On Wednesday, I walked to the Capitol to listen to the testimony on accepting the electoral votes as certified by the states. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, not all members could be seated on the House floor, and many of us sat in the gallery above. As we listened to the argument over Arizona’s electors, we saw the top leaders of both parties quickly and forcefully escorted from the floor. An announcement from the sergeant at arms told us that the Capitol had been breached, and that we were to remain seated in our places. Then we were told to open the gas masks beneath our seats in anticipation of tear gas deployment. Those on the floor were then instructed to exit to the Speaker’s Lobby outside the chambers. We waited above. Finally, there were instructions to us in the gallery to make our way to one end, which for me was on the opposite end. Then, suddenly, shouts for us to drop to the floor.
Four police officers held a barricade of furniture against the door to the House floor, with their guns pointed at the door. It is made of opaque, milky glass which you can’t see through. We waited again. We heard an explosion from the other side — tear gas? A gun? The woman lying behind me made a panicked call to her husband. Finally, we were told to get up and go out the door, and we evacuated through the Capitol tunnels to safety. We were taken to an undisclosed location and held there for several hours with little access to outside information.
Because I was in lockdown, I’ve missed and still haven’t caught up with all that’s happened. I don’t know how Capitol Police and intelligence agencies could possibly have been so unprepared, given the Proud Boy violence of the last weeks and their focus on Wednesday’s proceedings. I now know people in clownish, wannabe warrior costumes paraded around the Speaker’s Office and propped their feet up on the chairs of the presiding officers of the People’s House — your House. They mocked the greatest institution in the greatest nation in the world.
I later learned that someone was killed. Later, still, I learned that she was from San Diego and from the district I represent.
I love my country. I’m so proud of this singular democracy given to us by the generations before, secured for us by the blood of men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the right to wage peaceful protest, and the right to a democratic nation in which every vote counts.
Millions of people voted peacefully in November. Local registrars processed those votes, including unprecedented numbers of mail ballots. There were challenges, and recounts, and court challenges heard by district and appellate judges appointed by Democrats and Republicans, all the way to the Supreme Court. The Electoral College voted.
As a result of all of these votes and this process, Joe Biden has won the election. Attorney General Bill Barr agreed and so did Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell. As have Republican state election officials and legislatures across the country who found that their states’ elections were fair and free from the massive fraud President Donald Trump has falsely claimed. Yet still, the president and too many of his allies claim fraud, without evidence and without shame, and with disregard for the grave consequences their claims have brought to bear.
Wednesday we were reminded that words matter. When the president claims fraud and his allies bow down when they should stand up, anarchy is invited. The presidency is not a job for a feckless reality TV narcissist with no appreciation of history or democracy. Fortunately, voters have recognized that.
I write this from my office in the Longworth House Office Building where I’m following the rest of the debate. We will likely be here all night; that’s OK. We have a job to do, and we will not allow our Constitution to be derailed by thugs. Congress will certify the election results, and Joe Biden will assume the office on Jan. 20. Then we can begin to repair the damage.
Peters, D-San Diego, has been a House representative since 2013.