Senators unveil bipartisan bill to ban permanent fencing at the U.S. Capitol

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A bipartisan pair of senators introduced legislation Thursday to ban permanent fencing at the U.S. Capitol, saying turning the iconic building into a fortress projects a negative message to the world.  

Sens. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, and Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, partnered with D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat, to unveil the legislation at a press conference in front of the building.  

“The Capitol is the citadel of democracy and we should not turn it into a fortress,” Mr. Van Hollen said. “We should not wall the people’s house off from the people of the United States.”

The Senate bill, based on legislation introduced in the House, would ban federal funding from being used to construct a permanent fence around the Capitol grounds.

Security at the U.S. Capitol complex was bolstered to unprecedented levels after the Jan. 6 attack, including installing an imposing fence topped with razor wire that extended for blocks away from the building.

On Wednesday — more than two months after the Capitol siege — the fence around the outer perimeter was removed. An inner-perimeter fence around the building will remain in place while security officials work on a permanent plan.

Lawmakers on both sides decried the decision to surround the Capitol with a fence, saying it was an overreaction.

“We can achieve security here without building a wall,” Mr. Van Hollen continued. “It would send the wrong signal around the world if this place was not accessible.”

“This Capitol has survived many attacks over the centuries, including during the War of 1812,” he continued. “We didn’t have a wall after that and don’t need a wall now.”

Mr. Blunt said that the bill has bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress. He added that every single senator he’s spoken with has asked to have their name on the bill.

Ms. Holmes said the bill may have “100 percent” support in the House, adding she doesn’t see any opposition from Democrats.

Ms. Holmes has been of the more vocal opponents against permanent fencing, arguing that it would negatively impact businesses and residents near the Capitol.

In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, sent earlier this month, Ms. Holmes said the fencing turned neighborhoods into “militarized zones.”

“Permanent fencing would infringe on their ability, as well as the general public’s ability, to enjoy the public spaces that define our nation’s capital,” she wrote. 

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