WASHINGTON – They slept on the marble floors, lined up for coffee in the 24-hour snack bar, and marveled at the marble resemblance of the nation’s founders in the rotunda and statue hall. They took photos with their cell phones, ate pizza and sometimes played cards with their M4 carbines by their sides.
A crowd of armed National Guard members camouflaged in fatigue surrounded the Capitol and lined its halls on Wednesday. Guns, helmets, and backpacks seemed to be piled in every corner of the complex. The heavily militarized presence provided a harrowing and sobering backdrop for the House of Representatives as the majority of lawmakers indicted a sitting American president for instigating a riot on the nation’s Capitol.
It was reminiscent of the rioters who had stormed the complex just a week earlier, when its frightened residents took refuge in the barricaded house chamber and secured places throughout the Capitol – and the accusations that remained before President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. were inauguration.
“It doesn’t belong here,” said Elaine Luria, a Virginia Democrat and veteran who served 20 years in the Navy, representative of the military presence in the building. “It’s something that is out of place.”
“I hate the idea that in some ways we are changing, getting harder, harder or more awkward for people to enjoy the historical monument that was created as a result of what happened last week,” she added.
Much like the lawmakers, helpers, and reporters who were still around Capitol Hill exchanged reports on where they were during the siege of Trump supporters and seemed between caring for the open wounds left by deadly unrest and the need to lay the foundations for healing under a new administration to be torn.
Capitol workers have been working feverishly for the past few days to complete preparations for the January 20 inauguration – hanging blue curtains over the entrance to the rotunda and dusting off the statues – as a reminder of the violence. Window panes remained splintered and cracked in parts of the Capitol, and two holes remained above the entrance to Spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi’s California office after rioters stole her embossed wood panel.
Freshman lawmakers made their first speeches on the merits of indicting President Trump of inciting a riot of high crimes and misdemeanors. After a majority in the House voted to indict Mr. Trump, Ms. Pelosi spoke from the same lectern where a Trump loyalist was photographed, hauling gleefully across the Capitol.
“I don’t have enough adjectives to describe how disgusted I am with what happened and where we are – it’s sad, it’s disgusting, it’s sad,” said rep Brian Mast, Republicans from Florida. As an army veteran who lost his legs while serving in Afghanistan, he gave Guards tours of the Rotunda to thank them for their service. (Mr. Mast also voted to reject the results in both Arizona and Pennsylvania and expressed no regret for those votes. He was not among the 10 Republicans who voted to indict Mr Trump.)
Some lawmakers lamented the threat the military presence made necessary, and many Democrats resented the role their own Republican counterparts had played in fueling the anger of the mob that attacked the Capitol and the lives of lawmakers put in danger.
“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 that Republicans might bring guns to the floor of the house, new magnetometers were installed outside the chamber’s doors, a security measure that posed a challenge to several lawmakers. As a rule, Republicans were allowed to bypass the magnetometers at the entrances to the building. Some Republicans grumbled about the extra layer of security, and some pushed past police officers despite the alarm.
“You are completely taking valuable resources away from the place of need to be, and you did it without consulting the minority,” said Representative Rodney Davis of Illinois, the top Republican on the House Administration Committee, on Tuesday Representative Steny H. Hoyer from Maryland, the majority leader. With several people The Democrats tested positive for the coronavirus after hiding in a room with maskless Republicans.
The magnetometers and increased security were a small consolation in the vote against Mr Trump as several lawmakers were still shaken and questioned the ability to safely attend the inauguration. On Wednesday, Ms. Pelosi said the House would vote this month on a rule change that would enforce a system of fines for refusing to adhere to the new security protocols, with $ 5,000 and $ 10,000 deducted from members’ pay for the first and second offenses would.