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WAMC News

The Oral History Of The Capitol Siege On WAMC

Vermont Congressman Peter Welch uploaded a video to Twitter as a mob entered the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6.
Vermont Congressman Peter Welch uploaded a video to Twitter as a mob entered the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6.
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Vermont Congressman Peter Welch uploaded a video to Twitter as a mob entered the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6.

  

Ever since rioters overtook the U.S. Capitol on January 6, WAMC News has been gathering eye-witness accounts from the lawmakers who were pinned down that day in Washington, starting in the scary minutes as the siege was unfolding and continuing for the next several weeks. This is their story.

Rep. Richard Neal (D), MA-1

I started the day in my office in room 208, which is a Ways & Means Office, and it’s literally 10 feet from the floor of the House of Representatives, maybe 15 feet from the entrance to Statuary Hall.

Rep. Antonio Delgado (D), NY-19

My wife and kids came to D.C. And we're we were all together. That morning I was in my apartment, which is just a few blocks away from the Capitol and preparing to make my way to the Capitol with my wife and kids, and things materialized very quickly.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D), NY-18

We were engaged in the in the job the Constitution requires, counting the Electoral College votes. The Republicans were undertaking to object. The Senate had left to go back to its chamber. And debate had begun on the objections. And it was a sort of split screen moment, because I was watching on my phone out of one eye, what was happening outside and as it developed. And then, of course, it was only a matter of moments before the protesters were inside the Capitol.

Rep. Peter Welch (D), Vermont

Since we didn't know anything, after they left, we went back to work. Jim McGovern, representative from Massachusetts, took the chair and we continued the process. But then a Capitol Police officer spoke, and this never happens, in my experience, and told us that there was information that the mob had gotten into the Capitol. And that there was a gas mask under our seats, and we had to put those on, get those out, get them ready to put them on. And then shortly after that, we heard a gunshot. It turns out that that was the shot where the woman attempting to breach the doors that go into the House was shot.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D), NY-18

You could hear the tear gas canisters being deployed. The Capitol Police made an announcement in the chamber that we should reach under our seats and pull out the gas masks that are kept there for emergencies or chemical attack. And at that point, the protesters reached the doors and began to break the windows out of the doors that were around the House chamber. The staff performed really heroically. The Capitol Police as well, dealing with a completely out of control situation.

So the protesters had reached the doors, literally the doors of the chamber, which had been quickly closed and locked. And the staff had piled furniture up, which is honestly a sign I thought I'd never see. Desks and heavy lamps and anything they could find. It looked like a movie scene, you know, with a barricade at the doors. And this prevented the protesters from gaining access to the House chamber temporarily. The security people had their guns drawn, the glass was being broken out of the doors. And you could you could hear the tear gas being deployed outside of the rotunda. So it's a completely unacceptable situation.

Rep. Richard Neal (D), MA-1

Broken glass in the office of Rep. Richard Neal
Credit Rep. Richard Neal
Broken glass in the office of Rep. Richard Neal

I was conducting regular business: going through a lot of tax matters, talking about trade with staff, signing letters, writing documents. And at 1:30 I was in the midst of a phone call with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis. And we were talking on a Zoom presentation about Brexit. And as you know, we pushed very hard through the Brexit negotiations to make sure there would be no reestablishing of the hard border between the Republic of Ireland and the north of Ireland. And that did not happen. So I was in a pretty good mood, saying that although I disagreed with Brexit as a strategy, I was pleased that there would be no border reestablished on the island. And the conversation was going swimmingly well.

And all of a sudden, two of my staffers started to signal to me that I needed to get off the call. So I just said, there's turmoil here and I'm delighted to talk to you, and then went to look out the window and noticed that they were literally at my windows and yelling and screaming, pounding on the windows, which they subsequently broke.

Rep. Peter Welch (D), Vermont, from a Jan. 6 Twitter video

Capitol Police just announced that there was a breach. Somebody or some people got into the building past security. So they locked the chamber in the House and they’ve locked the chamber in the Senate.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D), Connecticut

I was in the Senate chamber with my colleagues. I don't think I ever feared for my life that day. There were certainly really harrowing moments when we could hear the protesters outside the Senate doors, and it wasn't quite clear what the plan was to keep us safe. Watching those security videos at the impeachment trial was chilling to see how close we were to protesters. They clearly had an intent to kill at least some of us if they found us. But yeah, we pretty quickly made it to, you know, a safe room, a place where we felt secure, where we had a little bit bigger security presence.

Rep. Peter Welch (D), Vermont

We were sitting there, the debate was going on the certification process, one state after another, and then a number of us looked up and saw a very alarming sight. And it was the security people for Speaker Pelosi and for Leader Hoyer. They came rushing from the back of the room and they had, I don't want to say panic-stricken, but extremely concerned looks on their faces. And they just grabbed Pelosi and Hoyer. And there was no questions asked and they took them off the floor.

Rep. Richard Neal (D), MA-1

The Capitol Police rushed into my office. They pulled a Republican fellow, a new one whom I'm not sure of his name, off the floor, ordered him into the office with us. I was with two staffers, I think three Capitol Police officers and a Republican member. And the officer said, Look, this table which is massive, could seat up to 16 to 18 people. We need to barricade the door. We picked up the table. The six of us. Pushed it toward the door. The doors were being pounded on, people were yelling about the Ways and Means Committee, pushing. We were sandwiched between those pounding on the glass on the outside and those pounding on the door on the inside.

I thought the door at one point was going to bow and the Capitol Police at the end of the table, he drew his gun. And we turned off the lights, went silent on our calls. And the deputy director of the House security, she said, I'm going to have to ask all of you to write your names and your addresses and the state you represent on this piece of paper. In case this really goes awry. And she carefully folded it, put it in her pocket and for 40 minutes, they pushed and shoved at that door. But they couldn't get through.

Rep. Peter Welch (D), Vermont, from a Jan. 6 Twitter video

We were just told that there has been tear gas in the rotunda. And we're being instructed to each of us get gas masks that are under our seats.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D), Connecticut

The first time that I learned that there were protesters outside it was because of a text from a friend or a family member. And yes, of course we were furiously trying to keep our closest family members apprised of where we were and the fact that we eventually made it to safety.

Rep. Peter Welch (D), Vermont

Some of us were upstairs, some downstairs and it was so that we could comply with social distancing. Normally all of us would be on the floor. But that's where I was and we were the last ones to get out safely.

Rep. Richard Neal (D), MA-1

After about 40 minutes radioing back and forth, they came to the conclusion that it was OK for us to move out of 208. In the Capitol itself there are these cavernous staircases. So we were to avoid the elevators, move down. There was a Capitol Police officer that moved ahead of us to make sure that the crowd wouldn't be waiting at some interval that you couldn't see around the corner. And we made our way over to 1100, which is another Ways & Means room where the hearings take place and the markups take place. And we sat there for four hours until Speaker Pelosi and Hakeem Jeffries and then Liz Cheney defiantly announced at about 7 o'clock that evening that we were going to resume our work, that the Capitol had been secured. And we were going on to embrace our constitutional responsibility to confirm the election of Joe Biden.

Rep. Peter Welch (D), Vermont

And that was literally right below us. We were on the third floor. That shot occurred on the second floor right below where we were. Now at that time, we didn't know that that's what it was. It sure sounded like a shot but we just had no information. And then the police were really concerned. They had their guns out. They were monitoring all the doors. Somebody tried to breach one of the doors. One of the police officers pushed the person back and closed the door and they got all the doors locked. But the journey for us up there was hard because the aisles are very, very narrow. And we had to go all the way around this rectangular structure up there, most of the time getting on the ground, just in response to the orders from the Capitol Police, obviously who were fearing that folks would make it and feared that they were armed. So thank goodness we all got out safely. But everyone was concerned.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D), Connecticut

For 10 minutes we were in the chamber. We knew that there were individuals outside, the staff was hurriedly trying to lock the doors. But of course, at that point, we knew that they had somehow breached the outside doors of the Capitol. So what would stop them from breaching the doors of the Senate? So it certainly did occur to me the prospect of potentially being in some kind of hand-to-hand combat with protesters, if they entered the building.

Rep. Antonio Delgado (D), NY-19

There were levels of fear. The first level was for my colleagues who I knew were there and on the floor. The second was in the evening, when I had to make my way to the Capitol. The air was tense, and certainly felt unsafe, and I had to take precautions to make sure that I can get to the Capitol safely. And then even in the Capitol, once you're in there, having just witnessed what had transpired. You know, the air in the in the building was tense.

From my vantage point, there was no doubt a moment, a quality about this whole experience that felt very unfamiliar in terms of as a member of Congress, as somebody who believes in our democracy, and the peaceful transition of power, to know that level of violence, or any level, could come back close to the seat of government, in America, the standard bearer of democracy, is one that we have to really step back and reflect upon as a country, and simply do the work of understanding what must be done, to make sure that we do all we can to protect our democracy, and do right by each other in the process.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D), NY

January 5th was our elections in Georgia. And I knew that if our two senators in Georgia won, I would have achieved my lifelong dream of becoming the majority leader. So I'm nervous. I stay up all night. We're looking at the results, Tuesday night bleeds into Wednesday morning. I'm still on the computer. What's the results in Chatham County? What's the African American turnout in DeKalb County at 2 a.m.? Finally, at 4 a.m. they declare it's clear that our two candidates have won. My first reaction: joy. When you've achieved the goal that you've long sought after. Detours in the road, logs in the path, of course, joy and to me gratefulness to God that that has happened. I had a second reaction immediately thereafter which I've tried to describe as I couldn't figure out the right word. But I call it awe, but I don't mean awe in the sense my teenage daughters used to use, “Gee Dad, the movie was awesome.” But awe in the biblical sense. When the angels see the face of God, they trembling in awe” and I realize the huge responsibilities on my shoulders in the shoulders of our thin majority to get things done, the kinds of things I've mentioned before. So I have those two emotions coursing through my veins.

I can't sleep. I get up at 7. I'm in Brooklyn, drive down to Washington get on the floor of the Senate at 1 p.m. First time as the putative majority leader. I'm on the floor of the Senate for just about an hour when a police officer in a bulletproof vest and a submachine gun strapped across his waist grabs me by the collar, never forget the firmness of that grasp. And he says ‘Senator, you're in danger. We gotta move.’ I didn't know what the danger was. He explained to me. You may have seen this because this was on the video cameras, security cameras, they caught it overhead, used it in the impeachment trial. We go out the Senate chamber, we turn to the right, walking briskly with a police officer on either side of me. We go through a door and then you don't see us on this film for about 20 seconds. And then we're coming out the door running at full speed the other way. I was within 20 feet of these insurrectionists. Horrible, horrible people. And one of them had a gun. A couple of them blocked the door. Who knows what would have happened? It was reported later, one of them said, ‘There's the big Jew, let's get him.’ So that was the worst of times.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D), NY

In the days ahead, our duty will require us to push for accountability. For every rioter who desecrated the Capitol, for the president who incited them, every option available, from invoking the 25th Amendment to impeachment and removal to criminal prosecution, should all be on the table.

Sen. Ed Markey (D), Mass.

It was sedition, plain and simple. There has been a direct line drawn from his campaign to this moment.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D), NY

We must assess and redress the role of ultra-conservative media that purports to be news but only offers misinformation and division, and the role and power of unchecked social media to divide our nation.

Rep. Joe Courtney (D), CT-2

The experience was just universal. We’re all witnesses. I won’t use the word victims, but we were certainly all witnesses to what was going on there. Talking to some of the Capitol Police officers in the aftermath, the 140 physical injuries, which have been repeated, and I didn’t even that until about a week ago, that the number had climbed to that level. But there’s no question that the trauma, the invisible wounds, are going to be part of these folks’ lives.

And I spoke to one personally who was not physically injured but he was out there for hours fighting these animals that were trying to get past him and hurt him, and he has been out of work from the 6th until they did they Brian Sicknick viewing in the Capitol Rotunda, that’s the officer who did lose his life. So he was out for a couple weeks and you could tell he was still very shook up. And by the way, he’s a big guy. I’m looking up to him while I’m talking to him. I’m 5-foot-9 so I’m relatively short, but he’s physically a strong person. But what he had to put up with? It’s going to haunt him and his colleagues for years to come.

Rep. Jim McGovern (D), MA-2

I felt very strongly that the people who attacked us could not win. This was an insurrection. They tried to subvert the will of the American people. Look, I was one of the last people off the House floor. I was chairing the session when they attacked. I had no idea that they had breached the Capitol in the manner that they did. It wasn’t until I walked off the floor and I was in the Speaker’s lobby that has glass doors, that I came face-to-face with these people.

There were three Capitol Police officers standing between them and the glass door, and they were banging and breaking the glass in the door. And I looked at them in disbelief and with anger and sadness, to be honest with you. I said to the person next to me, these people aren’t here to make a political point or hand us a pamphlet. They’re here to kill us and they’re here to desecrate and destroy this sacred building.

I’ll never forget that as long as I live. If you asked me to describe what evil looks like, I will tell you, it was looking into the eyes of these people who were banging and destroying the Capitol property. They broke the glass. As soon as I left that room to start walking out, that’s when the woman was shot. It was a terrible, terrible day. And I’m just going to say this finally: I’ll never forgive Donald Trump for instigating this. And I’m having a tough time dealing with some of my colleagues who gave oxygen to this big lie that resulted in this attack. And I’m still a little bit, well more than a little bit, still very angry at those who even after the attack came back and voted to nullify and overturn the legitimate results of the presidential election. It’s just hard for me to put head around that, so some feelings are still a little bit raw around here.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D), NY-18

You don't get to win every time in a democracy. And when you lose, you’ve got to man up and accept it and go back and win the next time and make your arguments within the Constitution and the law. And none of us should have to say that. We need more adults right now in the United States of America who set a better example for the kids who are watching this unfold. And I gotta tell you, I never thought that I'd be standing on the floor of the House, watching staff in a panic-stricken way pile of desks and furniture to keep an angry mob from storming the people's House. And it just should never — it should never — get to this point. And it's incumbent on all of us to lower the temperature, to measure our words, and to conduct ourselves like responsible adults who serve the Constitution and the law.

Rep. Antonio Delgado (D), NY-19

It was an assault on our democracy, a terrifying assault on our democracy. And people need to be held to account.

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