Thousands of National Guard troops from around the nation, including scores from Iowa, deployed to Washington to protect the hallmarks of democracy.
But images of soldiers being relegated to rest on the concrete floor of a cold parking garage elicited bipartisan outrage Friday and calls for an investigation into why the treasured troops were treated so shabbily.
“These are soldiers, men and women who voluntarily stepped up to serve our state and our country and they deserve our respect and admiration,” Republican Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds told a WHO 1040-AM radio host Friday. “This was unconscionable to think they were ordered to leave the Capitol, and moved to a parking garage.”
Iowa’s only Democrat in its congressional delegation, U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, tweeted that she was “outraged at the images of National Guardmembers forced to sleep in parking garages last night — and I’m pleased at these reports that they’re back in the Capitol now. I’ve been pushing for better accommodations, and will continue to.”
Reynolds said she was taking steps to immediately bring back the more than 250 soldiers the state sent to Washington to help watch over the inauguration of President Joe Biden.
But Iowa’s deployment was expiring anyway, so the state’s soldiers are in the process of returning.
“They were always scheduled to come back home per the mission completion, which fits the current timeline,” said a statement Friday from the Iowa National Guard. “We are actively working through the logistics of returning our members back home and anticipate their return home in the coming days.”
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To be sure, the Iowa soldiers — like others — have hotel rooms during their deployment. But the soldiers are on duty for a day or two, working shifts a few hours at a time, and cannot easily return to their hotels, many of which are in Virginia and Maryland.
So they nap wherever they can — on concrete, indoor tennis courts or carpeted floors, and also in the Capitol rotunda.
The National Guard said it originally moved troops out of the rotunda and other spaces to garages at the behest of the Capitol Police.
The soldiers were allowed back inside late Thursday after reports were widely shared of the conditions in the garages — with few bathrooms and little covering from the cold.
The Guard and Capitol Police issued a joint statement Friday saying they have now coordinated to establish “appropriate spaces” within congressional buildings for on-duty breaks. But they have yet to explain how or why the banishment was issued in the first place.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said that “multiple members of military leadership” had told him a Capitol Police officer told them to leave the Capitol Visitor Center, though the Capitol Police officially denied issuing any such order.
“The troops didn’t move on their own,” said Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. He added: “This isn’t a blame game, but I want to know what happened so we can make sure it can’t happen again.”
Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, who leads a subcommittee that oversees the Capitol Police budget, said police leaders and commanders would need to testify about their decision-making.
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“If the Capitol Police in any way, shape, or form pushed the Guard out into a cold garage, then there’s going to be hell to pay,” Ryan said. “We’re already trying to re-establish trust with the Capitol Police and we’ve got to figure out exactly what happened.”
Biden expressed his “dismay” to Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, chief of the National Guard, about how the troops were treated. First lady Jill Biden delivered cookies to National Guard soldiers who were on duty guarding the Capitol.
More than 25,000 Guard members from across the country deployed to help secure Biden’s inauguration, which went off with only a few minor arrests.
A jittery Washington had requested the aid following the deadly Jan. 6 riot where police were badly outnumbered, locking down the nation’s capital with soldiers, police and barricades.
The National Guard Bureau said Thursday that just 10,600 remain on duty. The bureau said the Guard is helping states with coordination and the logistics so that troops can get home.
Some law enforcement agencies in the Washingon are have asked for continued assistance from the Guard, so roughly 7,000 troops are expected to stay in the region through the end of the month.
The Associated Press, Washington Post and Erin Murphy of The Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau contributed.