If US President was to go to the U.S. Capitol Building for the State of the Union Address, and he was met at the door by the U.S. Capitol Building security personnel with orders to deny him entry, could he order the Secret Service to arrest these security personnel and then proceed to enter into the Capitol Building?

Although this scenario is very unlikely to occur, would the President have the Constitutional authority to do so since he is the Commander-in-Chief?

Moreover, since he is the Commander-in-Chief, would the U.S. Capitol Building security personnel have to obey his orders to stand down since he is the Commander-in-Chief, or do they only have to follow the orders of the Speaker of the House?

  • 23
    What you're describing here is a military coup. They have a long history of taking place. Usually in order to assume a leading role in a nation, which Mr Trump already has. This would be a trivial reason for a coup. In order to carry one out, the leader has to have a lot of support among the military themselves. Mr Trump has let the secret service, along with all other government agencies, go without pay for over a month now. Feels like it'd be tricky for him to convince them to abuse power in this way.
    – AJFaraday
    Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 13:13
  • 8
    @Sneftel it has been observed that nobody is preventing him from making any speech he chooses at (near enough) any time. What’s prevented is him doing so in the Capitol building which is not, by the laws of the US, under his control. He could make the speech, just somewhere else. Point is, it’d be a very high-stakes move for very little gain.
    – AJFaraday
    Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 13:25
  • 7
    For the record, you can watch the old-timey version of this in the State Opening of Parliament. The King came to the house and was barred entry. His troops banged on the door and demanded that he be let in. Parliament ultimately acceded at halberd-point.
    – Richard
    Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 13:55
  • 2
    @AJFaraday since the definition of coup is, as you imply, an action to assume leadership, this is not in fact a coup. To the extent that it is an abuse of power to change the balance of power in the elected government, you might call it a constitutional crisis.
    – phoog
    Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 16:01
  • 4
    @AJFaraday in the context of your comment it's also worth noting that the president's constitutional duty "from time to time [to] give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union" can be fulfilled without actually entering the Capitol building.
    – phoog
    Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 16:03

3 Answers 3


The US President is Commander-in-chief of the US military.

The President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States;

(from Article II section 2)

That does not make the president the direct boss of every federal employee. The Congressional Sergeants-at-arms, in particular (and their assistants) are employed by, and responsible to, Congress, not the President. The Secret Service is part of the Department of Homeland Security (formerly part of the Treasury Department, until 2002) which is part of the Executive branch, but I am sure the President cannot order them to arrest someone who has not committed any crime. If such a thing were pushed to a direct confrontation, I have no idea where it would go, I hope we do not find out.

Article I Section 8 grants Congress the power (among a number of others):

To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States, and to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the legislature of the state in which the same shall be, for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings

That seems to say the ultimately Congress controls the District, and sets the rules there. There is also the provision in Article I section two that:

The House of Representatives shall choose their speaker and other officers;

which would include the Sargent-at-Arms, I think.

Article I section five says:

Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two thirds, expel a member.

which again seems to grant control over the situation to the individual houses of Congress.

Article I section 6 says:

The Senators and Representatives shall receive a compensation for their services, to be ascertained by law, and paid out of the treasury of the United States. They shall in all cases, except treason, felony and breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest during their attendance at the session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any speech or debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other place.

which again puts Congress out of the direct control of the President.

  • 14
    Besides, just being someone's commander doesn't mean you can expect that they must follow illegal orders. Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 14:00
  • 4
    @dsollen It is not illegal to enter the capitol building, it is normally open to the public. It may be illegal to take the House floor and start addressing Congress without an Invite. If the Capitol Police or the Sgt-at-Arms tries to prevent the President from taking the floor, it would probably be illegal for the Secret Service to arrest them. No one can be fully sure of any of this because it has never been tested in any court, since it has never occurred. Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 18:30
  • 3
    @David Siegel - Addressing Congress without an invite isn't against any law, but it is a violation of the Congressional rules. I'm not sure that alone is grounds for being forcefully removed, but he certainly would be ruled out of order and they'd cut his mic.
    – bta
    Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 21:53
  • 2
    @bta If a random member of the public walked onto the floor of the House of Reps and started to make a speech, I am pretty sure that s/he would be asked to leave and removed forcefully if s/he refused to go. I'm not sure if an arrest would follow, perhaps for defiant trespass? What would be done in the case of the President, I don't know. I am sure that the House officials would attempt to avoid escalation, at least I hope they would. Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 22:41
  • 2
    @DavidSiegel - IIRC, the sergeant-at-arms can remove unruly people from the gallery and the speaker can clear the gallery or lobby in the event of "disturbance or disorderly conduct", as is done occasionally for disruptive protesters. The only rules I see about decorum on the floor pertain to House members (seems to be an oversight). The President is specifically allowed on the floor - unlike the general public - so it would be hard to call it trespassing.
    – bta
    Commented Jan 26, 2019 at 0:35

There is an underlying premise that the Capitol Police could lawfully exclude POTUS from the building. The Capitol Police power is created by 2 USC 1961, and includes the power to enforce certain sections of Title 2 Ch. 29, regulations created under that power, Title 40 Ch 51, and to make arrests for any violation of US law within the building. Were POTUS to enter the building for the purpose of speaking, that would not fall within the purview of the power of the Capitol Police. By 2 USC 5605, the Sergeant-at-Arms of the House of Representatives has the same law enforcement power as the Capitol Police. What is not clear is what it would take to make a POTUS appearance illegal: presumably the House passing a resolution to that effect, but that hasn't been done.

  • 5
    the House (and Senate) floor is not open to the public - if the President (or anyone else) were to attempt to enter without permission he would be trespassing. Trespassing is a crime.
    – Dale M
    Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 3:14
  • 16
    Under Rule IV (there were some revisions since that PDF, but no relevant changes), the President is listed as one of the people admitted to the "Hall of the House," so perhaps it wouldn't be considered trespassing; he is explicitly authorized to be there. That doesn't, however, mean that the House rules couldn't be changed, that the rules permit him to give a speech unless authorized, or that the rules permit the broadcast of any speech. So he'd just be standing there. Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 5:12
  • 2
    @ZachLipton, I presume you're referring to the clause which starts "Only the following persons shall be admitted to the Hall of the House or rooms leading thereto". That "Only" is important. The President is on the white-list of people who can receive authorisation, but that doesn't necessarily mean he always had authorisation. Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 12:17
  • 2
    @phoog This seems like the distinction between "shall" and "must" in US law - notably, "shall" means it's allowed while "must" means it's a requirement. If the president "must" be admitted then they're given the authorization in that clause. But since the president "shall" be admitted, then he's just allowed to receive authorization.
    – Delioth
    Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 19:53
  • 2
    @Delioth So when the constitution says that "The judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court," that's optional?
    – phoog
    Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 21:57

I was able to gain entry into the Capitol without using the Secret Service or any other law enforcement agency - or any force or threat of force. Trump would not need the Secret Service to enter the Capitol. (Hint: It is open to the public.)

I did not try to force all the Senators and Representatives to listen to me pontificate on matters of no importance, but if I did I suspect I would have been arrested and the Secret Service would have been unable to help me - even if they were inclined to help me. No one - not even Trump - can force the Congress to listen to a long boring pointless speech against its will.

You must log in to answer this question.