President Biden on Friday called the chief of the National Guard Bureau to apologize after troops who had been brought in to protect his inauguration were ordered to sleep in an unheated parking garage after they were booted from the Capitol on Thursday, administration officials said.
The issue has generated controversy in the first days of Mr. Biden’s term. Several governors and members of Congress have criticized the move, even as the reasons for the troops’ relocation remain murky.
In the telephone call with Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, the head of the National Guard Bureau, Mr. Biden apologized and asked what he could do, the officials said. Jill Biden, the first lady, visited some of the troops stationed outside of the Capitol on Friday afternoon, thanking them for their work and handing out chocolate chip cookies.
“The National Guard will always hold a special place in the hearts of all the Bidens,” she said, noting that their son Beau, who died in 2015, was a member of the Delaware Army National Guard.
Photographs of the troops sleeping on the floor of the parking garage on Thursday night at the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building, where they had scant toilet facilities and were breathing in exhaust fumes, have sparked an uproar.
The governors of Texas, Florida, New Hampshire and Montana said they had ordered their National Guard troops to return home from Washington, D.C., with some directly criticizing their move to the garage.
“They’re soldiers, they’re not Nancy Pelosi’s servants,” Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican, said on “Fox and Friends” on Friday morning. “This is a half-cocked mission at this point, and I think the appropriate thing is to bring them home.”
Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, also a Republican, wrote on Twitter that the troops “should be graciously praised, not subject to substandard conditions.”
Only some state’s troops were left to sleep in the parking garage. Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey, a Democrat who attended Mr. Biden’s inauguration, said on Friday afternoon that he had been angered by the photographs he saw, but that New Jersey officials had ensured that all of his state’s troops had hotel rooms to sleep in.
“This is no way for our heroes to be treated,” Mr. Murphy said.
The troops were eventually moved back into the Capitol, Capt. Edwin Nieves Jr., a spokesman for the Washington, D.C., branch of the National Guard, said early on Friday morning.
He said the troops had been moved out of the Capitol on Thursday afternoon at the request of the Capitol Police because of “increased foot traffic” as Congress came back into session, but a statement from the acting chief of the Capitol Police on Friday sought to distance the beleaguered agency from the decision.
Chief Yogananda Pittman said that the Capitol Police had not told the troops to leave the Capitol except for certain times on Inauguration Day, and that even then, the troops were encouraged to return to the building by 2 p.m. that day. She said the managers of the office building whose parking lot the troops were using had reached out “directly to the National Guard to offer use of its facilities.”
Following the back-and-forth, the National Guard Bureau and the Capitol Police issued a joint statement on Friday afternoon saying they were “united in the common goal to protect the U.S. Capitol and the Congress” but shedding no more light on how or why some of the troops had ended up in the garage.
Many troops were already leaving the city, their mission concluded after Mr. Biden was successfully sworn in on Wednesday.
The Pentagon said Friday that 19,000 of the nearly 26,000 National Guard troops who had helped secure the event were beginning to return to their home states, a process that will take about five to 10 days and include coronavirus screenings. On Friday evening, a defense official said nearly 200 of the Guard troops in Washington had tested positive for Covid-19.
About 7,000 troops are expected to stay in Washington through January.