After Lawmakers Intervene, Guard Troops Allowed to Return to Capitol for Breaks

National Guard troops deployed around the Capitol
National Guard troops continue to be deployed around the Capitol one day after the inauguration of President Joe Biden, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

After news broke Thursday night that some 15,000 Guard troops had been abruptly relocated from the U.S. Capitol complex to a chilly garage to spend their break time, outraged lawmakers protested -- and the decision was reversed.

"Unreal. I can't believe that the same brave servicemembers we've been asking to protect our Capitol and our Constitution these last two weeks would be unceremoniously ordered to vacate the building," Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., wrote on Twitter around 9 p.m. "I am demanding answers ASAP. They can use my office."

Duckworth, a retired Army National Guard lieutenant colonel who lost both legs when her helicopter was hit by enemy fire in Iraq, followed up an hour later to say that she had made calls and been told U.S. Capitol Police -- who made the call to relocate the break area for troops to a single-bathroom garage -- had apologized to Guard members and allowed them to return to the building.

"I meant ASAP when I said it," she wrote.

She later confirmed she had received assurances from the Guard commander that the troops were vacating the garage, and the last service member would leave the area around 11:30 p.m.

"Troops are now all out of the garage," Duckworth tweeted after midnight. "Now I can go to bed."

Video obtained by the Washington Post shows hundreds of Guard members marching out of the parking deck.

Duckworth wasn't the only member of Congress to raise the alarm.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the House minority leader, called on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to answer for why the troops had been moved.

"Why are American troops who are tasked with keeping security at the Capitol being forced to sleep in a parking lot?" he wrote on Twitter and Facebook. "They deserve to be treated with respect, and we deserve answers."

In a statement released around 1 a.m. Thursday, D.C. National Guard officials confirmed the move.

"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," the statement said. " ... 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."

While the 26,000 Guard members deployed to Washington D.C. to ensure security for the inauguration have access to more creature comforts than they would have in a foreign war zone, some decried the perceived hypocrisy of being hailed as heroes and then treated as a nuisance the next day.

"Yesterday dozens of senators and congressmen walked down our lines taking photos, shaking our hands and thanking us for our service," one Guard member told Politico. "Within 24 hours, they had no further use for us and banished us to the corner of a parking garage. We feel incredibly betrayed."

Following the Jan. 6 breach of the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, Wednesday's inauguration was uneventful, with fences erected in a wide perimeter and thousands of Guard troops standing post around the city. Officials have said thousands of the rapidly deployed troops could begin departing the city as soon as Saturday, although they continue to work with law enforcement officials to meet tasking requirements.

-- Matthew Cox contributed.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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