WASHINGTON – The House left town early, the Senate continued to debate a $1.9 trillion bill for coronavirus relief and U.S. Capitol Police braced for a potential security threat Thursday as a possible follow-up to the Jan. 6 insurrection.
On Wednesday, Capitol police released a statement warning of a “possible plot to breach the Capitol by an unidentified militia group.” Downtown businesses have warned tenants about potential protests.
“The USCP is steadfast in ensuring that an incident of this nature will never occur again, especially with the realization that the possibility of a similar incident occurring in the current environment is a very real and present danger,” acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman told lawmakers Wednesday.
National Guard troops formed a more visible presence at the U.S. Capitol complex on Thursday morning, with hundreds of troops unloading from a dozen large tour buses while carting long rifles, helmets and backpacks.
Overall security at the Capitol, which was heightened after the Jan. 6 riot, appeared similar to weeks after that insurrection. Two large fences topped with barbed wire ringed the perimeter of complex. Troops lined the fences.
Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., said in a tweet that U.S. Capitol Police asked the National Guard for a 60-day extension of their mission, so the guard is soliciting states to send contributions. The current mission was scheduled to end March 12, she said.
Troops and law enforcement officers still guard access points, checking vehicles and security badges of people seeking to enter the complex.
The threat comes nearly two months after U.S. Capitol riot by Trump supporters, which left five people dead. Rioters attacked police officers and threatened the lives of former Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on the day Congress counted Electoral College votes for the 2020 presidential election.
More:House cancels Thursday session after police warn of ‘possible plot to breach the Capitol’
Pelosi: Votes moved to help GOP schedule
Pelosi described talk of March 4 being an alternate inauguration day as “silliness” and said her chamber avoided voting Thursday as a courtesy to Republicans rather than a security precaution.
“If in fact there are any troublemakers around, it made sense,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said at her weekly news conference. “I don’t think anybody should take any encouragement that because some trouble-makers might show up, that we changed our schedule. No, we just moved it a few hours.”
An unfounded QAnon conspiracy theory held that former President Donald Trump would be inaugurated on March 4 because that was when administrations changed before the 20th Amendment was approved in the 1930s.
QAnon falsely alleges the existence of a satanic “deep state” apparatus that supports a child sex trafficking ring. Its followers played prominent roles in the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, allegedly incited by Trump.
Related:What is QAnon?
But Pelosi said the conspiracy theory had nothing to do with the House leaving Wednesday.
“The silliness of this being inauguration day and that the president may be inaugurated falls into the realm of let’s not waste our time on it,” Pelosi said.
Pelosi said Democrats held their annual issues conference virtually, earlier in the week. But Republicans planned to meet Thursday in person, so the House was going to complete voting by noon that day and instead chose to finish up for the week on Wednesday, she said.
“It was really just as a convenience,” Pelosi said.
She said the House would consider more permanent security measures next week, in response to the Jan. 6 riot that left five dead and 140 police officers injured. Lt. Gen. Russel Honore conducted a security review and has briefed congressional leaders.
Pelosi said lawmakers would have to balance better security with public access to the Capitol complex, despite the threat of supporters of former President Donald Trump.
“We have to ensure we are safe enough to do our job, but not impeding,” Pelosi said.
More:Police bolster security at US Capitol as QAnon theory claims Trump will become president March 4
The second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, said it was understandable that people were concerned about another attack. But he said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., hadn’t reached the same conclusion as the House about ending debate early for the week.
Contributing: Christal Hayes, Nicholas Wu