Democracy worked, Congress fulfilled duty on Jan. 6
Washington, D.C., January 6, 2022
Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, started out ordinarily enough. I was up early, walked up the street to get a coffee and returned to my apartment to read the day’s news before heading into my office in the Cannon House Office Building.
I started the day with a virtual meeting of the Democratic Whips and Caucus Members in H-208, my office in the U.S. Capitol. Afterward, I looked out the window at the east side of the Capitol and remarked to my staffer Zach Dupont, “The crowd doesn’t look too big. Maybe this was an overreaction.”
I spoke to my son Sean around 11 and told him the same thing.
That afternoon, at 2, I had another virtual meeting – this time with the Northern Ireland Secretary of State Brandon Lewis. We were discussing Brexit, trade and the border protocol. We were in good form with one another; the atmosphere was jovial.
But Zach and my chief of staff, Billy Tranghese, were on the other side of the computer with worry and concern on their faces. They made the sign with their hand across their throats telling me to cut the conversation. I didn’t understand why and kept on talking. A few minutes later, now with desperation in their faces, they told me to end the call.
There was turmoil in the background, which I couldn’t see from my vantage point. We ended the call immediately, and when I looked to the left, out the window, to the steps of the east side of the Capitol, I realized that the people who had come to hear President Donald Trump speak and challenge the results of the election were now outside my window.
Almost immediately, the door of my office opened and three Capitol Police officers, the deputy sergeant at arms and a freshman Republican member all rushed in. The Capitol Police told us to pull the curtains, turn off the lights, barricade the door and be quiet.
The table that I use as my desk is easily 15 feet long. It took eight of us to push it up against the door. We stacked chairs on top of it and waited.
Within a matter of minutes, the rioters were inside the Capitol. There was incredible noise outside the door; folks chanting in a maniacal way, “We are the Ways and Means,” “This is our House,” “Richard Neal,” etc. They started pounding on the door, and the door – which is easily 12 feet tall – started to bow and move against their weight. They were trying so hard to push it down that I thought it could have easily snapped in half.
The Capitol Police huddled together to strategize. The deputy sergeant at arms came over to my staff and I and asked for our names and where we were from in case something was to go awry. She wrote them down and meticulously folded it up and put it in her pocket.
At one point the noise became so loud that one of the Capitol Police officers, who looked to be about 30 years old, retrieved his gun and pointed it at the door. For 40 minutes we were in that room, waiting for a clearing so that we could escape.
The door has a mail chute, and, when the sounds outside had subsided, one of the officers looked out. He called on his radio and began making the plan of our getaway. We received clearance to leave and were told to cover our faces because the hallway was filled with tear gas and it could burn our eyes.
With two officers ahead of us and one behind, we made our way cautiously to the stairs by the elevators on the east side of the Capitol. You could see and smell the tear gas through the Rotunda and Statuary Hall. The cavernous stairwells lead to underground tunnels that have been there since the building of the Capitol.
As we approached the Cannon tunnel, one officer ran in front as the tunnel curves, and he wanted to make sure it was clear up ahead. It was, and he waved us through. From there we got to the Longworth (office building), took the stairs and ended up in H-1100, the Ways & Means Committee Room that was being used as a holding room for members and staffers. And, it was full.
We spent the next four hours in that space. There were snacks, fruit and water passed out.
Shortly after our arrival, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived, and an impromptu speaking program began. Chair of the House Democratic Caucus Hakeem Jeffries spoke, and, in a surprise speech, Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney said that we needed to get back to work to “confirm the election.” This brought about huge applause from the Democratic members in the room while not one Republican joined in.
After those four hours, we were given the all-clear from the Capitol Police to return to our offices. Since I imagined my office in the Capitol had damage – I later learned that windows had been smashed and fixtures ripped from the walls – I advised my staff to go home and went to my personal office in Cannon House Office Building.
At 9 that night, Pelosi reconvened the House, saying, “Justice will be done,” and at 3:42 a.m. on Jan. 7, Vice President Mike Pence officially confirmed Joseph R. Biden Jr. as the next president of the United States of America.
After a day like no other – the most violent assault on our Capitol since British soldiers invaded and set fire to it during the War of 1812 – this moment was decisive, momentous and imperative. This confirmed that the genius of our system remains in our Constitution.
Despite it all, democracy worked as designed. Congress fulfilled its duty to ensure that the will of the people and the integrity of our nation were upheld.