Shaken US Capitol on high alert for Biden's first address to Congress

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WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – President Joe Biden’s first address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday (April 28) will take place in a US Capitol on high alert, with memories fresh of the deadly Jan 6 attack on the building by supporters of his predecessor, Donald Trump.

The crowd inside the Capitol will be a fraction of the hundreds of members of Congress, Supreme Court justices, top government officials and guests who typically attend, to allow for more social distancing in a Covid-19 pandemic that has killed more than 572,000 Americans.

But security will be higher than usual, even for what is officially designated a “National Special Security Event,” with the Secret Service in charge of security.

“The Secret Service and all law enforcement and public safety partners have worked hard collectively in preparation to secure this significant event,” said a Secret Service representative, adding that “every security contingency is accounted for.”

The white-domed building is still surrounded by a black steel mesh fence with some 2,250 armed National Guard troops from the District of Columbia and 18 states on duty in the city, the vestiges of a much larger force put in place after Trump supporters stormed the building as Congress was voting to certify Biden’s election victory.

Five people, including a US Capitol Police officer, died from the violence and dozens of police were injured in clashes with rioters.

More than 400 people have been charged in connection with the attack, and authorities expect at least 100 more will be charged, federal prosecutors said in a court filing last week.

District of Columbia authorities have asked the Pentagon to authorise the district’s National Guard contingent to help local police handle any anti-Biden protests coinciding with Wednesday’s address.

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

It was not immediately known if Whitley would approve the request. The National Guard deployment already has cost more than US$520 million (S$690 million), according to the US