Until Jan. 5, 2021, the Capitol Hill press corps shared a common set of reporting responsibilities. They arrived at the U.S. Capitol daily. They tracked legislation. Focused on amendments to tax bills. Studied trade policy. Traced motions to recommit on the House floor. Sat in on confirmation hearings for the federal judiciary. Reported on House leadership races.
And those present on Jan. 6 to cover the certification of the Electoral College covered an insurrection to seize control of the very building in which they report: the U.S. Capitol.
One Republican House member told sources that he would “pack heat around the Capitol now”.
"No three strikes and out for me," said the source.
Today, arriving at Capitol Hill for work one must navigate a "Green Zone" like in Baghdad to reach the building. And, considering the radioactivity of threats to the Capitol, it’s doubtful these layers of security will disappear any time soon.
Traverse the Capitol "Green Zone" now, past the Longworth and Rayburn House office buildings, and you may as well be Edward R. Murrow at Trafalgar Square. Murrow famously placed his microphone on the concrete to record the haunting sounds of Londoners walking to the bomb shelters past St.-Martin-in- the-Fields church. Murrow said the footsteps sounded like "ghosts with steel shoes."
Reporters aren’t thumbing Huey helicopter rides in the Mekong Delta during Vietnam. But you never know where the threat is coming from. No school groups visiting Congress now or Future Farmers in America. The crowd which showed up the other day wanted to derail the certification of the Electoral College and potentially kill lawmakers.
There was extraordinary heroism on Jan. 6 by Capitol Police officers. The plainclothes USCP officer who fired a solitary shot, defending the Speaker’s Lobby. Otherwise, the mob may very well have stormed the House chamber with members still inside. Officer Eugene Goodman baited marauders up a Senate staircase – as senators escaped out the back door.
The fact that security officials evacuated the entire U.S. Senate from the chamber may be the greatest success story of the Jan. 6 attacks. The Capitol is just a building. Congress is composed of people. USCP officers protected the members.
But what precautions must Congress implement to protect the Capitol after the inauguration is done? Echoes of the Jan. 6 calamity will resonate for a long time. Is Congress only safe if they secure the Capitol with a cavalcade of armored personnel carriers and a wall strung with razor wire?
More importantly, do the measures which remain constitute little more than security theater? And how does this affect the press corps? Reporters are the eyes and ears of the public, watching Congress, during one of the most volatile periods in American history since Reconstruction.
It is seemingly quite dangerous to cover Congress in today’s climate. It’s far from just amendments and press conferences.