As pro-Trump mobs stormed the United States Capitol on Wednesday, forcing the building into a lockdown, U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal crouched behind a railing in the House gallery, seeking shelter from a scene that more closely resembled a terrorist attack than a peaceful transfer of power.
Jayapal, D-Seattle, was one of a select few members of Congress in the gallery, overlooking the House floor, as Congress gathered to certify Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election.
Instead, after a morning speech in which President Donald Trump instructed his supporters to walk to the Capitol and “confront this egregious assault on our democracy,” crowds broke into the seat of government, forcing lawmakers to shelter in place and evacuate.
Other members of Washington’s congressional delegation, sheltering in place as Capitol police worked to regain control, also described the disturbing scene, condemning the riots and Trump’s role in inciting them.
The violent break-in caused Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, to backtrack on plans to support Trump and object to certifying the Electoral College votes confirming Joe Biden’s victory.
“It was a very scary moment,” Jayapal said in a phone call with reporters Wednesday afternoon, describing the moments when protesters breached security at the Capitol. House members were instructed to pull out gas masks that were stowed under their seats.
“We were there when shots began to be fired into the chamber, we saw, from where I was sitting, I could see Capitol Police with their guns drawn,” Jayapal said.
Another House member began to pray. Jayapal and others joined in. “I was closing my eyes and praying to whoever was listening that there would be peace, that there would be no violence.”
The congressmembers were asked to lie on the floor as protesters faced off with Capitol police — a feat that was difficult for Jayapal, who recently had a knee replacement and was walking with a cane.
Jayapal laid the blame for the unprecedented attack on Congress at the feet of Trump and senators and representatives who have backed his efforts to overturn the election victory of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
“There is no question in my mind that the finger should be pointed directly at the president of the United States, Donald Trump, and everybody that played along with him,” she said.
The chaos at the U.S. Capitol was mirrored, albeit at a much smaller scale, at Washington’s state capitol. In Olympia, demonstrators jumped a gate and broke into the grounds of the governor’s residence. After a standoff with the State Patrol, they backed off. Gov. Jay Inslee was kept safe at an undisclosed location, according to the patrol.
One by one, Washington’s representatives on Wednesday took to social media or interviews to confirm their safety and to condemn the attack.
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Vancouver, wrote on Twitter she “was on the House floor as the protestors overran police and pounded on the doors.”
“We were told to get down and get on our gas masks,” she wrote. “The Capitol Police barricaded us in.”
She made a plea for Trump supporters to stand down.
“The reports you are hearing about the chaos, panic and dangerous actions by protestors are not exaggerations,” Herrera Beutler continued. “I witnessed them. Is this the America we want to give to our children? A country of lawlessness and mob rule?”
Herrera Beutler supported Trump’s reelection last year, after saying she couldn’t vote for him in 2016. She issued no formal statements ahead of certifying the election, but told The Columbian she would vote to uphold the Electoral College results.
“We cannot be a nation of lawlessness and anarchy,” she said.
Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, was not on the House floor Wednesday, but witnessed the chaos wrought by the pro-Trump mob with alarm as he waited at an undisclosed location to be called to the floor for a vote.
“This is a really dark chapter. To see protesters running over Capitol police, to see the Confederate flag outside the Senate chambers — something that didn’t even happen during the Civil War,” Kilmer said in an interview.
Kilmer vowed that the protest would not alter the election result.
“This is not going to get in the way of the will of the voters,” he said. “That’s not how our system works. We don’t get bullied by angry people who lost elections.”
Washington Democrats pointed the blame for Wednesday’s assault directly at Trump. Republicans, some of whom have supported Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results, spoke in more generic terms.
“This violent mob & the President who stoked their rage must be held accountable,” Democratic Sen. Patty Murray wrote on Twitter. “They should not be allowed to delay our democratic processes for a minute longer. We have a Constitutional duty to certify the election. We should resume that work right now and finish tonight.”
“President Trump encouraged this violence. He needs to call them off,” wrote Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina. Her staff confirmed that she had been “secured by Capitol Police.”
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue and the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he spoke with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of the Army, who were working with other agencies to restore order.
“The assault by pro-Trump extremists on the United States Capitol is a criminal act aimed at ending our democracy as we know it. The Capitol campus must be cleared of these extremists as soon and as safely as possible,” Smith said. “President Trump and his enablers are directly responsible for the despicable acts at our nation’s Capitol that we all have witnessed today. The President incited and encouraged this riot.”
McMorris Rodgers had planned to formally object to Biden’s victory on Wednesday, joining Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results.
But the pro-Trump mob disrupted debate before any votes could be taken. And on Wednesday afternoon, McMorris Rodgers changed her mind and announced she would not object to Biden’s victory.
“What we have seen today is unlawful and unacceptable. I have decided I will vote to uphold the Electoral College results and I encourage Donald Trump to condemn and put an end to this madness,” McMorris Rodgers said. “To anyone involved, shame on you.”
Her reversal didn’t appease Evan McMullin, a former McMorris Rodgers aide and anti-Trump Republican who ran a longshot campaign for president in 2016. He said McMorris Rodgers and others who played along with Trump’s “coup” should be held accountable.
“The people of Washington State should know that Cathy was one of Trump’s earliest enablers in Congress,” McMullin said in a direct Twitter message to The Seattle Times. He described his former boss as “aggressively pressuring” Republican leaders to support Trump “even after the danger he posed was clear.”
McMullin added: “Worse, she saw and pursued political opportunity for herself in his rise despite that danger.”
In a statement, Jared Powell, a McMorris Rodgers spokesperson, called McMullin “a spiteful former employee” who had been fired and “wasn’t even in the room for most of the discussions that he claims to have deep knowledge of.”
Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, did not plan to object to certification, saying it was not a proper constitutional role for Congress. But he had joined a legal effort last month attempting to get the Supreme Court to invalidate results in four states that went to Biden.
“I wholeheartedly condemn this violence,” Newhouse wrote. “This is not who we are, and this needs to stop immediately.”
Washington state’s Democratic and Republican parties condemned the violence at the nation’s Capitol.
State Republican Party Chairman Caleb Heimlich, in his statement, called it “unfathomable” but did not mention the president. The state GOP has been mostly silent about Trump’s ongoing falsehoods about the 2020 election results.
State Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlodowski said state Republicans have “failed time and time again to condemn that behavior.”
Susan Hutchison, the former chairman of the state Republican Party, was attending the rally at the Capitol in Washington as the mob stormed the building. She said in a text message she was outside, where it was “very peaceful” and didn’t “know anything about the few that went inside.”
Hutchison, a former TV reporter who ran for U.S. Senate in 2018 against Sen. Maria Cantwell, has previously retweeted false claims by Trump saying the election was “rigged.” In a text message, she said “most Republicans and a good number of critical thinking Democrats think the election was suspect.”
Jayapal thanked Capitol police who eventually escorted her and others to an undisclosed safe location. She vowed the protest would not stop Congress from resuming its work to certify the Electoral College win for Biden and Harris. The session, indeed, resumed hours later.
She called on Republicans to stop their planned objections to electors from multiple states. “They’ve made their little protest. We should get on with our business,” she said.
Staff reporter Sydney Brownstone contributed to this report.