An Open Congress Cannot Be Fenced Off

Demand Progress, the Lincoln Network, and a coalition of organizations wrote to legislators this week to express our concern and strong opposition to the proposed permanent fencing surrounding the U.S. Capitol.

On January 6th, insurrectionists successfully breached security and stormed the U.S. Capitol with lawmakers, employees, essential workers, and journalists inside. In the aftermath of this attack, Congress began evaluating what needs to be done to ensure this type of attack never happens again. While it is clear security at the Capitol must be reformed, solutions must not come at the expense of open government; the Capitol must remain open to the public.

Acting U.S. Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman released a statement recommending the U.S. Capitol complex be fitted with permanent fencing. To enclose the Capitol campus with permanent security fencing would be a grave error. While there may be times where temporary fencing is necessary, to erect permanent barriers between Congress would be a blow to open democracy.

The safety and security of our legislators and the people who make their work possible is paramount; however it was not an absence of funding or fencing that allowed for the January 6th insurrection. Rather, the success of the attack was a result of mismanagement and poor communication by the entities tasked with keeping the Capitol safe. 

The Capitol stands as a symbol of fair and open democracy — closing the Capitol to the public and militarizing Capitol Hill is a sign of weakness and contrary to our democratic ideals as a nation.

The letter can be found here and is also available below:

February 15, 2021

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi

Speaker

United States House of Representatives

The Honorable Kevin McCarthy

Republican Leader

United States House of Representatives

RE: Keep Congress Open to the People

Dear Speaker Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Schumer, House Republican Leader McCarthy, and Senate Republican Leader McConnell:

We write in firm opposition to the proposed enclosure of the U.S. Capitol with permanent security fencing. The Capitol and surrounding buildings must remain open to all engaged in the business of our democracy. Congress should be the shining city on the hill, welcoming to all, and a beacon to the world. 

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong. The insurrection of January 6, 2021, and the attendant failure to protect Congress, were not caused by the absence of permanent security fencing. They were the result of failures by those responsible for managing security for the U.S. Capitol. That should be the focus of efforts to protect Congress and those who serve therein.

There may be times when it is necessary to erect temporary security fencing, as in the recent inauguration, but that decision must be driven by a meaningful strategy to address an exigent threat that is part of a thoughtful, coordinated plan developed by a competent security authority. We must first do the hard work of understanding what went wrong and why, especially when proposed solutions come at the expense of our values.

Militarizing our Capitol is a sign of weakness and a hallmark of authoritarian countries. It is an overreaction based upon a miscalculation of how to address the dangers we face. We must do better.

We appreciate your attention and would welcome the opportunity to discuss the matter further. Please contact Daniel Schuman, policy director, Demand Progress Education Fund at daniel@demandprogress.org or Zach Graves, head of policy, Lincoln Network at zach.graves@joinlincoln.org. 

Sincerely yours,

American Family Voices

Arab American Institute

Center for International Policy

Council on American-Islamic Relations

Courage California

Defending Rights & Dissent

Demand Progress Education Fund

Due Process Institute

Engage Action

Environmentalists Against War

Fight for the Future

FreedomWorks

GovTrack.us

Issue One

Lincoln Network

Our Revolution

Project on Government Oversight

Public Citizen

R Street Institute

X-Lab

Kevin Kosar, AEI*

Lorelei Kelly, Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown*

Gar Smith, Environmentalists Against War*

Robert Musil, Rachel Carson Council*

* Affiliations listed for identification purposes only.

Cc: Representative Zoe Lofgren, Chair of the House Administration Committee 

Representative Rodney Davis, Ranking Member of the House Administration Committee

Senator Amy Klobuchar, Chair of the Committee on Rules and Administration

Senator Roy Blunt, Vice Chair of the Committee on Rules and Administration