Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., walked back his criticism of the National Guard on Tuesday, one day after he remarked that Trump supporters within the military reservist branch “might want to do something” to endanger President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.
Critics, including former Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla., ripped Cohen after he suggested during a CNN appearance that the National Guard was a potential threat to the president-elect. In an attempt to clarify his remarks, the Democratic lawmaker said he was responding to reports that officials were conducting background checks on National Guard members – through efforts to vet security personnel are standard procedure.
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“I commend the work of our law enforcement professionals and of the National Guard that supplements their efforts during major events,” Cohen said in a statement. “I appreciate the assurance their presence provides that we will have a successful inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris.
“Their work and dedication to guaranteeing a secure and lawful observance of this momentous transfer of power is a testament to our long tradition of peaceful transitions. I thank them all for their sacrifice and hard work,” the statement added.
During his CNN appearance, Cohen was asked to weigh in on the possibility of an “insider threat” to Biden during his inauguration. In response, the Democratic lawmaker said he was reminded that former India Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her own bodyguards and suggested that National Guardsmen could pose a similar threat.
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“The [National] Guard is 90-some-odd percent male, and only about 20% of White males voted for Biden,” Cohen said during the appearance. “You’ve got to figure that in the Guard, which is predominantly more conservative,” he said. “They’re probably not more than 25% of the people that are there protecting us that voted for Biden. The other 75% are in the large class of folks that might want to do something.”
U.S. authorities have ramped up security preparations following the unprecedented riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6. Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller said officials have not received any intelligence to suggest an internal threat to Biden.
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The Chief of the National Guard Bureau said Tuesday that 12 National Guardsmen were removed from duty in Washington after vetting procedures, including at least two who were reassigned over suspected ties to right-wing militia groups.