U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio was giving an interview when members of a pro-Trump mob broke into the Capitol building Wednesday.
The mob forced lockdowns and evacuations in place of what was supposed to be a ceremonial vote approving the electors’ choice of President-elect Joe Biden.
DeFazio’s interview was outside of a separate building that holds his office. He said he was directed to go inside and shelter in place, and he’ll be staying for awhile.
While he spoke to The News-Review Wednesday afternoon, he learned that a curfew had been called.
“I guess I’ll be sleeping in the office tonight,” he said.
In more than three decades in Congress, DeFazio has seen a lot. But never anything like this.
“The United States Capitol has just been invaded by people who are intent in overturning the Constitution of the United States and our representative democracy, and trying somehow to perpetuate Trump and make him the dictator,” he said.
The people who stormed the Capitol aren’t protesters, he said.
“Protesters do not invade the U.S. Capitol, they do not destroy artifacts in the Capitol. These are not protesters these are radical right-wing thugs,” he said.
Dramatic events during DeFazio’s time in office included the first removal of a Speaker of the House in a century, wars and 9/11, along with two school shootings in his district.
“It’s kind of like what’s next, locusts?” he said.
DeFazio said he had predicted the riots, and he was disappointed by the lack of preparedness and the lack of aggression in the initial police response as the riot grew out of control.
“I saw something inexplicable where they pulled back the barriers and let people go toward the Capitol where they could break in. I have no idea what that was about,” he said of the Capitol Hill police.
He predicted an investigation of the police response and said “maybe some senior law enforcement heads are going to roll.”
The National Guard response was delayed by the president, but the governors of neighboring states approved sending in the Maryland and Virginia National Guards.
DeFazio was prepared to hunker down for the night, and expected the session to resume in the evening. He said he can’t legally carry a gun in the city, but he had some bear spray.
Despite all that happened, DeFazio said it was a bittersweet day. Two Georgia Democratic Senate candidates were selected in the runoff there, giving Democrats the majority.
He said he believes the country’s divide will be healed because Democratic control will enable passage of things like COVID-19 relief and an infrastructure package he’s been working on that he said will create millions of jobs.
While DeFazio hunkered down in his office, protesters sympathetic to the Trump protesters at the national Capitol were demonstrating outside of the state Capitol in Salem.
Sen. Dallas Heard, R-Myrtle Creek, spoke to the crowd and spoke of political opponents as enemies, whether mayors, county commissioners or legislators.
“If you’re the enemy of the people I’m your enemy,” he said.
He had this to say about state leaders as he gestured to the state Capitol.
“Don’t let any of these punks from that stone temple over there ever tell you they are better than any of you. Trust me, I work with these fools. None of them are half as good as any of you and you need to bring the power to them,” he said.
“Don’t be violent, take action, trust in God and take down these fools in 2022,” he said.
Right-wing and counterprotesters fought at the rally and the assembly was declared unlawful and the crowd told to disperse.
Joe Biden won the November election, but President Donald Trump and some supporters have continued to assert the election results were affected by fraud. No such fraud has been proven, despite 60 court cases being brought at the state and national levels.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley told journalists in a Zoom meeting that the senators were safe and were ushered to an undisclosed, secure location.
“I think that this situation is the result of really what has been the failure to have a strong bipartisan pushback to the lies and conspiracy theories promoted by the president of the United States since the Nov. 3 election,” he said.
“Much of America has seen from what Trump describes as Trump Media, a story that is completely apart from reality. And as a result people across the nation came to the Capitol infuriated believing those false stories, those lies, those conspiracies and this is the result that we have at this moment,” he said.
Merkley said the first notice senators had of the problem was during the sixth speech of the debate on whether to accept the Arizona electoral votes.
He tied the protests to what he said was a “coup,” an attempt to overturn Biden’s election.
He said the Constitution gives Congress no role except to count the ballots and witness them.
When the first protesters ran into the room it was very sudden and unusual, he said.
He described the vice president being rushed off the floor, and senators first being told to evacuate and then to remain in lockdown.
There was concern there could be shooting, since some protesters were thought to be carrying firearms. A woman was later reported to have been shot and killed.
“It’s a strange feeling to be locked in a room that you know is not really designed to be secure when there are angry people outside,” Merkley said.
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden issued a statement Wednesday afternoon.
“What’s happening today in our nation’s Capitol is a direct assault on democracy, a riot by insurrectionists that caps off four years of Donald Trump fanning the flames of fanaticism,” Wyden said. “Every Republican lawmaker who supported his efforts to overturn a legitimate election shares responsibility for the violence at the heart of our democracy.”
Wyden said as a steadfast defender of the First Amendment, he would always support peaceful protest even “if I disagree with the views that are expressed.”
“This is far from peaceful protest. But I thank the Capitol Police for their courage protecting all elected officials from criminals bent on destroying democracy. And I very much look forward to resuming the urgent work for our country, as soon as possible,” Wyden said.