07 Jan Jon Cartu Support: SEO: Texans in Congress endure a harrowing day at the U.S. …
Like just about every other Capitol Hill staffer, Jose Borjon was worried about trouble on Wednesday.
The top aide to U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez was unnerved by President Trump’s rhetoric and that of his followers ahead of Congress’ traditionally ceremonial counting of the Electoral Votes — so much so that he ordered all but one of the staffers in the McAllen Democrat’s office to work from home. Across the chambers and aisles of Congress, other chiefs of staff took the same approach.
“It’s a very unfortunate day for this country,” Borjan he told The Texas Tribune Wednesday afternoon. “I was preparing our staff for this. The president’s rhetoric does not help in this matter, so I took all the measures needed … I closed down the office completely.”
Just a block or two away from the Capitol, Texas-based GOP consultant Susan Lilly was in town and felt a similar unease as she walked around Capitol Hill Wednesday morning.
“Eerie quietness and no one on the street, silence where on a normal day would be anything but silent,” she described the neighborhood.
Meanwhile, the wife and son of Dallas Democratic U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, a Dallas Democrat, also happened to be in town.
“I said goodbye to them this morning knowing it was going to be a tough day, expecting there might be some incidents,” he said.
Practically everyone with anything to do with Congress anticipated a bad day. But when pro-Trump rioters stormed the United States Capitol steps, halls and offices, Texans who serve in Congress and the people who work for them were left frightened for their physical safety and for the future of American democracy.
Over the weekend, there was a sense of dread among many members about the coming week. House Democratic members encouraged each other to avoid walks to the Capitol in the open streets, from wearing the Congressional pins that might mark them as potential targets for violence, and to generally stay within the relative safety of the U.S. Capitol complex. Some more senior members of the delegation recalled the bitter protests around the facility in 2010, ahead of the vote for President Obama’s health care law.
This is the account of about a dozen Texas staffers and members who experienced the moment pro-Trump rioters breached security at the U.S. Capitol. A number of staffers requested anonymity for fear of violence.
“Find a place to hide or seek cover”
At 1 p.m. members began counting the Electoral College votes of the states, in alphabetical order. Members went into their respective chambers — the Senate and the House — to debate counting of Arizona’s certification after Republican members including U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz raised objections. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell delivered an emotional speech from the Senate floor, an implicit broadside to Cruz and others who were objecting to he certifying the votes.
Then Cruz took to the floor, declaring it “a time when democracy is in crisis” and making his case for interfering in what is traditionally a mostly ignored and ceremonial step on the way to a presidential inauguration.
In the House, a few members were also debating the Arizona votes. Only a few members were on the floor, in accordance with COVID-19 precautions. In the gallery looking down, other members observed the floor proceedings in assigned time slots.
Across the street, other Texas staffers and members were stationed in their offices. As the debate began, one Republican staffer watched the crowds outside of the Capitol swell.
“It just started building and building and building,” he told the Tribune. “There was some kind of cherry bombs or fireworks amid the megaphones and speeches.”
“It went from bad to worse,” he later recounted.
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, watched the same scene through his office window in the Rayburn House Office Building.
“It just was unbelievable,” he said. “I saw a few of the police running around the Capitol to get over there to the west front and seeing more and more protestors arrive. They eventually got up on the stand for the cameras for the Inaugural and eventually got in the door there. It was an incredible day.”
Doggett could hear alarms going off, and began receiving text alerts to his phone. Security warnings are not that unusual around Congress — they’re often false alarms over suspicious packages. This text, however, shocked him and other members.
“Due to ongoing police activity and continuing security threat inside the building, if you are in a public space, find a place to hide or seek cover,” he read from his phone to the Tribune.
“Nancy wasn’t at the podium.”
Inside the Capitol, sophomore U.S. Rep. Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, D-Houston stepped outside of the chamber and was stunned with what she saw.
“I stepped out in the gallery to make a phone call, and actually walked down the hall and looked out the window and could see protestors on the steps,” she said.
“Protestors on the steps” is a massive breach of U.S. Capitol Police security. There are only a handful of entrances where visitors may enter the premises and on a normal day, anyone without proper identification is immediately blocked from access. But this was a mob scene.
Allred was on the floor in a new leadership role. He grew increasingly alarmed as alerts came into his phone, most specifically that his office building — Cannon — had been locked down due to concerns of an explosive device and that rioters were rushing the steps of the Capitol.
“Then I saw the security details for the congressional leaders come basically running into the House chamber, which…