WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday appointed Maj. Gen. William J. Walker, the commander of the District of Columbia National Guard, as the House sergeant-at-arms, a move that will place the security of both chambers of Congress in the hands of accomplished military leaders after the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
General Walker will become the first Black person to lead security in the House in its 232-year history.
“General William Walker has proven to be a leader of great integrity and experience who will bring his steady and patriotic leadership to this vital role,” Ms. Pelosi said in a statement. “His historic appointment as the first Black American to serve as sergeant-at-arms is an important step forward for this institution and our nation.”
Ms. Pelosi added that General Walker’s experience would “be an important asset to the House, particularly in light of the Jan. 6 insurrection.”
General Walker, who served for 30 years as both a National Guardsman and Drug Enforcement Administration agent, most recently led both the Army and Air Force components of the District of Columbia National Guard, ensuring troops were ready to respond to national emergencies, including deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, Poland and Saudi Arabia.
As guard commander, he oversaw the 113th Wing, which provides security of the skies over the nation’s capital and the C-40 Clipper, which provides air transportation for members of Congress and other dignitaries.
After a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, he spoke out against what he called “unusual” restrictions placed on the National Guard beforehand, saying the military’s fears of a repeat of aggressive tactics used during racial justice protests last year slowed decision-making and squandered time as the violence escalated.
General Walker, in testimony this month before a Senate committee, said he did not receive approval to mobilize troops to respond to the riot until more than three hours after he had requested it.
General Walker added that he could have dispatched 150 troops to the complex hours earlier. The violent rampage that unfolded over nearly five hours caused injuries to nearly 140 police officers. At least five people died during the attack and its immediate aftermath.
“That number could have made a difference,” General Walker said of the possibility of deploying his troops earlier.
“Seconds mattered,” he added. “Minutes mattered.”
The restrictions were put in place because of the widely criticized crackdown by the National Guard on protesters in Washington in June. But General Walker said he believed that a double standard existed in the military’s decision-making, pointing out differences between the quick and aggressive tactics he was authorized to use last spring and summer during protests over police killings of Black men and the slower response to the violence of Trump supporters. He said military officials had expressed concerns about the “optics” of sending troops to the Capitol.
“The word I kept hearing was the ‘optics’ of it,” he testified.
In the aftermath, all three top Capitol security officials resigned under pressure and subsequently blamed intelligence and communication breakdowns for their failure to prevent the breach.
General Walker’s hiring would give the House its own former military leader as sergeant-at-arms after the Senate tapped the retired Army Lt. Gen. Karen Gibson, who took office this week.
“We have one of the great experts in America on intelligence right now serving as the sergeant-at-arms,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said of the appointment of General Gibson, who was previously a deputy director of national intelligence.
Together, with the architect of the Capitol, the two sergeants-at-arms form the Capitol Police Board, which oversees the 2,300-employee police force and its acting chief.
Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.