BY KEVIN FREKING AND ANDREW TAYLOR
WASHINGTON — The scene in the U.S. Capitol seemed jarringly disconnected. Inside the House chamber, the nation’s lawmakers spoke with solemnity about democracy, the rule of law and the words of Abraham Lincoln as they undertook a vote to remove the president from office.
They wore masks, a rule imposed by Democrats, as a measure of the pandemic that continues to ravage the country.
But only steps away, outside the chamber doors, there was the look of an armed encampment.
The House impeachment of President Donald Trump for inciting an insurrection on the home of the branch of government created in Article I of the Constitution contained arresting reminders of the violence and death wrought just a week before and the fears that the Capitol needed enhanced protection to prevent it from happening again.
Where visitors once walked, hundreds of National Guard members camped out, protecting lawmakers still reeling from the Jan. 6 violence and preparing for the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.
The Capitol grounds were wrapped in seven-foot fences, and scores of other law enforcement officers and troops kept a watchful eye.
A replica of the dome that stands atop the Capitol, the Statue of Freedom, resides in the Capitol’s visitor center. Beneath it, soldiers slept on marble floors while others huddled to discuss their marching orders.
A shocking sight
Republican Rep. Brian Mast of Florida, a military veteran who lost both legs in the war in Afghanistan, was shocked at the sight and that so many soldiers were deemed necessary to keep the Capitol safe.
“It’s as sad as anything can make me in this world,” Mast said as he gave some of them a tour.
The Capitol always sees stepped-up security precautions leading up to an inauguration, but it rarely looks like the nation is on a war footing.
More than 50 officers were injured in the attack, including 15 who were hospitalized. One was killed.
The tensions were also apparent inside the House chamber. Beginning Tuesday, lawmakers had to walk through a metal detector before being allowed to enter the chamber.
Members of Congress have previously enjoyed nearly free range at the Capitol, able to bypass security screening stations at most entrances to the building.
As the debate over whether to impeach Trump ensued on the House floor, one side called for unity, the other accountability. It’s very much unclear whether either will happen.
“If we impeached every politician who gave a fiery speech to a crowd of partisans, this Capitol would be deserted. That’s what the president did, that is all he did,” said Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif.
Waters voted last
No. 3 House Republican Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who created a tempest inside the party by declaring she would support impeachment, quickly left after casting her “aye” vote.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gaveled the vote and announced the tally — only after waiting for California Democrat Maxine Waters, a strong opponent of Trump, to cast the 232nd and final vote to impeach him.
As Pelosi announced the vote count, there was hardly a sound, a single clap from one or two in the audience that was quickly replaced by silence as most members headed for the exits.