What U.S. Capitol security looks like a year after the Jan. 6 insurrection
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol led to a transformation of security for the citadel of democracy. One year later, a new team of Capitol security leaders are in place, along with a series of congressional probes investigating what went wrong that day. And after January 6, the partisan divide in Congress has only intensified, leaving uncertain whether the Capitol can be safeguarded from another attack. NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales has more.
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UNIDENTIFIED RIOTERS: (Chanting) Stop the steal. Stop the steal.
CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: A year later, for many, it's the sounds.
AQUILINO GONELL: That particular sound I was hearing when they were breaking the barriers.
AMY KLOBUCHAR: Someone yelling, get the box; get the box with the ballots.
JAMIE RASKIN: A pounding on the door like a battering ram - it's the most haunting sound I ever heard, and I will never forget it.
GRISALES: That's U.S. Capitol Police Sergeant Aquilino Gonell, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin. Klobuchar chairs the Senate Rules Committee which oversees Capitol Police.
KLOBUCHAR: What I most remember is when we vowed we were going to go back and finish our work.
GRISALES: The work for Klobuchar and others goes beyond certifying the election of President Joe Biden that night. Now, it's focused on a larger mission of securing the Capitol to ensure a day like January 6 never happens again.
PETE AGUILAR: I don't necessarily think we feel we're safer.
GRISALES: That's California Congressman Pete Aguilar, a member of the House Select Committee investigating the attack and weighing legislation to further safeguard the peaceful transfer of power. January 6 shed a light on the threats not just outside the Capitol, but within.
AGUILAR: We've seen metal detectors as a result of our own members stating that they were carrying weapons after and leading up to that date. So that gives us a lot of pause.
GRISALES: The metal detectors for the Democratic-led House were installed days after the siege, much to the chagrin of most Republicans.
PETER MEIJER: It's patronizing, and it's a stunt.
GRISALES: That's Michigan GOP Congressman Peter Meijer.
MEIJER: The place I felt least safe on January 6 was inside that chamber, and it wasn't because there weren't metal detectors on the outside.
GRISALES: The Senate opted not to go with metal detectors to the relief of many of its members. Missouri Republican Senator Roy Blunt says the upper chamber does not have the same concerns.
ROY BLUNT: I feel safe here.
GRISALES: Blunt is the ranking Republican on the Senate Rules Committee. In a rare bipartisan effort post January 6, Blunt and Klobuchar authored legislation together to let Capitol Police call the National Guard for emergency backup, a key failure on January 6 that led to an hours-long delay for help. Here's Blunt.
BLUNT: I think the Capitol's more secure because of a greater awareness of what could happen or what can happen.
GRISALES: In response to the attack, Capitol Police have ramped up intelligence-gathering, major event security and their communications. There's also more coordination between the department and other agencies. Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger came on board in July.
TOM MANGER: We're so much better prepared than we were a year ago.
GRISALES: But challenges remain. The agency saw several die, more than 80 injured and more than 130 quit this past year. And the workload is only growing. In 2021, Capitol Police saw more than 9,000 threats against lawmakers; more than double than five years earlier.
MANGER: Not all of 'em rise to the level of a criminal threat, but all of 'em are cases that we needed to look into.
GRISALES: Capitol Police opened two brand-new field offices in the states that have seen the most cases - Florida and California. Many agree the Capitol is much safer today, even as it remains closed to the public at large thanks to the pandemic. Others, such as Congressman Peter Meijer, say there's still much work to do.
MEIJER: I hope we get to a bit of a statis where we appreciate and strike a fine balance between, you know, both being open to the public while also being mindful of the need to have a strong layer of security so that Congress can do its job and do its job safely.
GRISALES: Whether Congress can bridge the partisan divide left by January 6 and agree on an ultimate plan to safeguard the Capitol will mark their biggest security test yet.
Claudia Grisales, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.