The scene in the US Capitol. seemed to be disconnected. Inside the House of Representatives, the nation’s lawmakers spoke solemnly about democracy, the rule of law, and the words of Abraham Lincoln as they voted to remove the president from office. They wore masks, a rule imposed by the Democrats, as a measure of the pandemic that continues to plague the country.
But just a few steps away, outside the chamber doors, it looked an armed camp.
President Donald Trump’s impeachment for inciting an uprising on Capitol Hill contained reminders of the violence and death that occurred a week ago, and fears that the Capitol needed more protection to prevent it from happening again.
Soldiers of the National Guard take turns sleeping, on their mission to guard Congress. Photo: AFP
Where once visitors and tourists walked, hundreds of members of the National Guard camped, protecting lawmakers, who were still reeling from last week’s violence and are now preparing to the takeover of President-elect Joe Biden.
The Capitol facilities were surrounded by fences, and dozens of other security forces and troops were on alert.
A replica of the dome that sits atop the Capitol, the Statue of Liberty, is located in the Capitol visitor center. Below her, soldiers slept on the marble floors, while others gathered to discuss their marching orders for the day.
Under the Statue of Liberty, in Congress. Photo: AFP
They were grouped from one end of the gigantic hall to the other and the number made impossible follow the signs that called the social distancing. To protect themselves from COVID, they wore masks, and to protect themselves from potential violence, riot shields and gas masks.
Republican Rep. Brian Mast of Florida, a military veteran who lost both legs in the Afghanistan war, was shocked to see that so many soldiers they were necessary to keep the Capitol safe.
“Is one of the saddest things in this world, for me, “Mast said as he toured the place.
Up in arms
The Capitol always sees increased security precautions before an assumption of command, but it rarely seems that the nation is up in arms.
But along with the signs of fear, there were also signs of gratitude for those protecting the Capitol.
A tunnel leading to the House of Representatives office buildings became an impromptu tribute to members of law enforcement who protected the Capitol when a violent mob invaded the building, in an attempt to derail the certification of votes. of the Electoral College in presidential elections.
Sleeping in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill. Photo: AFP
More of 50 policemen were injured in the attack, including 15 who were hospitalized. One of them died.
“Thanks for keeping my mommy safe,” read a poster with smiley faces and stars signed by “Clair, 8.”
The appreciation posters came from all ranks and political parties, including a letter from the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. “We would not be here without you,” read another sign signed “thanks from AOC”, the representative’s initials Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, from New York.
The National Guard and the fences. Photo: AFP
Outside of the Capitol, members of the National Guard – many of them carrying semiautomatic assault rifles – complement the work of the Capitol Police, surrounding each of the office buildings that legislators and their staff use when they are not on Capitol Hill. for vote. The number of entrances to the buildings drastically decreased and those who approach must present a credential to enter.
The tensions were also evident within the chamber. Starting Tuesday, lawmakers had to go through a metal detector before they were allowed into the compound. Members of Congress previously enjoyed being able to bypass security check stations at most entrances to the building.
In the House of Representatives, there were Capitol Police officers and Civil Guards at the gates, but no control stations. Journalists had to do the same to enter the galleries of the enclosure.
Hundreds of soldiers rest at the Capitol visitor center. Photo: AFP
While the debate on whether to impeach Trump took place in the House in the afternoon, one side called for unity, the other for responsibility. It is not very clear if either will happen.
“This is the moment of truth, my friends,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia. “Are they on the side of chaos and mob, or on the side of constitutional democracy and our freedom?” “If we accused every politician who gave a fiery speech to a crowd of supporters, this Capitol would be deserted. That’s what the president did, is all he did“said Rep. Tom McClintock, Republican of California.
House Republican 3 Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who created a storm within the party by declaring that she would support the impeachment, quickly left after casting her affirmative vote.
A poster indicates the presence of the military in Congress, in Washington. Photo: AFP
But another supporter of the Republican impeachment, John Katko of New York, stayed a little closer to a desk with a terminal that tracks the tally.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi cast her vote and announced the recount, but only after waiting for California Democratic ally Maxine Waters, a strong opponent of Trump, to cast the 232nd final vote to impeach him.
When Pelosi announced the vote count, there was barely a sound, a single applause of one or two in the audience that was quickly replaced by silence, as most of the members headed for the exits.
By Kevin Freking and Andrew Taylor, Associated Press