US Capitol Police are ramping up security for President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address to Congress next week, including adding a non-scalable fence around the Capitol grounds, according to two sources familiar with the plans.
Intelligence officials in the police department warned in an email circulated to the force on Friday that the threat level remains elevated ahead of Biden’s annual address set for Tuesday night.
While there are no specific credible threats to the event, the Capitol Police bulletin notes that “recent incidents targeting politicians and law enforcement agencies within the past month indicate that there is a heightened threat toward government officials.”
The bolstered security comes as some Democrats say they’re concerned for the safety of the president, dignitaries and others who attend the address and as lawmakers have verbally sparred over guns on Capitol grounds after magnetometers were removed from the entrance to the House chamber.
Earlier this week, after the issue was raised during a committee hearing, a House lawyer reminded Republican colleagues that firearms are prohibited on US Capitol grounds except for members of Congress in their personal offices.
“Wanted to remind everyone that since 1967, long-standing federal statutory provisions … and Capitol Police Board regulations have generally prohibited the possession of firearms on the Capitol Campus,” the general counsel for the Republican-led House Administration Committee wrote in an email to GOP staffers.
The State of the Union marks the first major test of the 118th Congress’s Capitol Police Board, the oversight body for Capitol Police, which is now split down party lines. It also follows a series of high-profile threats and violence aimed at political figures, including the brutal attack on Paul Pelosi, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband.
While each side of the Capitol building can operate under separate security rules – as they currently do with Republicans controlling the House side and Democrats the Senate – both the Senate and House sergeants at arms are consulted on campus-wide issues.
Split opinions on security came into focus last month when House Speaker Kevin McCarthy removed the magnetometers leading to the House floor. The metal detectors, installed following the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, were a sore spot for Republicans who felt they were a largely meaningless security measure.
The issue bubbled up again this week.
On Wednesday, more than a dozen Democrats led by Rep. Jared Huffman of California wrote to House and Senate leadership in an effort to raise attention on security.
“We write with urgent concern for the safety and security of the President, other dignitaries, and guests at the upcoming State of the Union Address,” the Democrats said in the letter. Citing the removal of the magnetometers and threats to lawmakers, they wrote that “the security of the House complex is today precarious.”
And during a contentious House Natural Resources Committee meeting on Wednesday, Huffman pushed for a rule explicitly banning firearms from a committee room.
Members of Congress and others are already prohibited from carrying firearms on to the floor of the House, where the State of the Union is delivered, law enforcement sources noted.
One law enforcement source said lawmakers will not undergo any additional screening before entering the House chamber for Biden’s address. Another source pointed out the magnetometers outside the House chamber were removed for the last two presidential addresses – the Joint Session in 2021 and State of the Union in 2022.
The State of the Union is considered a “National Special Security Event,” a designation that puts the US Secret Service in charge of much of the planning and unlocks significant resources for security plans. Capitol Police control most of the security apparatus on the Capitol grounds in cooperation with the Secret Service and other agencies.
Capitol Police declined to describe specific security plans.
“For safety reasons, we cannot provide the public details about potential security measures or any potential resources that are put into protecting the Members of Congress,” a department spokesperson told CNN.
Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the USSS “works very closely with all partners to ensure the maximum level of safety during the State of the Union. To maintain the integrity of our operations, we will not speak to specifics concerning protective means or methods used during National Special Security Events.”