Several hours ago, a violent mob of pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol, breaking windows, vandalizing federal property, and threatening the safety of members of congress representing both parties.
At just after 2 p.m. this afternoon, as she sheltered in place in an undisclosed location, California Rep. Judy Chu spoke to Los Angeles.
Congresswoman, where were you when all hell broke loose?
I’m in the Capitol. Of course, I was preparing to vote. I was in an office looking at the debate. They’re not letting all the members of Congress on the floor at one time because of physical distancing and COVID-19. So we were watching from different offices and after a two-hour debate we were supposed to go down to the floor to vote. So right in the middle of the debate, the rioters broke into the Capitol and they broke the windows, they stormed in, they went down statuary hall. They went to the House floor and to the Senate floor. What was really frightening was that on the House floor the police blocked the doors with desks that they put in front of them and they had their guns drawn.
What thoughts were going through your head watching this transpire?
I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that President Trump would so incite a riot that would hurt the very halls of democracy. This is something that the whole world is watching and I’m sure is viewing with disbelief that this could happen at our nation’s capital.
What did you do once it became clear that a major disturbance was taking place?
We were given instructions by the Capitol police to stay in the offices where we were. People were in different states. Some members were actually on the floor, some members were walking from the floor to the different offices. Members were relocated to a safe place immediately. I was just shocked that some of my colleagues actually had to put on the hoods that would protect them from tear gas. There were so many protesters in the halls of the Capitol that they did use tear gas to get them out. I did not have to put on a gas mask because I was still in the office.
“I couldn’t believe that President Trump would so incite a riot that would hurt the very halls of democracy.”
Did you have to lock the office door to keep people from barging in?
That is right, yes.
At any point did someone try to force their way inside?
No, thank goodness. They did not do that. I must admit though I turned off the lights and closed the blinds.
Are you with members of your staff at the moment?
No, my staff is working from home. I’m in another office location.
Did you anticipate something like this happening since this rally was planned far in advance?
We were warned about this. We were warned not to walk on the street during this time period because they were going to be taking over certain parts of the city and they were going to be very confrontational. In fact, some staffers encountered that right away. But I did not expect them to storm the Capitol, to be destroying equipment, and to be threatening violence. I never dreamed that that could happen, and I was really shocked when I saw them breaking the barricades at the steps of the Capitol.
Did you continue watching the live closed-circuit TV feed of the chamber while the riots continued to unfold?
I did, yes. The part that caused tremendous disbelief was seeing them marching down statuary hall—tons of them, with their Trump flags, appearing they wanted to disrupt this whole thing and stop the electoral college from happening, and that that somehow would invalidate the election. It was clearly an incitement to riot by President Trump, and a desperate attempt to stop a properly held election from taking place and reaching its proper conclusion.
How are you communicating with your Congressional colleagues?
We all text with each other now that we’re in the days of COVID. We actually have quite a text chain with each other about these things.
Has the communication been bipartisan?
We would have had a good response from Republicans on the certification of the electoral college. I know that there were 140 that wanted to challenge. But there are a significant number of Republicans that are disgusted by all this and think we should go ahead and certify the results.
There is a difference among the Republican conference. There are those that think that the election should be certified, that all the challenges that could have taken place were defeated, and that we have to move on. But there are others that feel we have to follow Trump and his election line. That we have to follow what Trump is doing lock, stock, and barrel. It is not only him but them that I blame for inciting this riot because they’ve continued on with this very harmful fantasy that the election was a false one. And so by doing that they gave these rioters the feeling that the only way that they could live in America was to storm the U.S. Capitol and to take it and to disrupt this whole procedure.
This is the result of years of a party telling you to hate, fear, and distrust your fellow Americans.
— Judy Chu (@RepJudyChu) January 6, 2021
What’s the most memorable image you recall from the scenes you’ve watched over the past two hours?
I guess it has to be when I saw the desks up against the doors of the House floor and the Capitol police drawing their guns on the rioters who were trying to come in. Mind you, I come into the House floor every day. I view it as a very safe place and as a bastion of democracy. To see these Capitol police—who, by the way, I also see every day—drawing their guns was very shocking. I’ve never seen them do that.
And you colleagues were inside the chamber at the time.
Well, yes. That must have been very frightening. But I do have to say that immediately they took our Speaker away to a safe place—which, I’m so glad. We definitely have to keep her safe.
Any final thoughts before we conclude here?
We have to uphold our democracy. We are determined to conclude this process and make sure that the electoral process is certified so that we can indeed inaugurate the next President of the United States, Joseph Biden.