Vermont Congressman Peter Welch, a Democrat at-large, spoke with reporters on a conference call Wednesday afternoon from the U.S. Capitol after extremists stormed the building as a joint session of Congress was meeting to certify November’s election results for President-elect Joe Biden.
The following is a transcript of Welch’s opening statement to reporters.
"The first notion I had that there was something really out of the ordinary happening was when I observed the security staff, for Leader Hoyer and the security staff for Speaker Pelosi, rush from the back of the chamber to each of them.
And they had, they had that look on their face that was very, very clear: This is not a drill. This is not a drill. And they just escorted very quickly, both Speaker Pelosi and Leader Hoyer out, off the chamber floor.
And then there was a lull. And obviously, none of us really knew what was going on.
I was out sitting there with colleagues, and also some of the press who were covering this. And as time went on, it almost appeared as though we were going to get back to the debate. Jim McGovern from Massachusetts took the chair to begin the debate – to resume it.
But then there was more commotion and a Capitol Police officer made an announcement – and the announcement was that there were protesters who breached the Capitol and were actually in the Capitol.
And we could see the police having great sense of caution and alarm. I was very, very surprised, it’s unreal that protesters were able to get into the Capitol. It’s extremely secure. The protocols to complete that before allowing anybody in -- our security checks. People weren’t allowed to come in. So a lot of us were concerned about that. How did this happen? What level of force was out there?
There was, again, another lull.
But then, we started hearing noise from the outside Capitol Police officers told those of us remaining members that we had to put on our gas masks. We got them out, went through the process to do that, at the ready. And obviously, his report was that there was some tear gas. That I don't know the facts on. But apparently, it was from the protesters.
Using the word protester I think is an understatement, this is criminal conduct. And then the level of apprehension heightened because we heard noises.
And I have no idea being on the inside whether it's a gunshot, but reports I’m hearing now, is that they were gunshots. And the Capitol Police told us that we had to evacuate carefully. This is before -- Before they did that they had ordered all of us to lie on the ground behind our seats. And they made it clear that they were preparing for the potential of gunfire. And all of us did that.
You know, you have in Congress, people with varying degrees of health and fragility. Very concerning for a lot of people.
More time passed, and then they eventually decided to make, in effect, a dash for it.
When you're in the balcony of the Congress, the seats are very, very narrow. And there’s rails every 10 or 15 or 20 feet, and they’re in fact quite difficult to get over. Again, I was with colleagues and also some of the press corps who had been covering it, where they had to, in a very fast way, move quickly, quickly at the behest of the Capitol Police, and try to maneuver up and over and around these obstacles.
And then at another point, as we were getting close to one side of the chamber when they decided that would be the exit, they told us to stop and basically to hit the floor. And all the Capitol Police were there, had guns drawn, they were looking down on the floor of the house where most of the members there had been evacuated by that time. But I started to hear crashing sounds and it was right below me and apparently was protesters who managed to get all the way through the Capitol to the house chamber. And there are heavy, heavy wooden doors that are locked at the main entrance. And the protesters, the criminals really, were banging on it and attempting to be breach. Capitol police that I saw had their guns drawn and they were looking for anything they could to bolster the door, because I saw something -- some implement came through the wood, crashed the woods – and was coming into the chamber. And I think that was the moment of maximum apprehension by the police and also by all the members who were lying on the floor.
There was then a decision made by the Capitol Police that we move again and make, in effect, a dash and exit. They had to make a careful decision because they do not know, on the inside, where some of these intruders were on the outside. And they were apprehensive about having us go out a door into harm's way.
We chose the doors closest to the tunnel system in the Capitol. And in effect, we all made a dash for it.
And the good news here is that everybody did get out successfully. There were no injuries. To my colleagues, thank goodness, the Capitol police.
We then had to scramble. Down in the Capitol there are backdoor stairs, not secret tunnels, but just not -- not on the tours, and in a mass movement we all traveled through these tunnels and came to a secure location where all of us are now waiting.
What I understand from talking to Capitol Police here, is that just after we were able to get out of the house chamber, the intruders were successful in battering the wooden and glass doors that lead to what's called the speaker's spot, just off the House floor. And they are successfully gaining access to the house floor. So that is an astonishing thing.
Where house, Abraham Lincoln served, he had debates – often contentious - about war and peace. The debate we were in right now is very contentious -- it shouldn't be -- about seating the new president of the United States Joe Biden and vice president Kamala Harris was overtaken by people who've been incited by President Trump to come here and do harm. It's a lot of damage done.
We're here with all of us. And we're awaiting instructions because our intention is to return to the House floor as soon as the Capitol has been secured, and do our job. We can't let this stop us from certifying the decision that the voters in this country made in deciding what their next president would be Joe Biden.
So there's work to be done, but truly there’s been damage done. Thank you."