I like to be within the Home or Senate chambers on huge days. There’s simply one thing about being within the room the place it occurs. It’s greater than only a information story. It’s historical past, and a privilege to inform folks about it.
Even amid a pandemic — I’ve an 18-month-old son — I leaped at an opportunity to attend the counting of the electoral school votes. It’s usually a ceremonial second, an epilogue of kinds to the lengthy marketing campaign. However this time was totally different. There could be objections lodged by President Trump’s allies to hunt to overturn an election the president misplaced. It promised to be dramatic, this cementing of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
However my husband was anxious. Trump had been encouraging protests, and he feared it may develop violent.
After I put the newborn to mattress Tuesday evening, he gently requested me to watch out. “Put on road garments that allow you to mix in with the gang,” he informed me. “Denims and a T-shirt.”
I arrived about 11:15 a.m. Wednesday, practically two hours earlier than issues had been purported to kick off. I didn’t need to miss something and needed to ensure I had time to get by way of safety. I settled into my seat within the press gallery, the seats above the speaker’s dais, and commenced to look at the joint session of Congress.
Senators and Home members didn’t get very far. They had been counting the votes within the alphabetical order of states. First got here Alabama, then Alaska. Once they reached Arizona, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) objected to the recording of the state’s 11 electoral votes. Every home retired to its chamber to debate their objections.
I stayed within the Home gallery. Simply half a dozen lawmakers had completed talking once I discovered there could be hassle. I used to be taking notes on my laptop computer when my telephone buzzed at 1:41 p.m. It was a textual content message from a Home staffer forwarding me an alert from Capitol Police.
“The Cannon Constructing is executing inside relocation as a consequence of police exercise,” the alert mentioned. “All different workers ought to stay inside their constructing till additional steering is acquired from USCP. In case you are outdoors a constructing on Capitol Hill, comply with the route of legislation enforcement officers…. Additional info will probably be offered because it turns into obtainable.”
I had been following occasions on Twitter and was aware that protesters were outside the Capitol. The alert unnerved me, however that is the Capitol, and threats are widespread.
Thirty minutes later, I headed up the steps and into the press places of work to see if I may study extra. The workplace’s emergency radio crackled to life. Then got here a lady’s voice, one which appeared panicked: “As a result of an exterior safety menace positioned on the West Entrance of the U.S. Capitol Constructing, no entry or exit is permitted presently. Chances are you’ll transfer all through the constructing(s) however avoid exterior home windows and doorways. In case you are outdoors, search cowl.”
I knew what I needed to do. I hustled down the steps to my laptop computer. It was 2:15 p.m. After typing out an replace for my editors, I appeared over the railing into the chamber and observed Home Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), second in line to the presidency, was gone. It was apparent her safety element had spirited her to security.
I heard a ruckus behind me and turned and noticed a dozen reporters being ushered into the gallery from press places of work. Then police shut and locked the doorways. Police interrupted the proceedings to announce that tear gasoline had been deployed within the rotunda.
A workers member handed me an evacuation hood, a cumbersome plastic bag that filters out tear gasoline and chemical compounds. She informed me to move it and others down the row till everybody had one. Reporters weren’t the one ones within the gallery. Employees members had been monitoring the proceedings. Greater than a dozen lawmakers had additionally taken seats within the public galleries overlooking the Home flooring. Now we had been locked within the room collectively.
On the ground, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a former fight Marine, was holding up his escape hood and explaining to different members the right way to use it. There have been about 150 lawmakers down there, and Gallego was shouting to get their consideration.
“Open the primary package deal!” he yelled.
“Then open the second!”
“The hood then inflates over your head!”
A couple of minutes later, police escorted Gallego and different lawmakers out of the room by way of a facet door. Just a few lawmakers assisted plainclothes officers grappling with an enormous bookcase and shoved it in entrance of the chamber’s principal double doorways, the identical one the president enters for the State of the Union handle.
Pounding on the door started. The officers drew their guns.
One appeared up and noticed the the reporters and about two dozen representatives and workers scrambling over railings within the higher gallery to get towards the doorways.
“Crouch on the ground!” he shouted. “Get as little as you possibly can!”
I slid behind a row of chairs and appeared up as a feminine consultant began to wish. One other member was speaking loudly into his cellphone, offering a play-by-play. A number of lawmakers had been crying.
I heard the glass of the primary door within the chamber crack. I glanced into the chamber as Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) tried to cause with these trying to push their approach inside.
A loud crack break up the air. It seemed like a gunshot. After which it acquired quiet.
Officers yelled to the lawmakers within the gallery to go away, however nobody current had a key to the door. Lawmakers and law enforcement officials argued about opening the door and making a run for it. Police needed lawmakers to make a splash for it.
Members disagreed. “Don’t open that door!” a consultant shouted as an officer within the hallway fumbled with the door. “We don’t know who’s behind it!”
I crawled over to the place Rep. Norma Torres (D-Pomona) was kneeling. She hugged me and requested me about my child, and I informed her that he was positive.
She took my picture together with her telephone and posted on Twitter, tagging @latimes to alert my colleagues that I used to be OK.
“Can I do the toughest a part of my job and ask you what you’re considering proper now?” I requested.
It took her a second to compose her ideas. “It’s horrible that that is America, that is the USA of America and that is what we have now to undergo as a result of Trump has known as homegrown terrorists to come back to the Capitol and invalidate folks’s votes,” she mentioned.
Moments later, Capitol Police wrenched open the gallery doorways. They informed us to get out shortly. They had been taking us to a safe location. As we walked towards the third-floor stairs, I may see a number of law enforcement officials standing over a half-dozen protesters mendacity face down on the marble, fingers behind their heads.
It hit me all of a sudden — I spotted I hadn’t but informed my husband I used to be secure.
“I’m okay. Being evacuated,” I texted him at 2:57 p.m., too overwhelmed to get into the main points.
“Massive exhale,” he replied. “Okay. Preserve me up to date. Love you.”
Police informed us to comply with them. We walked for a number of minutes, hustling down a warren to hallways and a winding staircase. I’ve labored within the Capitol for eight years, and I can’t let you know the trail we took. As lawmakers, reporters and staffers streamed forward, I slowed so I may communicate with a visibly shaken Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles). He was furious. I pulled out my telephone and hit file. He took a second to seek out his phrases.
“This shouldn’t occur in the USA,” he mentioned, his eyes rimmed with tears.
We reached a safe room. That’s all I can say about it at this second. It was massive and crammed with leather-based chairs and walnut tables, and also you’ve seen it on TV. It was already crammed with lawmakers, staffers and different journalists. As members typed on their telephones and had been up to date by safety officers on the standing of the riots, workers handed out Goldfish crackers, fruit snacks and little bottles of water.
A member led a prayer. One other, a former ER physician, jogged my memory to remain hydrated. A gaggle of Democrats grumbled about Republicans not sporting masks.
I went on the lookout for California lawmakers and commenced interviewing them. After every, I uploaded the audio to my colleagues in my bureau so as to add to tales on our web site.
A member pleaded with colleagues to not do interviews with reporters. They had been anxious we’d by accident betray our location.
Kimbriell Kelly, my boss, despatched me a message asking for a first-person video of what it was like within the room. I mentioned I couldn’t. Lawmakers had been “panicked that I would inadvertently give away their location,” I informed her. “I’ll do in writing if that’s okay?”
That element “simply hit me within the intestine,” she wrote again.
An hour handed. My husband despatched me a photograph of my child smiling. It teared me up.
Simply after 5:30 p.m., the sergeant at arms, the Home’s high safety official, introduced the Capitol had been secured however urged members to remain in place. He needed a bit extra time, he mentioned, to ensure their security. Ninety minutes later, Pelosi got here by to handle the remaining members (some had slipped again to their places of work). The speaker criticized the “mobs desecrating the halls of the Capitol of the USA” and declared that the Home and Senate would return instantly to complete their work. The speaker mentioned she didn’t need the rioters to suppose that they had received.
Forty-five minutes later, greater than 4 hours after being locked inside, I used to be permitted to go away. There was just one place for me to go.
I headed upstairs again within the gallery — to chronicle historical past.