Trapped in the House gallery as violent supporters of President Donald Trump pushed their way into the chamber, Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, thought back to the Aug. 3, 2019 El Paso mass shooting and feared for her life.
“I thought I might not make it out,” said Escobar, who described watching police push furniture against a door to keep out what she labeled “terrorists,” being told to grab a gas mask and hearing glass in the doors break. Escobar’s district includes El Paso, where a gunman targeting Latinos opened fire in a Walmart, killing 23 people and wounding 26 others.
Locked down in their offices or taking refuge in undisclosed locations, Latino lawmakers who were in the Capitol and on the Hill Wednesday to count the vote electing Joe Biden as president found themselves in the midst of the chaos and the rioters’ confrontations with police.
Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., who also was in the House gallery when the pro-Trump rioters entered the chamber and is a medical doctor, said he felt vulnerable, but his emergency physician skills kicked in.
He began planning for the worst, a mass shooting, and planning with others what to do if shooting started.
“There is no doubt the president and his loyalists were inciting the violence. They invited this. They welcomed and encouraged this to happen,” said Ruiz, who took over this year as the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
“We knew the president had invited and incited mass protest and gave the wink for violence to occur and really made people believe in a conspiracy theory so gross and so visceral, that this was a possibility,” said Ruiz, “but you go on believing the Capitol is safe, determined to fulfill your oath to the Constitution.”
The potential for violence was so certain for Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., that Tuesday night, she called her husband to tell him where she keeps her will because of a “premonition” that the day would become violent.
“This is a violent act,” said Sanchez, who spoke to MSNBC from a secure location. “Shots were fired inside the Capitol—this is a seditious, treacherous act to delegitimize votes,” Sanchez said. “All of them should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
While Escobar said she was expecting there could be violence on Wednesday, “I had no idea how unprepared law enforcement would be.”
After the mob stormed Congress, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tweeted: “There is nothing patriotic about what is occurring on Capitol Hill. This is 3rd world style anti-American anarchy.” Rubio called on Trump to put an end to the rioting, tweeting that it “is crucial you help restore order by sending resources to assist the police and ask those doing this to stand down.”
On social media, Rubio drew backlash from those who criticized him and other Republicans for supporting Trump.
The fear and shock of the day was a dramatic shift from the euphoria that Escobar and other Democrats had been feeling just hours before when news rolled in that Democrats had won at least one of Georgia’s Senate seats.
Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff won their runoffs against incumbent Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in Georgia, with news of Ossoff’s win coming in the midst of the violence.
“I found it very repulsive to see people in the House of Representatives and the Senate and in the halls of Congress parading with Confederate flags,” said Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García, D-Ill. He said it was especially onerous on the day when Warnock became the first Black member of the Senate from the Georgia, García said.
“This should be a day of celebration, of proof that we are becoming a better union. This is a betrayal of that,” he said.
García said that Trump bears the most responsibility for the deadly siege on Wednesday, but so do his “enablers” in Congress “because they know they are going to fail. They’ve acknowledged it but they are putting their own political aspirations above the nation’s interest.”
García said he’d put Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, at the top of the list of enablers in the Senate.
Cruz led the movement to challenge Biden’s Nov. 3 victory over Trump by encouraging fellow lawmakers to vote against affirmation of the vote count that was taking place in Congress when the rioters forced their way into the Capitol.
Fellow Texan Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Democrat, called for Cruz’s resignation in a tweet.
But members also were joining in calling for action against Trump.
“I think he needs to be removed by any means possible,” Escobar said.
García said members should look at impeachment, but added there may not be enough time to carry out the process.
“He has certainly betrayed his oath of office and the country and made us the ridicule of the world at a most sensitive time when the peaceful transference of power should be occurring,” García said.
Loyal Latino Trump supporters tried to shift the blame for the violent protests, claiming on social media that communists, Antifa members and pedophiles were among the protesters.
In Miami, where Trump’s performance helped him win the state, supporters led a long caravan through the streets to protest Congress’ count of the Nov. 3 votes.
Republican strategist Bertica Cabrera Morris said she’s 100 percent against violence, but “I don’t believe everyone there was a Trump supporter. There are reports of Antifa and paid actors wearing MAGA hats instigating violence,” she said, though there is no evidence that the pro-Trump protesters were anti-fascist activists.
Cabrera Morris said the deadly violence at the Capitol was the “culmination of four years of harassment against Trump supporters and their reaction to an election they feel was stolen.”
Ruiz said that as bad as things look, he believes the Constitution will hold up. The Congress has returned to affirm the vote count, Biden and vice president-elect Kamala Harris will take office on Jan. 20 and “those that violated the law will be held accountable.” But he warned that another wave of violence incited by Trump should be expected.
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., said it was time to finish paving the way for Trump’s departure: “We need to get back to the Floor to finish certifying this election,” Gallego said on MSNBC before Congress reconvened. “Democracy is at stake and we won’t let it die on our watch.”
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