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'Chilling': Security tightens around the Capitol ahead of Biden inauguration amid 'increased threat'

"They're talking about 4,000 armed patriots to surround the Capitol and prevent any Democrat from going in," said Rep. Conor Lamb.
Image: Members of the National Guard arrive at the U.S. Capitol in Washington
Members of the National Guard arrive at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday.Joshua Roberts / Reuters

WASHINGTON — House Democrats briefed about security preparations ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration said Tuesday that there is an "increased threat" to the Capitol — and that officials are working to combat it.

A member who was on the call late Monday with U.S. Capitol Police and other security officials described it to NBC News as "chilling and horrific."

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., told MSNBC on Tuesday: "There isn't much that I can share, but what I think is important for the public to know is that there is an increased threat. What we experienced Wednesday could potentially be repeated, and there are proper steps being taken.

"There is more coordination with national security and federal law enforcement to make sure that the Capitol is not breached, that members of Congress and their staff and everyone who is going to be at the Capitol will be safe the next, you know, 10 or so days until the inauguration," she said.

Rep. Conor Lamb, D-Pa., provided some details to CNN, saying Tuesday morning: "They're talking about 4,000 armed patriots to surround the Capitol and prevent any Democrat from going in. They have published rules of engagement, meaning when you shoot and when you don't.

"So this is an organized group that has a plan," he said. "They are committed to doing what they're doing because I think, in their minds, you know, they are patriots and they're talking about 1776, and so this is now a contest of wills. We are not negotiating with or reasoning with these people. They have to be prosecuted. They have to be stopped. And, unfortunately, that includes the president. Which is why he needs to be impeached and removed from office."

Supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol last week in protest of the election results, leading to five deaths, as well as widespread damage throughout the building. Since then, Trump supporters with extremist views have vowed to return to Washington for the inauguration.

In a statement issued after they received another security briefing Tuesday, several top House Democrats said more needs to be done.

"Based on today's briefing, we have grave concerns about ongoing and violent threats to our democracy. It is clear that more must be done to preempt, penetrate, and prevent deadly and seditious assaults by domestic violent extremists in the days ahead," said the statement by the group, which included Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney and Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler, both of New York, and Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie Thompson of Mississippi.

They said they would be "working closely with our leadership in Congress and all appropriate federal, state, and local authorities."

The FBI sent a memo to law enforcement agencies across the country Monday warning about possible armed protests at all 50 state capitols starting Saturday, saying an armed group has threatened to travel to Washington on Saturday to stage an uprising if Congress removes Trump from office, according to a senior law enforcement official.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., notified senators that they would receive a briefing Tuesday afternoon about inauguration security, a Senate source said. Briefers will include representatives from the Secret Service, the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security. "Very simply: we will do everything in our power to prevent such an attack from ever happening again," Schumer told his colleagues in a letter.

Later Tuesday, House Republicans are expected to receive a security briefing similar to the Democrats' briefing, two sources said.

Additional security measures were put in place inside the Capitol. The acting House sergeant-at-arms announced that metal detectors were being installed outside the House Chamber and that even members would have to use them. The announcement said the precautions were being instituted to "ensure compliance with the Capitol Police Board regulations concerning firearms and incendiary devices, as well as to provide a safe and secure environment in which to conduct legislative business."

The officials in the House briefing Monday also provided updates about the new perimeter around the Capitol and the increasing number of National Guard troops securing it. They answered questions about security for lawmakers as they travel from their districts and as they travel within Washington to the Capitol, a source on the call said.

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Videos that went viral on social media in the last week showed angry Trump supporters haranguing Sens. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., for not fighting to overturn the election results.

There were also questions about increased threats that members could face because of the impeachment vote Wednesday. The House Administration Committee reminded Democratic members that they can use government money to protect themselves, which is included in the Members' Congressional Handbook. "The purchase of a bulletproof vest is a reimbursable expense," the guidance reads.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser had asked that a state of emergency be declared in the city ahead of the inauguration, a request Trump signed off on in an order Monday night. The move will help the city pay for extra expenses related to the inauguration.

Bowser has also asked the federal government to rescind or deny all permits for public demonstrations through the inauguration. She told ABC News on Tuesday morning that she had yet to receive a response, which she said was "extraordinary."

Bowser also urged residents to stay away from the inauguration.

"I want to continue to ask all of our residents to stay away from the downtown to enjoy the inauguration activities virtually and let our law enforcement keep peace," she said.

Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., told MSNBC that the threats of further violence must be taken seriously.

"After a deadly attack on the Capitol, where these mobs incited by the president viciously attacked the Capitol Police, resulting in death and destruction and an attack on our democracy, we can't take these reports about the threats for next week as anything less than utterly serious," Deutch said.

"The threat is real, and we have to treat it that way," he said.