Pick your poison.
If you work at the U.S. Capitol, you could very well face an insurrection against the United States of America by a pack of invaders who the Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia says could be charged with sedition and conspiracy.
And, if you manage to survive marauders storming the Capitol, you may catch COVID.
That is an onerous Hobson’s Choice.
The events of the past week converted the U.S. Capitol into a house of horrors. Those who spent hours barricaded under desks, hiding in broom closets, or locked in restrooms are now suddenly expected right back at work as the House impeaches President Trump for the second time in 13 months and launches a Senate trial.
Why anyone would feel comfortable working inside the U.S. Capitol? Be it a lawmaker? An aide? A journalist? A U.S. Capitol Police officer? A custodian?
And the last few days proved you don’t need airplanes, hijackers, box cutters, chemical weapons, nerve agents, or even firearms to take out the Capitol.
You just need people.
That’s ironic. The Capitol serves as the “the people’s house.” The legislative branch is supposed to be representatives of the people and the states. You can erect all of the barricades you want around the U.S. Capitol. Build automated barricades on the streets embroidering the Capitol complex. Keep the Air Force jet fighters hot 24/7 at Joint Base Andrews across the Potomac to shoot down an intruding plane. Dispatch sniffer dogs about the Capitol grounds. Inspect the automobile trunks of staffers who park in the Rayburn garage across the street from the Capitol. Look for guns among tourists entering the Dirksen Senate Office Building.
But, it turns out, the weapon to pierce the Capitol wasn’t a gun. It wasn’t a bomb. It wasn’t a truck. People were the weapon.
And it’s what the people who invaded the Capitol brought with them. Not the homemade napalm, the handguns and the Flex-Cuffs.
The “tools of conquest” were their thoughts. Beliefs. Grievances. Anger. Hostility.
The insurrectionists were armed with enough rage, malevolence, and rancor to attempt to tear down the Constitutionally-mandated legislative branch of government and sidetrack the counting of the Electoral College mandated by the 12th Amendment.
These were ideas, shifted into gear by people who believed they could extract a dividend by sacking the Capitol, maybe taking hostages, and perhaps assassinating American leaders.
You can’t defend against that if that’s what people think. And, if they have enough people who believe that who – egged on by the President of the United States – are willing to bull rush the doors and plow underfoot an outmanned U.S. Capitol Police force, then the gig us up.
So even if you survived the Capitol siege, people remained your biggest adversary.
The problem was people just being around other people.
USCP sequestered lawmakers in secure rooms on the Capitol complex for hours at a time. Everyone huddled together, inhaling the same air. Democrats raised issues with some Republicans eschewing masks. Meantime, the U.S. Capitol has been closed for ten months due to the pandemic. But mayhem and chaos reigned on Capitol Hill on January 6. Thousands of demonstrators breached the Capitol, the largest number of people to roam the complex since the COVID-19 struck.
The pandemic has introduced us to all forms of superspreader events. Choir practice. A wedding in rural Maine. The introduction of a Supreme Court Justice nominee on the White House lawn. And, add to that a dual effort to seize the Capitol and disrupt the certification of the Electoral College.
The cases spiked at the beginning of the new Congress early last week. Then came word that Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), and Brad Schneider (D-IL) contracted coronavirus after the Capitol mele.
Remember when House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) wanted to wrap up funding the government and the COVID-19 bill before December 11 so members could leave the Capitol, comply with DC health guidelines, and requarantine for the new Congress to begin on January 3?
Well, that was shot to hell as coronavirus negotiations dragged on through a weekend session. There was nearly a government shutdown. And then everyone hustled back to Washington to override President Trump’s veto of the defense bill in the Senate on New Year’s Day.
No wonder everyone’s getting sick.
Those are just the physical maladies.
We haven’t discussed the mental health consequences with all of this.
Congressional aides, nerves incinerated over the siege, now crafting statements about impeachment and developing strategies for a Senate trial.
Capitol Police officers are shaking. They feel that their leaders set them up to fail. They mourn for their fallen colleagues, Officers Brian Sicknick and Howard Liebengood. And now they have to protect the Capitol during an impeachment trial and inauguration?
People are people. They are not machines. Venison tartare isn’t as raw as the emotions on Capitol Hill right now.
We were dealing with a five-alarm fire. Now it’s a forty alarm fire.
Security measures pop up around the Capitol. Double fencing. Concertina wire worthy of Sing Sing. Members must now pass through magnetometers to enter the House chamber to debate and vote. That immediately spurred protests from Reps. Jim Jordan (R-OH), Chip Roy (R-TX), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Lauren Boebert (R-CO), and Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL), the top GOPer on the House Administration Committee.
“The metal detector policy for the House floor is unnecessary, unconstitutional, and endangers members,” said Roy. “I did not comply tonight. I will not comply in the future.”
Officers pulled Greene aside to be wanded and had to take off her shoes like she was about the board Delta at Hartsfield-Jackson International. But not before chirping at the press corps, calling its members “liars.”
Boebert – who raised the ire of Washington, DC Police Chief Robert Contee last week for packing her sidearm as she loped around Capitol Hill – held up the line to enter the chamber. She refused to allow USCP officers to inspect her bag.
Davis yelled at Hoyer after USCP officers wouldn’t let him use a staircase near the Speaker’s Lobby.
“Steny, this is bulls–t!” yelled Davis.
“Rodney, we’re all going through the magnetometers. All of us,” replied Hoyer.
“You guys know the threat is not on the interior side of the building,” said Davis. “You’re taking resources completely away from where it needs to be.”
Hoyer was wrong. It was hardly “all.”
About a dozen other Republicans either pushed their way past USCP, confronted them verbally or just shoved past the officers guarding the door.
One can argue about the appropriateness of the metal detectors and whether its right to have guns in the chamber now. GOPers may have an argument with Democrats about them. But do Republicans really want to make the job of U.S. Capitol Police officers harder after all of this? Is that truly the hill on which they care to fight?
The fight over firearms and masks is central to the entire conflagration.
Lawmakers don’t trust one another. They don’t trust one another with their safety. It’s one thing to disagree on policy. But when they think the other side is literally coming for them? Well, we’ve crossed the Rubicon there. Why would they work together on an appropriations bill if they think someone on the other side may actually either make them sick or posed a risk to their safety
This is different territory.
Congress is comprised of people.
Members. Aides. U.S. Capitol Police officers. Custodians. They’re all mad. They’re all hurting right now. The sting is palpable.
And the only remedy to make things better?