March 7, 2021

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How a normal congressional referendum was disrupted

WASHINGTON – This sound began slowly, with chants and slogans heard from inside US Capitol from supporters of President Donald Trump, not uncommon during large-scale protests.

But the noise continued to grow louder, and the slogans of the protesters outside turned into the shouts of a mob inside, the soundtrack of the most complicated day I had ever seen on Capitol Hill.

On Wednesday, I stood at Rotunda’s governors’ seats, watched the senators file, and walked out of the House considering there was an objection to the Electoral College vote count. Vice President Mike Pence ignored me because I heard what Trump said at lunch the previous day.

But when the senators were gone, the room grew quieter, and then came the roar of the outside. I looked at the mural on the ceiling depicting George Washington ascending to heaven, trying to hear the sound coming from any direction and realizing it was coming from all sides.

I went upstairs to the third floor office, where I could see the west lawn and below the National Mall, and when Trump took office four years ago I saw thousands of people running in support of Pennsylvania Avenue. The rebuilt risers to hold Joe Biden’s inauguration have now been shut down among Trump supporters.

It was quickly clear that the tone was changing. I saw protesters running past the barricades and walking into the building. The police, in large numbers, saw.

That’s when the screaming inside the building began. First, Capitol police officers rushed into the hallway and began shouting at reporters to get out of the windows. We complied, but we were still satisfied with the sense of security being inside what I consider to be one of the safest buildings in the world. I walked down the hallway towards the noise.

It was the noise of the crowd, but, this time, it came from inside and echoed against the marble, muttering slightly, instead of sifting, through the windows. Another police officer appeared and told me and another producer to hide: the building had been breached.

I took refuge in a small workplace on the fourth floor. Up to a winding staircase, it feels like being in the Capitol Room.

Panic and anxiety ensued among the dozens of reporters who were there. Photos of rioters flooding the building. I saw on a TV screen when protesters were moving freely in Rotunda, where I was standing a few minutes ago.

We realized the mob had come to the third floor. To try to make it look like no one was around, we decided to turn off the lights. We blocked the door.

We looked at every piece of information we could find to send back to our news organizations and find out what was going on outside our room. Guns were drawn in the assembly; A woman was shot; Random people were in the Senate; The tear gas was hidden in the ground. I responded to the onslaught of relevant texts. I called my husband and am still at home with our 8 month old baby.

It will take more than 20 hours for the police to get us out. Their radios continued to gather inside with details of another group, calling for backups. The smell of tear gas and smoke came as we walked through the basement halls, mingling with the rest of the lunch as we walked past the kitchens.

As dozens of armed policemen lined the halls, we had our identities to prove we belonged there. Reporters who were taken to an undisclosed location sat on the floor and ate chicken or beef dinner passed in plastic containers. The senators were agitated inside and out; He recalled staff sitting in dark offices when rioters knocked on doors.

Eventually, history ended, and we were allowed back into the Capitol.

As a line of lawmakers ran back into the Senate chamber, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.

I asked Coon if he thought this was the strangest day of his political career.

“I don’t believe it,” he said. “He’s still in office for two weeks.”