President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed a bill into law that will allow the U.S. Capitol Police chief to unilaterally call in the National Guard for assistance, after a review of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack found the lack of authority was a key factor in the Capitol Police force being overwhelmed by a Trump-supporting mob.
The bipartisan bill, called the “Capitol Police Emergency Assistance Act,” passed both the House and Senate by unanimous consent, meaning no member of Congress voiced opposition.
Under existing policy, the Capitol Police chief was required to seek approval from a four-member board that oversees the police force to get National Guard assistance.
A June report on the January 6 attack found security failures “clearly demonstrated the need for the Chief of the U.S. Capitol Police to have more unilateral flexibility to quickly request assistance in an emergency.”
More than 100 police officers were injured in the line of duty on January 6, while 42-year-old Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick died from strokes after clashing with protesters, and four other officers committed suicide.
“I have long been concerned that the structure of the Capitol Police Board creates unnecessary delays when swift, decisive action is needed,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said in a statement. “This bipartisan bill addresses a major security challenge that was evident on January 6th, and is part of our ongoing effort to strengthen Capitol security moving forward.”
Reviews of the Capitol Police force determined it was significantly understaffed both when it came to preparing for the attack and its response when Trump-supporting rioters started storming the Capitol. A March report from retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore recommended the approximately 2,000-member Capitol Police force hire more than 850 new officers, including more than 400 devoted to intelligence gathering after significant failures leading up to January 6. Rioters had openly planned the attack online—some went so far as to print t-shirts emblazoned with the words: “Civil War January 6, 2021.”
The president also has authority to call in the National Guard, but troops did not arrive at the Capitol until hours after then President Donald Trump’s supporters breached the building. It remains unclear exactly what caused the delay, though Trump claimed he “immediately” ordered the National Guard to “expel the intruders” on January 6.
Michael Bolton, Capitol Police inspector general, told a Senate committee earlier this month that only 61 of 200 security enhancements his office has recommended for Capitol Police have been enacted. He also said about 10% of the police force have left their jobs this year.