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After Capitol Riot, Lawmakers Chafe at Security Measures

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WASHINGTON — Lawmakers in both parties are increasingly agitating to scale back the security measures put in place around the Capitol in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 riot, intensifying a debate over how to balance safety concerns and public access to a building that is a symbol of democracy.

Some Republicans have turned the dispute over Capitol security into a political talking point, mocking the heavily protected complex, now ringed with National Guard troops and razor-wire-topped fencing, as “Fort Pelosi.”

But many Democrats are just as unhappy with the barriers encircling the area and the troops patrolling it, and are pushing to get rid of both despite concerns by the Capitol Police about removing the extra layers of security in the face of lingering threats.

“I want it down quickly,” Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, said in an interview, referring to the high perimeter fence. “It sends such an ugly message about the Capitol and who we are. It’s just not the way the Capitol should be run.”

There are also bipartisan calls to dismiss the National Guard troops who have remained at the Capitol since first being deployed there on the day of the attack.

The top Democrat and Republican on the House Armed Services Committee issued a joint statement this week saying they were “deeply troubled” by the security posture at the Capitol, arguing that it was excessive, costly and could cause readiness problems for the National Guard.

“As the U.S. Capitol Police continues to build its personnel capacity, there is no doubt that some level of support from the National Guard should remain in the National Capital Region to respond to credible threats against the Capitol,” wrote Representatives Adam Smith, Democrat of Washington and the committee’s chairman, and Mike D. Rogers of Alabama, the top Republican. “However, the present security posture is not warranted at this time.”

The issue has laid bare a divide between many lawmakers who want the Capitol to return to a sense of normalcy and the police and law enforcement officials who are tasked with protecting them. No lawmakers were injured during the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, though some had close calls. But nearly 140 officers suffered injuries during the assault, which left five people dead.

The tension is a familiar phenomenon in Washington, where past attacks and security incidents at the nation’s most iconic national buildings — the Capitol and the White House — have led to increasingly robust fortifications around both, often prompting controversy. In the case of the Capitol, the recent security measures have been particularly jarring, closing off roads, walkways and nearly 60 acres of picturesque, parklike grounds that surround the building where Congress meets.

The National Guard deployment, perimeter fence and other enhanced security measures are costing taxpayers nearly $2 million a week.

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III announced this week that more than 2,200 National Guard troops would remain in Washington through May 23 to assist federal law enforcement agencies in protecting Congress. The deployment is about half the contingent that arrived immediately following the attack.

The Defense Department and Capitol Police plan to further reduce the number of Guard personnel guarding Congress “as conditions allow,” John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said.

The Capitol Police Board, an unelected body that oversees the force, had initially intended to begin removing fencing around the complex this week, but a document its members submitted to congressional leaders said the barriers might have to remain until after President Biden addresses a joint session of Congress, an event that has not yet been scheduled.

The acting chief of the Capitol Police has warned lawmakers that intelligence material suggests that extremist groups, including those that carried out the Jan. 6 riot, want to blow up the Capitol and kill lawmakers around Mr. Biden’s first formal address to Congress.

“We have no intention of keeping the National Guard soldiers or that fencing any longer than what is actually needed,” the acting chief, Yogananda D. Pittman, told a House Appropriations subcommittee last month.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California is following the lead of law enforcement on security issues, and backing both the guard deployment and the fencing, according to her spokesman.

“The Speaker expects security professionals to make the security decisions and continues to support the U.S. Capitol Police’s requests for the temporary fencing and support from the National Guard,” said Drew Hammill, Ms. Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff.

But lawmakers are growing impatient to see the security measures removed, and Republicans, relegated to minority status in Congress, have grown increasingly vocal in expressing their complaints.

“We had a hearing about emerging threats, and there aren’t any,” said Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee. “We need to get the fence down. We need the barbed wire down. Send our troops home. This is America, not Stalag 17.”

Mr. Inhofe and other top Republicans sent a letter to Chief Pittman on Friday expressing concern that there was no justification for what they called “intrusive” fencing and a “burdensome” deployment of National Guard troops.

Mr. Inhofe said in an interview that he had researched what he could do to get the fence removed, but found no recourse since Democrats control both chambers of Congress.

“I’m kind of helpless,” he said.

Still other Republicans suggest that Democrats are maintaining the security posture as a public reminder of the damage and horror inflicted on the Capitol by supporters of former President Donald J. Trump — a day they would sooner forget.

“It’s ridiculous,” Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, said of the barbed-wire fence around the building. “It’s something that’s not necessary, and I think it’s people overcompensating because they made poor decisions leading up to January 6.”

Others have sought to use the militarized zone around the Capitol as a political weapon against Democrats. Representative Lauren Boebert of Colorado, a first-term Republican who compared Jan. 6 to “1776” before the attack, released a digital ad in which she tours the perimeter fence and brands the complex “Fort Pelosi,” claiming that Democrats would “spare no expense to protect themselves.”

“Speaker Pelosi,” Ms. Boebert says, “tear down this wall.”

Democrats scoff at the charge, saying they are also eager for the barriers to disappear, but that stronger security measures must replace them.

“The current fence — that has to go,” said Representative Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California and chairwoman of the Administration Committee. “But that doesn’t mean that we are going to back to a situation where the fence is the front door. There is no other legislative body in the world that allowed someone with an unexamined backpack to go right up to the door leading into the Capitol building itself. That is not reasonable.”

Congress is considering a spending package to fund enhanced security measures recommended by a task force created in response to the Jan. 6 attack.

The task force, led by Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré, has recommended hiring more than 800 Capitol Police officers, developing mobile fencing around the complex and changing Capitol Police Board procedures to allow the chief of the agency to quickly summon the National Guard during an emergency.

Many Democrats said they wanted the fence down as quickly as possible, but would defer to security professionals.

“It’s not what America is about,” Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Democrat of Maryland, said. “But you’ve got to follow the recommendations of security.”

Mr. Kaine said he was “completely fine” with Mr. Austin’s decision to keep the National Guard at the Capitol longer.

“Let’s protect ourselves without making it look like we’re still under siege,” Mr. Kaine said. “I just don’t like the look of the razor wire. The families that live around here, they want to be able to walk across the Capitol grounds or, on a spring day, fly a kite. They ought to be able to do that.”

Nicholas Fandos contributed reporting.



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In Washington, Policy Revolves Around Joe Manchin. He Likes It That Way.

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WASHINGTON — If Democrats eliminate the filibuster, there is one senator who would have an outsized impact in the 50-50 chamber on issues that could reshape the nation’s future: infrastructure, immigration, gun laws and voting rights. That senator is Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.

There is also a senator whose opposition to eliminating the filibuster is a significant reason it may never happen. That senator, too, is Mr. Manchin.

“He should want to get rid of the filibuster because he suddenly becomes the most powerful person in this place — he’s the 50th vote on everything,” said Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, sketching out the argument.

Mr. Manchin, however, does not see it that way. To the exasperation of Democrats, delight of Republicans and bewilderment of politicians who can’t understand why he wouldn’t want to wield more power, Mr. Manchin, a former governor of the state, isn’t budging.

“Sixty votes,” he said in an interview last week in his office, referring to the threshold required to advance most legislation, adding that he would not consider suspending the filibuster for certain bills, as some of his colleagues have floated: “You’re either committed or not.”

But with 18 people dead after two mass shootings within a week, a worsening migrant challenge on the border and Republicans trying to restrict voting in almost every state where they hold power, liberals believe this moment cries out for a different sort of commitment. At a time when they have full control of Congress and are confronting overlapping crises, many Democrats feel a moral and political imperative to act, process be damned.

That puts Mr. Manchin, 73, at the center of the most important policy debates in Washington — and has set the stage for a collision between a party eager to use its majorities to pass sweeping legislation and a political throwback determined to restore bipartisanship to a chamber that’s as polarized as the country.

Mr. Manchin believes that ending the legislative filibuster would effectively destroy the Senate. He recalled his predecessor, Robert C. Byrd, telling him that the chamber had been designed to force consensus.

Mr. Manchin has expressed willingness to support a “talking filibuster,” in which lawmakers have to actually hold the floor, perhaps for many hours, to block a vote. But he has not yielded on getting rid of it altogether and on an array of issues, including voting rights and gun control, his admonition is less about any particular policy end and more about making sure the legislation has support from both parties.

More broadly, Mr. Manchin’s resistance to ending the filibuster has ripened fundamental questions about which version of Congress would be more dysfunctional: a body stymied by gridlock or one that can pass legislation only by scrapping longstanding guidelines so it can push through party-line votes?

“You can’t make the place work if nothing significant is getting passed,” said Representative Ro Khanna, a leading progressive from California.

Mr. Manchin worries that the short-term benefit of ditching the filibuster would backfire for Democrats over the long term.

“I’m concerned about the House pushing an agenda that would be hard for us to maintain the majority,” Mr. Manchin said about the progressive legislation that House Democrats are stacking up at the Senate door. As for pressure from the left, he said, tauntingly: “What are they going to do, they going to go into West Virginia and campaign against me? Please, that would help me more than anything.”

To a growing number of his Democratic colleagues — and not just liberals — it’s naïve to keep putting hope over history, and believe, as Mr. Manchin said about gun legislation, that Republicans may say, “Listen, it’s time for us to do the reasonable, sensible thing.”

Of course, few in a Senate that depends on Mr. Manchin for a 50th vote will say outright that their colleague is indulging in fantasy.

“Joe’s focus, I believe, is bipartisanship, and I agree with the starting point,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, before lowering the boom: “They weren’t going to give us a single vote,” he said about the stimulus bill.

A former high school quarterback who friends say still relishes being at the center of the action, Mr. Manchin is something of a unicorn in today’s Congress. As a pro-coal and anti-abortion Democrat, he reflects a less-homogenized era when regionalism was as significant as partisanship and senators were more individual actors than predictable votes for their caucus.

Twice elected governor before claiming Mr. Byrd’s seat, he’s the only lawmaker standing in the way of an all-Republican congressional delegation in West Virginia, a state that former President Donald J. Trump carried by nearly 40 points last year. And he is an unlikely majority-maker of the Democratic Senate.

“We really are the big tent,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, before knowingly adding: “Now it’s a lot of work when you have a big tent, right? But that’s the way we have a majority.”

While out of step with his national party on some issues, and written off by parts of the left as little better than a Republican, his politics are more complex, even confounding, than they appear at first glance.

He provided the deciding vote on two of the biggest liberal priorities of this era — blocking repeal of the Affordable Care Act in 2017 and on passage of the nearly $2 trillion stimulus bill this month — while also twice voting to convict an impeached president wildly popular in his home state.

And while he may admire Mr. Byrd’s dedication to Senate tradition, Mr. Manchin has not emulated his predecessor by leveraging his power to focus relentlessly on steering spending projects back to West Virginia.

When Mr. Manchin was holding out on a single amendment that was delaying passage of the stimulus bill, White House aides were perplexed because his price for supporting the measure was not additional money for his impoverished home state. His main request, West Wing officials said, was to pare back spending and consider Republican input that could have made the bill appear more moderate.

Mr. Manchin said President Biden warned him in a phone call that the progressive left in the House might balk if the bill were significantly trimmed. “I said, ‘Mr. President, all we’re trying to do is put some guard rails on this,’” he recalled.

He was less happy about Vice President Kamala Harris’s effort to nudge him on the legislation by making an appearance on a television affiliate in West Virginia to promote the bill without forewarning him. The clip went viral and, Mr. Manchin said, prompted cleanup conversations with Mr. Biden and the White House chief of staff, Ron Klain.

As for any pressure that he may feel on the filibuster, Mr. Manchin said he had reminded Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, of how essential he was to providing Democrats a majority.

He said he had told Mr. Schumer, “I know one thing, Chuck, you wouldn’t have this problem at all if I wasn’t here.”

He is not the only impediment to the sort of expansive liberal agenda preferred by many congressional Democrats or even the only one still defending the filibuster. Other Senate Democrats, including Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, also share his reluctance.

Yet none are as eager as Mr. Manchin to restore a bygone day of collegiality. And perhaps, more to the point, none are as happy as him to talk about the need to do so as he navigates representing a once-heavily Democratic state that had been shifting to the G.O.P. even before Mr. Trump arrived on the scene.

He crossed the aisle last year to endorse his closest Republican ally, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, and is already co-hosting bipartisan lunches with her. He is plotting the post-pandemic restoration of his pizza-and-beer parties on the boat he calls home while in Washington. (It’s called “Almost Heaven,” the opening lyric to John Denver’s ode to West Virginia.)

Although some of his colleagues relish the ideologically-charged prime-time cable news programs, Mr. Manchin prefers another Washington institution that also flourished in less-polarized times: the Sunday morning show.

In the fashion of many former governors who grow exasperated with Washington’s glacial pace, at times he can barely contain his impatience. He’s repeatedly mused about leaving the Senate and trying to reclaim his old job in Charleston.

But those who know Mr. Manchin well believe he likes the attention that he receives in the capital, the same as he did as a signal-caller in Farmington, W.V., where he grew up near Nick Saban, the legendary football coach at the University of Alabama and a lifelong friend of Mr. Manchin.

“You’re in the hot seat when you’re a quarterback, but it’s pretty satisfying when you make progress,” said Nick Casey, a Manchin ally and former chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party. Mr. Casey said the senator, who sustained an injury that cut short his playing days, was “the greatest QB who never got to start at West Virginia University — just ask him.”

Steve Williams, the mayor of Huntington, W.V., who served with Mr. Manchin in the state legislature, said: “This is the closest he has been to how he could be as governor, actually driving the agenda, pulling people together.’’

It’s the last part that most animates the senator. Happily bantering with reporters as he positions himself as a lonely, if well-covered, voice for comity, he shifts questions from policy to process.

“Why don’t you ask people when was the last time they took time to talk to some of the people on this side?” Mr. Manchin told a CNN reporter this week. “Try to convince them, or work with them. Have you had dinner with them? Have you had a lunch with them? Have you had a cup of coffee with them? Try something.”

A number of anti-filibuster Senate Democrats, though, are more focused on what Mr. Manchin’s support of the “talking filibuster” could portend.

“I think that gives us a lot of room for discussion,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, adopting a glass-is-half-full perspective.

What does seem clear is that Mr. Manchin is not going to switch parties.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen, although we’d welcome him with open arms,” said Ms. Collins, who has tried in the past to persuade her friend to join Republicans.

It’s not difficult to see why Mr. Manchin remains in his forefathers’ party. A Catholic of Italian descent, he sought John F. Kennedy’s desk when he arrived in the Senate, displays a picture of the slain president in his office lobby and can recall hearing that Massachusetts accent in his kitchen when Kennedy’s brothers came to his parents’ house during the West Virginia primary in 1960.

“Joe reminds me a lot of the old conservative Democrats in Texas,” said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas. “They were born Democrats. They’re going to die Democrats.”

As for the filibuster, Mr. Coons, who was sworn in alongside Mr. Manchin in 2010, said liberals shouldn’t get their hopes up.

Recalling a conversation with somebody who knows Mr. Manchin well, Mr. Coons said this person told him: “If the ghost of Robert Byrd came back to life and said the future of West Virginia itself is on the line he might … think about it.”

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C.D.C. Funding Gun Violence Research For First Time in Decades

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That was the argument he used to help persuade Congress to appropriate money for gun violence research in 2019. The research itself was never banned outright, and in 2013, weeks after the massacre that killed 26 people at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, President Barack Obama directed the C.D.C. to reconsider funding studies on gun violence.

The agency commissioned a report from the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council outlining priorities, but little changed. By 2019, after Democrats reclaimed the House, liberal organizations like MoveOn.org were petitioning Congress to repeal the Dickey Amendment. Nearly every House Democrat signed on.

But Dr. Rosenberg argued it should remain intact, to “provide cover for Republicans and gun-loving Democrats who can put money into the science and tell their constituents, ‘This is not money for gun control.’ ”

Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat who chaired the House subcommittee that oversees the C.D.C.’s budget at the time, said she put $50 million into the appropriations bill that year, but the Senate, controlled by Republicans, eliminated it. The two chambers agreed on $25 million as a compromise, but she said she hoped to double the funding this year.

Dr. Naik-Mathuria, the Houston trauma surgeon, said she would like to see Washington address the problem of gun violence as a matter of injury prevention, not politics. She began researching methods to reduce gun violence about six years ago, she said, after seeing “kids come in dead because they shot themselves in the head when they found a gun at home.”

Her current study is aimed at determining risk factors for gun violence for children and adults, and her past work has led to some changes in medical practice, she said.

Pediatricians in Texas, she said, are hesitant to talk about gun safety out of concern that “it would anger parents or become political.” So she and her group made a broader safety video that tucked in messages about gun safety — like keeping guns locked and stored — with tips like how to keep children away from poison.

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Who Are Gavin Newsom’s Enemies?

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There’s still time for a lot to change: If the organizers of the recall effort reach the signature threshold, the vote to recall Mr. Newsom and to choose his successor — both would be done on a single ballot — probably wouldn’t occur until near the end of the year.

That recall effort is being led by Orrin Heatlie, a conservative and a former sergeant in the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department, who as recently as last year shared anti-vaccination and anti-L.G.B.T.Q. views online. But the endeavor has the backing of a number of deep-pocketed political action committees, most of them right-leaning.

Randy Economy, a political consultant and talk-radio host, serves as the lead adviser to Recall Gavin Newsom, the group organizing the effort. He said the governor’s behavior and demeanor had made the recall necessary. “It’s because of Gavin Newsom himself, and the way he conducts himself every day since he’s become governor,” Mr. Economy said in an interview. “It’s all been more about his image and self-aggrandizing, as opposed to fixing the problems.”

Mr. Newsom’s approval rating isn’t nearly as low as Gov. Gray Davis’s was in 2003, when voters ousted him in a recall. Arnold Schwarzenegger, running as a moderate Republican, was the beneficiary of that effort, winning the recall election and going on to serve as governor for more than seven years.

California politics are different — and decidedly more Democratic — than they were 18 years ago. Democrats now have a 2-to-1 advantage in terms of voter registration across the state. Just because there is a Republican-led effort does not mean that a Republican will be the one to ultimately benefit. Mr. Economy, who volunteered in 2016 for Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign but has also worked for Democrats in the past, insisted that his team’s goal was not partisan in nature.

“Our job is not to pick the next governor; our job is to make sure that this governor’s recalled and removed from office,” he said.

The state is light on prominent (let alone popular) G.O.P. politicians, and some ambitious Democrats already appear ready to run through the open door. All of which points to a possible irony: Even if it were to become only the second successful recall effort in California history, the push — led by conservative interests — could ultimately lift up another Democrat, possibly one to the left of Mr. Newsom.

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