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Outraged lawmakers condemn decision to make National Guard troops rest in parking garage

Following swift condemnation from lawmakers, the troops were moved back into the Capitol building late Thursday night.

Outraged lawmakers condemn decision to make National Guard troops rest in parking garage
Cover Image Source: Members of the National Guard sleep in the Visitor Center of the U.S. Capitol on January 13, 2021, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images)

After spending days camping at Capitol Hill to ensure the heart of America's democracy is safe for President Joe Biden's inauguration, citizen members of the National Guard found themselves sleeping in an unheated garage for hours Thursday. According to CBS News, the troops were asked to leave the Capitol building and relocate to a nearby parking garage to rest during their shifts. The move prompted a swift call to reverse the decision from outraged lawmakers including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who called it "outrageous." The soldiers were reportedly moved back into the building late Thursday night.

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Capt. Edwin Nieves Jr., the spokesman for the Washington, D.C., branch of the National Guard, told The New York Times that the troops had been temporarily moved out of the Capitol on Thursday afternoon at the request of the Capitol Police due to increased foot traffic when Congress came back into session. "As Congress is in session and increased foot traffic and business is being conducted, Capitol Police asked the troops to move their rest area," National Guard Bureau spokesman Major Matt Murphy said in a statement. "They were temporarily relocated to the Thurgood Marshall Judicial Center garage with heat and restroom facilities."

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While about 3,500 National Guardsmen were said to have been moved out of the Capitol, not all were in the parking garage at the same time. Members were reportedly cycled into the garage to warm up and take a break during their guard duty shifts and the guardsmen returned to a hotel at the end of their shifts. Two Guard soldiers — who spoke on the condition of anonymity — said that they had been relocated without explanation and that they were without electrical power, heat, or adequate restroom facilities at the garage. One of them estimated that there were 1000 troops sharing one portable restroom outside the garage. "Zero guidance on mission, length of mission, nothing," they said.

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The soldiers added that their fellow troops were breathing in exhaust fumes as the garage was still in use for parking. While Captain Nieves said that the garage had heat and restrooms, some guardsmen have expressed displeasure at being moved to a parking facility where they also had limited cell phone and internet service and power outlets. Reports of the soldiers being relocated prompted protests from lawmakers from both parties, including House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican, and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York. Some lawmakers even offered to house the Guard troops in their offices.

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"This is unacceptable. I just spoke to the Commanding Officer of all the National Guard troops at the Capitol, a great Marylander, Brigadier General Birckhead, to assure her that this outrage was being remedied immediately. We will get to the bottom of this," tweeted Senator Chris Van Hollen. "This is outrageous, shameful, and incredibly disrespectful to the men and women keeping the U.S. Capitol safe and secure," said Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D - Arizona). "We need it fixed and we need answers on how it happened."

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Late Thursday night, the D.C. Guard issued a statement assuring that the soldiers had been moved back to the Capitol from the parking garage. "Brig. Gen. Janeen Birckhead, Inauguration Task Force Commander confirms that troops are out of the garage and back into the Capitol building as authorized by the USCP (U.S. Capitol Police) Watch Commander and the troops will take their breaks near Emancipation Hall going forward," it said. One of the lawmakers who'd expressed outrage, Senator Tammy Duckworth (D - Illinois), tweeted, "Update: Troops are now all out of the garage. Now I can go to bed."

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