is being conducted, Capitol Police asked the troops to move their rest area. They were temporarily relocated to the Thurgood Marshall Judicial Center garage with heat and restroom facilities. We remain an agile and flexible force to provide for the safety and security of the Capitol and its surrounding areas. The Guard is reviewing the request so that logistics and schedules can be adjusted."
The DC National Guard released the following statement:
"The National Guard continues to assist and support the U.S. Capitol Police. As Congress was in session and increased foot traffic and business was being conducted, Capitol Police asked the troops to move their rest area. They were temporarily relocated to the Thurgood Marshall Judicial Center garage that has heat and restroom facilities.
Security detail requires a rest period and a break area, as troops perform their shift work, in order to get out of inclement weather.
Brig. Gen. Janeen Birckhead, Inauguration Task Force Commander, confirms that troops are out of the garage and back into the Capitol building as authorized by the USCP Watch Commander and the troops will take their breaks near Emancipation Hall going forward.
We remain an agile and flexible force to provide for the safety and security of the Capitol and its surrounding areas.
Our troops are going to hotel rooms or other comfortable accommodations at the end of their shifts."