House members and senators were forced to pause proceedings, leave the chambers, and shelter in place as rioters stormed the Capitol building Wednesday afternoon, with some destroying federal property and ransacking offices, including those of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Senate parliamentarian.
The breach of the US Capitol delayed Congress’ counting of states’ electoral votes for nearly six hours. Later Wednesday night, lawmakers returned to finish the job, refusing to cower, and certified Biden’s electoral victory.
A few of those lawmakers detailed their experiences to CNN Thursday.
Rep. Annie Custer
Democratic Rep. Annie Custer of New Hampshire recalled on CNN’s “New Day” how the 1 p.m. ET joint session of Congress had “started out very peacefully.”
But in the first half hour, Custer said, lawmakers received word that the crowd had breached the Capitol building and that’s when leadership was whisked out to safety.
Custer said she was in the House chamber balcony Wednesday along with other members, watching the proceedings when the chaos unfolded.
“We were locked in by the Capitol Hill Police. We had a shelter in place order, and then eventually we had to evacuate. They told us to use the gas masks that are under the seats, and we had to scramble across the entire length of the balcony — really frightening. And everyone had to get out,” Custer told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota.
She added that as she was leaving the chamber, she looked back and saw police barricading the door.
Custer said she was “frightened” that it would be a “mass casualty incident.”
Reps. Jason Crow and Susan Wild
Democratic Reps. Jason Crow and Susan Wild were among the 100 or so people trapped in the House chamber.
Crow said they were in the process of evacuating from the House chamber when they were stopped, and for 15 to 20 minutes, they were surrounded by the rioters with “no way out.”
“I haven’t felt that way in over 15 years since I was a (Army) Ranger in Iraq and Afghanistan, where I thought there was a possibility I would have to fight my way out,” Crow said on CNN.
The Colorado Democrat said he reverted to “Ranger mode” and sprung into action to try to help Capitol Police get members out of the situation.
“So I went around and started locking and making sure the doors were locked and closed, moving some of the other members away from the doors, directed the other members to remove their pins so they weren’t identifiable in case the mob did break through, I had a pen in my pocket that I could use as a weapon,” Crow said.
“What was going through my head was frankly terror. Unlike Jason, I don’t have combat experience. I’m very grateful to have been in the foxhole with Jason. It’s the closest I have ever come to something like that,” Wild told CNN’s John Berman. “It was a scene of total confusion and chaos, at least for somebody who had never been in that kind of experience.”
Rep. Grace Meng
Democratic Rep. Grace Meng of New York was so scared for her life, she texted her family farewell, telling them that she loves them. She told CNN that she sheltered-in-place in a room near the House chambers when she heard the crowd approaching.
“The room that I was in, I started hearing a lot of stomping and chanting right outside. And I happened to have the TV on, and I realized that they were literally right outside my door. And so I was really frightened. I did not feel that someone could come and get me in time had they been able to break through. So I barricaded, I moved a lot of furniture that I was physically able to and tried to barricade the door,” Meng said on “New Day.”
Meng said five to six hours later, Capitol Police came and escorted her from the room, and she joined the rest of her colleagues as they reconvened to count the vote.
Rep. Nancy Mace
On “New Day,” newly sworn-in Republican Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina condemned the violence and called it “un-American.”
Mace told CNN’s John Berman that Trump’s “entire legacy was wiped out yesterday.” She urged the Republican Party to “start over” and “rebuild our party.”
Asked how culpable congressional Republicans who served during Trump’s presidency are for Wednesday’s violence, Mace said, “They should be taking 100% responsibility for this. They’ve enabled this.”
She added that she was “disappointed” after some of her Republican colleagues voted to object to Pennsylvania’s electoral votes after the attempted insurrection had ended.
“I’m trying to urge my colleagues to extend that leadership, stop this rhetoric, stop objecting to and using the language of the rigged election,” Mace said.
Mace said she was so concerned earlier this week about Wednesday’s rally in Washington that she sent her two children, whom she had planned to take with her to Capitol Hill, on a flight back home to South Carolina.
CNN’s Jeremy Herb, Clare Foran, Manu Raju, Phil Mattingly, Daniella Diaz, Lauren Fox and Ali Zaslav contributed to this report.