As I mentioned last night, thousands of members of the National Guard who’d been sleeping at the Capitol as part of the effort to secure the inauguration suddenly got told to vacate the premises yesterday. Thousands were sent to sleep in a parking garage and were reportedly all sharing one power outlet and more significantly, just one porta-potty. This morning the Washington Post has a bit more from two of the soldiers who were sent to the garage:
The two soldiers, who are noncommissioned officers in the Maryland National Guard, said troops inhaled exhaust fumes, shared few toilets with hundreds of soldiers and struggled to sleep under the harsh fluorescent lights.
“I’ve never in my entire career felt like I’ve been booted onto the curb and told, ‘Figure it out on your own,’ ” said one of the soldiers, who said he served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak with reporters.
“This is absurd,” said the other soldier, who said one of his men was nearly struck by a car…
One portable toilet used by soldiers was overflowing onto the sidewalk, a photo obtained by The Post shows.
One of the soldiers made clear that the lack of power outlets wasn’t just about calling home or playing games during downtime. Guard Members use their phones as part of their jobs to coordinate activities, so not having charged phones would make it more difficult to do their jobs.
There was immediate outrage about the conditions yesterday afternoon. Sen. Mike Lee among many others said he was looking into how this happened. Sen. Tammy Duckworth made some calls and said the Capitol Police apologized to the Guardsmen:
I meant ASAP when I said it. Just made a number of calls and have been informed 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.
— Tammy Duckworth (@SenDuckworth) January 22, 2021
So last night the decision was reversed and Guard members were allowed back into the Capitol. Military Times has some more comments from Guard members:
“Because of the MASSIVE backlash over this, we are now being allowed back into the Senate building,” one National Guard soldier told Military Times. “We’re going to make a big show of marching back into the building.”
Another soldier told Military Times that “we were in the Thurgood Marshall Judicial Center parking garage and they kicked us out of that parking garage to make us walk half a mile away to the Hart Senate Office Building parking garage where we can’t be seen.’
Where they can’t be seen? Here they are marching back:
WATCH: National Guard troops leave the Thurgood Marshall Judicial Center garage after U.S. Capitol Police temporarily relocated their rest area. Troops have since returned to the Capitol. – @MoshehNBC pic.twitter.com/ZpL1RxbY3a
— NBC News (@NBCNews) January 22, 2021
As for why this happened in the first place, the Capitol Police admitted yesterday that they’d asked the Guard to vacate because “foot traffic” in the buildings was increasing as Congress got back to work. However, today the Acting US Capitol Police chief claimed today this was all a big misunderstanding. CNN notes the stories being told don’t match up:
Acting US Capitol Police chief Yogananda Pittman said Friday that the Capitol Police “did not instruct the National Guard to vacate the Capitol Building facilities,” with the “exception of specific times” on Inauguration Day when the swearing-in ceremonies were underway.
The National Guard Bureau, however, said earlier Thursday the troop relocation was temporary because Congress is in session.
Yesterday it was because Congress was in session but if that was the reason it’s hard to see how this was temporary. Today the explanation is that this was only about inauguration day. The inauguration was Wednesday. The Guard members were booted out Thursday afternoon. Something really doesn’t add up here.
Even if you choose to believe one of these stories being offered this was still a screw up. You can’t ask 1,000 people to share one porta-potty, even temporarily. My own guess is if this hadn’t blown up on social media yesterday, they’d all still be out there in the garage dodging cars and breathing in fumes.
I still wonder if the reason we can’t get a straight story is because the Capitol Police didn’t make this decision on their own. It’s possible they did but it’s a pretty big decision for an acting police chief who has only been on the job since the previous chief resigned in the wake of the Capitol riot. Did she really just wake up and say, I’m sending these guys out to a parking lot. Helluva move for your second week. If it really was her call, maybe Capitol Police need to find someone else.
Update: There are some tweets circulating claiming that Trump has offered his hotel. Haven’t seen that confirmed yet.