‘I really thought that I was going to die.’ Members of Congress remember Jan. 6

Members of Congress

WASHINGTON —

For decades, many members of Congress believed the U.S. Capitol — with metal detectors, barriers and its own police force — to be one of the safest places in the country.

That comfort was shattered on the afternoon of Jan. 6, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the building in hopes of overturning Joe Biden’s electoral college victory.

In interviews, six members of Congress from California recount their stories from that deadly day: the surreal experience of realizing that their lives were at risk, that their workplace was being overrun and that the nation’s two-century record of a peaceful transition of power had crumbled.

‘ All I can think of is, Get Out. Run. Run as fast as possible. You don’t want your body to get stuck in this. Run, run, run. They suddenly shut the doors and told us to get down. There’s people trying to break in outside the doors.’

Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles)

Rep. Jimmy Gomez questions a witness during a House committee hearing

Rep. Jimmy Gomez, a Democrat from Los Angeles, told a Times reporter on Jan. 6 that “people are running for their safety.”

(Tom Williams / Associated Press)

He and his colleagues were running through the gallery to escape when he saw Capitol Police blocking the door that the president uses for the State of the Union. The lawmakers could not escape safely because the rioters were too close.

“All I could think of is: Get out. Run. Run as fast as possible. You don’t want your body to get trapped here. Run, run, run,” Gomez recalled. There were people trying to break in outside the doors.”

There’s people trying to break in outside the doors.”

Once police cleared the hallways and escorted the lawmakers to safety, several members of Congress got together and committed to remaining in the building and finishing the certification of the electoral college vote.

“That’s when [Reps.] Hakeem [Jeffries] and Liz Cheney said we’re going to go back and finish the job,” Gomez said. “They brought buses to evacuate the members, and [Rep.] Ruben [Gallego], along with other Democrats, were like, “Do not get on the buses.” They explained that this is how a coup occurs: when elected officials are evacuated from the Capitol or the palace. Everyone I spoke to wanted to stay.

“It was a terrible, terrible day. I don’t know if I said this to [Times reporter] Sarah [Wire] or a different reporter, but I did say like, ‘This is how a coup happens and this is how democracy dies and Donald Trump should probably be brought up on treason.’ And I still believe that to this day. I am glad that we impeached him. We now know there are more involved.

“I remember actually flying back from D.C. and, you know, I was on the plane with a bunch of MAGA people that were with their gear, like they’re coming back from a Republican convention or something.”

Gomez’s experience getting caught in the gallery left him shaken, but he says his resolve to stand up for democracy has only grown since that day.

I’m a son of immigrants that believes in this whole idea of America, the idea of self-governance, the idea that you come here, you work hard, you believe in our values, you’re going to succeed, because I’m an example of that promise … in one generation. It doesn’t happen in many countries. It does not happen in Mexico, my family’s home country. My resolve has been stronger than ever.

“But it’s been tough, to be honest. It was a few months back that I felt triggered. I didn’t see it coming, but my vision became tunneled and I started to feel hot. I had to walk away. … But my resolve, it’s stronger than ever.”

~~~

‘I really thought that I was going to die that day, that I was going to be killed — that I would be literally killed — that I would possibly have to fight for my life, that so many of my colleagues would probably be victims.’

Rep. Norma Torres (D-Pomona)

 Norma Torres.

Rep. Norma Torres, a Democrat from Pomona, was inside the House chamber when the attack began.

It was a very violent and difficult day for me. I had never been in a situation where I felt so unsafe, and I really thought that I was going to die that day, that I was going to be killed — that I would be literally killed — that I would possibly have to fight for my life, that so many of my colleagues would probably be victims.”

A year ago, as Trump supporters rioted in the halls, Torres told Times staff writer Sarah D. Wire, who was reporting inside the Capitol on Jan. 6: “It’s horrible that this is America. This is the United States of America and this is what we have to go through, because Trump has called homegrown terrorists to come to the Capitol and invalidate people’s votes.”

Torres said she has changed since that day, noting that she no longer feels safe inside the Capitol complex and sees her GOP colleagues in a different light.

“There used to be a time in the past, before the Jan. 6 insurrection, where I could look and see somebody wearing their congressional pin and think, ‘That’s my ally.’ Even if they were Republicans, it was like, ‘OK, that’s my ally, and we’ll take care of each other no matter what happens.’ I don’t feel that way anymore about my colleagues. Not at all.”

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‘Attacking a federal building, whether it is the U.S. Capitol or a court or anything else, does not tear down democracy.’

Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale)

Rep. Doug LaMalfa speaks on the floor of the House of Representatives.

“Nobody should be breaking into this building for any purpose,” said Rep. Doug LaMalfa, a Republican from Richvale shown speaking on the House floor in 2020.

(Associated Press)

Rep. Doug LaMalfa, a California Republican from Richvale who was on the House floor when insurrectionists stormed the Capitol, called the riot a “deplorable situation.”

“Nobody should be breaking into this building for any purpose, let alone trying to stop a process that we were going through, and we were going through it in good faith, no matter what side you were taking on the issue of the day.”

He said he wasn’t concerned about the long-term prospects of democracy, because the republic is built on people, not buildings.

“Attacking a federal building, whether it is the U.S. Capitol or a court or anything else, does not tear down democracy. By the way, we’re not a democracy — we are a republic. Democracy occurs on election day.

“So our republic is not torn down by what building the meetings are held in, but by the heart and souls of the people that are elected to carry out the business of the government wherever that’s done.”

~~~

‘ I always believed that I was safe in my job, especially when I am in the Capitol complex. It takes so much to get there. Certainly I don’t think about it every day, but I don’t quite feel that same level of safety.’

Rep. Scott Peters (D-San Diego)

Rep. Scott Peters gestures as he speaks into a microphone.

Rep. Scott Peters, a Democrat from San Diego, said that as he was trapped in the House gallery on Jan. 6, he was thinking, “How could people get by security in one of the top terrorist targets in the country?”

(Lenny Ignelzi / Associated Press)

“It wasn’t a member of the security force. He said, “Please remain in your seats. There’s been a breach in the Capitol.'”

“I didn’t know what to think at that point. I thought that there were a few rogues who had escaped the metal detector. It was not something I knew how serious. Gradually, I felt hurt by this and wondered how people could get around security at one of the most dangerous terrorist targets in the country. We should be ready for this.’

“At one point, members were about to be evacuated when they were told to ‘get to the floor.’

“So everyone kind of got down low. It was quite a moment. At one point, there was an explosion. It sounded almost like a gunshot, or tear gas deployment. We didn’t know. I think it might’ve been the shot that killed my constituent. Ashli Babbitt was from San Diego.”

Peters, who was first elected in 2012, added that he doesn’t feel as safe as he did in his first term as a member of Congress.

“I always thought that personally I was very safe in this job, particularly when I’m in the Capitol complex, because it takes so much to get in there,” he said. “Certainly I don’t think about it every day, but I don’t quite feel that same level of safety.”

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‘ It didn’t make a good day .’

No matter your political affiliations

Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Corona)

Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Corona) speaks in the House of Representatives.

Rep. Ken Calvert, a Republican from Corona, speaks in the House of Representatives in 2019. He called the Capitol riot on Jan. 6 “troubling.”

(Associated Press)

Rep. Ken Calvert, a Republican from Corona, was in his office in a nearby building, not in the Capitol itself, but was still disturbed by what he saw and called it “very regretful.”

” It was troubling. But I wasn’t there in the building. And I’m grateful for the friendships that I had. It was a bad day, regardless of your political views. It’s a bad situation.”

He said he has hope that any changes to the institution of Congress and to relationships won’t be long-lasting.

“We have to get back to some kind of normalcy again. I am an optimist and I hope we can regain some comity.

“These people are my friends. Although I might be with a different party, I still like them. … We’re a divided nation, there’s no doubt about it, but people expect us to get together, get things done.”

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‘Divisions here in this country are our biggest challenge. This is what keeps me awake at night. … It’s really trying to crack this nut of, how do we break this fever of division in our country?’

Rep. Mark Takano, a Democrat from Riverside

Rep. Mark Takano stands at a microphone.

Rep. Mark Takano, D-Riverside, sheltered in an office building nearby during the Capitol riot.

(Associated Press)

Rep. Mark Takano, a Democrat from Riverside, had to make his way from one House office building to the next during the riot.

” It looked like a refugee area with all the staffers sitting on either side of the corridor, walking over people.

“I got a couple of texts asking if I was OK,” Takano said. “But I don’t have any idea of the reality of what’s happening right now. I don’t look at the news so I’m not seeing it. But I am getting texts asking if I am OK. And this is kind of weird.

“I felt a little insecure, but I was in an office complex that was sort of nondescript. We were sheltering for a long time. However, I do not have any lingering trauma or personal trauma. I do have concerns going forward about the political culture of the country and the political norms of the country.”

Takano said he believes “the biggest challenge to America is ourselves.”

“That’s our biggest challenge. Our biggest challenge is the divisions in this country. This is what keeps me awake at night. It’s trying to solve the problem of how can we end this nation-wide division.

“I don’t see this being solved in one year or one election. It will take courage. Persistence.”

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