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Fact-check: Downstate Republican’s claim on Nancy Pelosi’s Jan. 6 security role forgets someone — Mitch McConnell

PolitiFact and other fact checkers have debunked numerous claims contending Pelosi alone was responsible for Capitol security. Davis’ claim pointed to the speaker’s role in directing Capitol security leaders, rather than all of Capitol security. But it’s still highly misleading. 

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill, left, on July 27; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, right, in April.
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill, left, speaks during a news conference in front of the U.S. Capitol on July 27; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, right, speaks during a news briefing in April.
Alex Wong/Getty Images; Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

As the Democrat-led investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol devolves even further into an exercise of political finger pointing, U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis of downstate Illinois has joined a chorus of Republicans trying to shift blame for security failures to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Davis — originally picked to serve on the House panel before House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy pulled all five of his appointees in protest — appeared with a group of House Republicans at a news conference just hours before the July 27 hearings began.

Davis, a Taylorville Republican who has been named a potential contender for governor in Illinois, called out what he alleged were structural problems preventing Capitol police from making critical decisions during the crisis.

“The chief of police cannot make a final security decision without going to political appointees that make up the Capitol Police Board — his or her bosses,” Davis said. Specifically, he pointed to the fact that then-House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving requested Pelosi’s permission to seek support from the National Guard that afternoon:

“If Sergeant-at-Arms Irving felt he needed the speaker’s approval then, what were the instructions and conversations he had with the speaker’s office prior to Jan. 6?” Davis said.

“Former Capitol Police Chief Steve Sund has testified that Irving was concerned as many have said about the ‘optics,’ and we know that the speaker’s office was calling the shots on all of their actions on Jan. 6.”

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., speaks during a news conference in front of the U.S. Capitol on July 27.
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., speaks as. left to right, House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.; House Republican Conference Chair Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y.; Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio; House Minority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisana; Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., and Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Texas, listen during a news conference in front of the U.S. Capitol on July 27.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

PolitiFact and other fact checkers have debunked numerous claims contending Pelosi alone was responsible for Capitol security. Davis’ claim pointed to the speaker’s role in directing Capitol security leaders, rather than all of Capitol security. But it’s still highly misleading.

Pelosi no more responsible for Capitol security decisions than McConnell

The House and Senate sergeants-at-arms, who are nominated by each chamber’s leader and elected by chamber members, serve as the Capitol’s chief law enforcement officers for their respective chambers. Each makes decisions for the Capitol Police Board, which oversees the Capitol’s police force in concert with several House and Senate committees, including one on which Davis sits.

The House sergeant-at-arms reports to the House speaker just as the Senate sergeant-at-arms reports to the Senate majority leader, but there is no indication Pelosi controls day-to-day security operations. So we reached out to Davis’ office to ask what he was talking about.

Citing a Feb. 1 letter from Sund to Pelosi, Davis spokesman Aaron DeGroot responded in an email that the former police chief “alone could not request National Guard support because he ‘had no authority to do so without an Emergency Declaration by the Capitol Police Board.’ Requesting National Guard support is a major security decision, and it’s one that even the Speaker’s office admits they were involved in.”

That description is accurate. According to a bipartisan Senate report on the Jan. 6 attack, the Capitol police chief “has no unilateral authority to request assistance from the National Guard” and “must submit a request for assistance to the Capitol Police Board for approval.” Likewise, as DeGroot noted, Pelosi’s office has said Irving did request the speaker’s permission to call on the National Guard.

However, those facts do not prove Pelosi made all the calls on how Sund, Irving, and the other members of the Capitol Police Board responded to the crisis — most notably because then-Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger, who reported to then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at the time, also played an active role.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell attend a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 15.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell attend a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 15.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

As Sund noted in his letter to Pelosi, the police chief “notified the two Sergeant at Arms” around 1 p.m. on Jan. 6 that he “urgently needed support.” Despite confusion over the statutory process for requesting National Guard assistance, both Irving and Stenger eventually approved Sund’s request to call for backup at 2:10 p.m., according to the Senate report.

Prior to that approval being granted, the New York Times reported, aides to both congressional leaders “were perplexed to learn that the two sergeants-at-arms had not yet approved the request for troops, according to spokesmen for Mr. McConnell and Ms. Pelosi.”

Supporters of Donald Trump scale the west wall of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Supporters of Donald Trump scale the west wall of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Associated Press

“The speaker expects security professionals to make security decisions and to be informed of those decisions,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill told the Times.

Our ruling

Davis said “we know that the speaker’s office was calling the shots on all of” the actions taken by the officials in charge of Capitol security on Jan. 6.

As evidence, his office highlighted the fact that then-House Sergeant-at-Arms Irving requested approval from Pelosi before greenlighting the Capitol police chief’s request to call in the National Guard.

But Davis and his spokesman ignored a critical detail: the decision to approve that request and call for backup was not Irving’s call alone. It was made in conjunction with the Senate sergeant-at-arms, who reports to the Senate majority leader. At the time, that was McConnell.

We rate Davis’ claim Mostly False.

MOSTLY FALSE – The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.

Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.

The Better Government Association runs PolitiFact Illinois, the local arm of the nationally renowned, Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking enterprise that rates the truthfulness of statements made by governmental leaders and politicians. BGA’s fact-checking service has teamed up weekly with the Sun-Times, in print and online. You can find all of the PolitiFact Illinois stories we’ve reported together here.

Sources

House Republican press conference, C-SPAN, July 27, 2021

“No, Capitol security is not only Pelosi’s responsibility, but she bears some,” PolitiFact, Feb. 25, 2021

“Posts falsely cite Pelosi as responsible for security during Capitol insurrection,” The Associated Press, Jan. 20, 2021

“Fact checking Rep. Jordan’s claim that Speaker Pelosi was responsible for US Capitol security on January 6,” CNN, July 21, 2021

“Fact check: Nancy Pelosi wasn’t ‘in charge’ of Capitol Police on Jan. 6,” USA Today, July 27, 2021

Capitol Police Board overview, United States Capitol Police, accessed Aug. 4, 2021

Capitol Police oversight, United States Capitol Police, accessed Aug. 4, 2021

About page, Committee on House Administration, accessed Aug. 4, 2021

Letter from Sund to Congressional leaders, Feb. 1, 2021

Email: Aaron DeGroot, Davis spokesperson, July 28, 2021

“Examining the U.S. Capitol Attack: A Review of the Security, Planning, and Response Failures on January 6,” U.S. Senate committees

“The Lost Hours: How Confusion and Inaction at the Capitol Delayed a Troop Deployment,” New York Times, Feb. 21, 2021