President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed a bill into law allowing the Capitol Police chief to directly ask the National Guard and federal law enforcement for help in emergencies, streamlining the previously clunky process that helped slow the response to the Jan. 6 riot.
Prior to the new law, the Capitol Police chief needed approval from the Capitol Police Board, a four-member panel that includes the architect of the Senate and the House and Senate sergeants at arms, to request help.
The change was one of the reforms called for in a bipartisan report by the Senate Rules and Homeland Security committees earlier this year. The report found that "none of the members of the Capitol Police Board appeared fully familiar with the process or requirements relating to emergency declarations or requesting external support. This lack of familiarity with the process delayed requests for National Guard assistance on and before January 6."
Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said his agency was grateful for the legislation, "which we fought for." The new law comes after the department created a contingency plan to coordinate assistance from other agencies during emergency response, he said.
The bill, called the Capitol Police Emergency Assistance Act of 2021, passed both the Senate and the House by unanimous consent, meaning no lawmakers objected to its passage.
“January 6th showed us that every minute counts during an emergency,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said in a statement when the bill was introduced. “Our report found that Capitol Police officers and their law enforcement partners were left alone to defend the Capitol and our democracy itself from violent insurrectionists, while the chief of the Capitol Police was delayed in obtaining approval to request help from the National Guard."
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, said at the time the report clearly demonstrated the need for the Capitol Police chief "to have more unilateral flexibility to quickly request assistance in an emergency,” and the bill "addresses a major security challenge that was evident on January 6th."