See below for video and a transcript of Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA11)’s dramatic, powerful, moving account – told to Network NoVA’s “Friday Power Lunch” – of what happened on Wednesday in the U.S. Capitol.
“Thank you so much and forgive me for having to go back and forth, but I am simultaneously participating in the Democratic caucus conference call…where we are talking about the aftermath of the tragedy of Wednesday and what we do about it.
Let me begin by saying we cannot overstate the gravity of what occurred on Wednesday. It was premeditated, it was planned, it really exposed for all of us what a threat extreme right-wing elements are in the United States to our democracy.
I was on the floor of the House debating the certification of the results from Arizona. We had had a joint session to count the ballots and under the law, if there is a signed objection to the results of any particular state signed by a member of the House and a member of the Senate in writing, the joint session must recess and the two bodies reconvene separately for a two-hour debate and then a vote on whether or not to accept the results. During the debate in the House on Arizona after we had reconvened as separate bodies, I had moved from the House gallery to the House floor. And I had gone to the House floor because when I was coming out of antechamber going back into the house – well going I was going to the House gallery actually on the third floor – I was told by the Speaker’s staff to go to the House floor instead, that we were going to have to shelter in place on the House floor and that shocked me.
I could hear pounding getting closer and was not quite sure what that was, and at that point we didn’t have a lot of intelligence about what was happening. We were hearing that they had managed to get in the building and that was alarming. I don’t think we realized until very late in the game how close they were to the House chamber. So there are about 150 members of Congress in the House chamber at that point – more Republicans than Democrats because we were trying to stay in our offices. I was on the floor because I wanted to witness and be part of directly the counting of ballots and to support the results and I saw the Speaker escorted off the floor very rapidly. And then I saw members of the sergeant-at-arms start to secure the doors inside, meaning we were being locked inside. And then in an unprecedented move, the presiding officer who had replaced Nancy Pelosi said that we were going to hear a message from the police. Now almost nobody gets to address the Congress from the podium, but the police spokesperson got up and asked us to get ready gas masks and that there were gas masks under every chair. I didn’t know that. I was shocked. I thought you want us to put on gas masks on the floor of the House of Representatives? And he said yes, because they had breached the rotunda and statuary hall – that meant they were within a few hundred feet of the House chamber coming that direction. And he said don’t put it on yet but get it ready. So as you might imagine that created an enormous commotion.
The chaplain, the brand new chaplain, first female chaplain in the House, then got up to give a prayer, which I have to admit I don’t know that a lot of people paid attention to because by that point people were very aware of the menace and how close it was. What we didn’t realize was that the mob was coming from two directions from statuary hall on the Republican side of the floor, but also from the corridor outside the speaker’s lobby on the Democratic side. We tried to resume the debate and did briefly, and then again the presiding officer said we’re going to have another message from the police and we were told that we had to evacuate immediately and that we needed to move very fast, that danger was very close.
I tend to get very calm in emergency situations and so I was not afraid, I was concerned about the menace and and realized that whatever was going on was now out of control and that danger was really imminent. So I kind of held back to make sure others got out first – you know, older members, people who were really worried, staff, members of the press. And as I was in the last group exiting the floor chamber, I turned to my left which is the Democratic side of the Speaker’s lobby and the two doors that allow you to enter the Speaker’s lobby were barricaded and there were all these faces and hands pounding at the windows – and that is about five feet five feet from the House chamber floor. And they were clearly menacing and threatening. And it was shortly after I left to go on the evacuation downstairs to the sub-basement that a woman tragically attempted to come through the window in that door that I had just looked at and was shot and killed.
But I can tell you that we, in escaping to a shelter in the Longworth building – about 150 of us were housed there and couldn’t leave for about three and a half hours – we didn’t know whether that would be stormed as well. And if it was, what would that mob do, having 150 members of Congress and key staff…at their mercy. I was also worried about my staff – my leg director, my staff director and my new district director were all in my office in Rayburn, and I didn’t know, were they okay, had the mob breached our office buildings as well? I knew that Cannon – one of the three office buildings – had been evacuated and and people were told to go to Longworth and Rayburn. And there were reports of of gunshot; we didn’t know whether the mob was shooting too. We did know that they had weapons. We knew that they also had plastic handcuffs, presumably to hold people hostage and detain them – presumably members of Congress.
There’s a lot of criticism about the Capitol Hill police response and deservedly so, at the macro level. But I want you all to know that there were a lot of heroic actions by the police and by the sergeant-at-arms personnel. They worked heroically… to save members of the House who were in the process of doing their constitutional duty and counting the ballots for president and vice president of the United States. And they ultimately helped with support from Maryland and DC and Virginia to clear the Capitol grounds ultimately.
And one of the things I want you to know is my reaction was they are not going to prevail. Threat and intimidation and violence cannot be allowed to prevail. We must resume no matter what the hour in that House chamber and count those ballots until Biden and Harris are declared the winners. Because the world was watching what was happening to American democracy. And no greater symbol and act could have been taken than for us to take back that chamber, which by the way was never breached. The Senate chamber was breached and in fact overrun, and there is that iconic picture of the so-called QAnon shaman sitting in the presiding officer’s chair.
This was a violent event. 50 members of the Capitol Hill police were injured and tragically one of them died last night, apparently having been violently injured with a fire extinguisher in trying to prevent the crowd the mob from succeeding. Four others have also died, one being shot.
It is important for American democracy that all of us have the intestinal fortitude to stand up to this threat. The Women’s Summit has been doing that and I can’t tell you how important what you’ve done is – whether you participated in conferences, wrote postcards, made phone calls, wrote checks, volunteered. It mattered. We won the election by seven and a half million vote plurality. And just this week against a lot of odds, we won two Senate seats – not one but two, in Georgia of all places giving us the majority in the U.S. Senate. And we confirmed at 3:32 in the morning Thursday morning after all of this violence and chaos, we confirmed Joe Biden and Kamala Harris who will be sworn into office on the 20th of January in 12 days.
We fought for democracy. YOU have been fighting for democracy. And you matter. What you have been doing matters. We didn’t allow Trump and his ilk to represent America we didn’t allow them to take over America.
Wednesday represented at a macro level a signal failure on the part of security to secure the most sacred place in American democracy. The United States Capitol during the Civil War, the darkest time in our history, Abraham Lincoln, insisted that the dome of the Capitol be completed…He was criticized; why are you spending resources to complete this building when our men in those days men need blankets and bullets to win this Civil War? And he said we have to think beyond that, we have to rebuild, we have to build the the dome, finish the dome as a symbol of rebuilding the country and a symbol of unity that will follow. That was a pretty dark day. That was kind of a vision not shared by everyone – many thought naive.
But after the horror of Wednesday, we need to celebrate the fact that democracy did prevail. we did take back control of the Capitol. We did resume our business and we fulfilled a constitutional duty in the threat of violence and in the chaos of a premeditated insurrection incited by the President of the United States.
So as we go forward, remember how important what you do and say is and has been. It may seem that your contribution is minimal. It isn’t. Everything we do and say matters in trying to build shared values in America. In trying to rebuild a political consensus that allows our country to go forward in a progressive way – expanding rights for everybody, respecting the rights of everybody, a nation that respects the rule of law, not the rule of the mob.
The mob lost Wednesday. And we have to build on that victory to make sure that never happens again and that those elements are called out and held accountable. And we will. And that has to start with the President of the United States. I have signed on to two impeachment resolutions and I certainly support the effort under the 25th amendment to try to remove him. We have 12 more days; he can still do damage. He’s unhinged and he’s unfit and he incited this violence quite deliberately, that’s what motivated them to go to the Capitol and storm it.
So I want you all to know how proud I am to be a Democrat, how proud I am to be a member of the House of Representatives, how proud I am to represent all of you, whether you’re in my district or not. And I want you to know that I’m determined. I’m not afraid. I will not be intimidated. And I hope you won’t either. We will stand up for the best of what America represents and we will call out its worst, because that’s the only way we recover from this. But we will recover from this and we’ll build our own metaphoric Capitol dome as we do so. God bless you all and thank you for having me here today.”