For the third year in a row, an eight-foot, black metal fence will surround the U.S. Capitol complex during an address to Congress by President Joe Biden. The fencing was erected this weekend and will remain in place through at least Wednesday, surrounding the 175,000 square-foot Capitol grounds complex.
The fencing, which is plastered with signs reading "Area closed by order of the United States Capitol Police Board," has become an increasingly common and controversial security measure in the two years since the Jan. 6, 2021 U.S. Capitol attack.
"It's traumatizing to our children and it sends a message that something is wrong with our country and our Capitol," said Denise Krepp, a mother of two, who is raising her children in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Krepp told CBS News she and other parents are growing more uncomfortable with the imposing image of the police fencing. "Our children are seeing this and asking their parents 'What's wrong? Why are we barricaded in again?'"
The fencing was ordered by the U.S. Capitol Police Board, a group of congressional security officials who oversee the Capitol grounds, but whose meetings and reports are not made publicly available.
A president's State of the Union address to Congress is regularly designated as a national special security event by federal homeland security officials, allowing for temporary and significant increases in security precautions and manpower. In a statement, the Capitol Police said, "National Special Security Events require a robust security plan, so out of an abundance of caution, the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Capitol Police temporarily put up a fence around the U.S. Capitol Building."
Security officials installed the same eight-foot metal fencing in the immediate aftermath of the Capitol attack in 2021. It has reappeared multiple times in the months since, including ahead of a Sept. 18, 2021 protest by supporters of Jan. 6 criminal defendants and former President Donald Trump.
Similar fencing was also installed for weeks around the U.S. Supreme Court in 2022, after the release of a draft opinion indicating the court was poised to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion rights ruling.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the longtime Democratic delegate representing the District of Columbia in the House of Representatives, told CBS News she plans to introduce legislation to prohibit any permanent fencing on Capitol grounds.
"Already, the distance between government and the people has grown, with trust in government at historic lows," Holmes Norton said. "We should not entrench that distance further by placing intimidating barriers between ourselves as public servants and the people we serve, especially when such barriers are neither effective nor necessary."
Multiple federal law enforcement officials tell CBS News they are not aware of any specific nor credible threats to the Capitol, though they said cite a "heightened threat environment" as well as the widespread attention the State of the Union address routinely attracts.
U.S. Capitol Police reports show a sizeable number of investigations of threats against members of Congress. Over 7,000 investigations were undertaken in 2022, with nearly 10,000 investigations in 2021. Both represented a dramatic increase in yearly totals compared to the 2010s.
Justice Department prosecutors have filed a series of recent criminal cases against people accused of making death threats against congressional representatives of both parties. They've also opened a federal case against the California man accused of attacking the husband of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In Maryland, federal prosecutors have charged a man with traveling across country to allegedly make an assassination attempt against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in the D.C. suburb of Chevy Chase, Md.
Rep. Glenn Ivey, Democrat of Maryland, said, "Unscalable fencing should not be a metaphor for the United States Congress. We must overcome division, discord, and address discontent; not barricade against it." Ivey added, "I believe in our Capitol Police, and first responders and precautions like these are necessary. However, it is a sad state of affairs and sign of our times that barriers need to be erected to keep democracy in action protected."
Holmes Norton said that the fencing is affecting neighborhoods and businesses, preventing deliveries and blocking access by first responders. "Anytime a fence is erected around the Capitol, it should come down as soon as possible," she said.
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