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US Capitol on high alert as Biden prepares to deliver first address to Congress

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A K-9 with the US Capitol Police patrols the Capitol Reflecting Pool. (Photo by The Hill)

US President Joe Biden will be delivering his first address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday amidst high security alert at the US Capitol with memories of January riot still fresh.

The attendants inside the Capitol will include selected number of Congressmen, Supreme Court judges, top government officials and other high-profile guests with observance of Covid19 norms, reports said.

But security will be beefed up for the event, which has been officially designated a "National Special Security Event," with the heavy deployment of secret service.

The white-domed building had on January 6 this year come under attack from the supporters of former US President Donald Trump over disputed election result.

At least five people including a US Capitol police officer had died in ensuing clashes with dozens of policemen and Trump supporters getting injured.

The unprecedented chaos in Washington DC had been described by many in and outside the US as a shattering blow to the image of America. 

The building continues to be surrounded by a black steel mesh fence with some 2,250 armed National Guard troops from 18 states plus the District of Columbia on duty in the city.

The forces guarding the building, however, are relatively less than what had been deployed after Trump supporters stormed the building as Congress was voting to certify Biden's election victory.

There are fears that the rightwing supporters of Trump might plan another attack during Biden’s address, which has prompted authorities in the District of Columbia to ask the Pentagon to authorize the National Guard contingent to help local police handle the situation.

The Capitol Police said on Monday they had taken into custody a 22-year-old man who scaled the fence late on Sunday, giving rise to fears.

“The D.C. National Guard is prepared to support D.C. law enforcement, pending approval by acting Army Secretary John Whitley,” the D.C. National Guard said in a statement on Tuesday.

It remains to be seen if Whitley would approve the request. The National Guard deployment has reportedly cost more than $520 million since January 6, according to the US National Guard Bureau.

In February, senior law enforcement officials in charge of security for the US Capitol, testifying publicly for the first time since the January 6 insurrection, had blamed poor intelligence and each other for failing to pre-empt the deadly riot.

The officials told Congress that they anticipated limited violence and had no intelligence on coordinated violent attacks by supporters of Trump, despite significant online chatter and media reports suggesting that protesters were planning to march on the Capitol to disrupt the electoral vote count.

While it is widely agreed that the security measures were insufficient to deter the rioters that day, top security officials have indulged in a blame game with contradictory statements.

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