WASHINGTON — Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., thought she may die Wednesday.
“Is this how it’s going to be?” she wondered, crouched down and trapped in the House visitors gallery as officers in plain clothes drew their guns, ready to fend off rioters breaking into the chamber.
In a day to live in infamy, as Congress started counting Electoral College votes to finalize Joe Biden’s presidential victory, President Donald Trump, declaring war on the peaceful transfer of power, encouraged protests in the streets of D.C. — and a mob ended up storming the Capitol.
There wasn’t enough security on hand to prevent invaders from gaining entry to the Capitol easily — too easily — and these domestic terrorists roamed through the building with little resistance, entering the House and Senate chambers and other offices and halls.
In other years, counting the Electoral College votes is ceremonial.
Trump’s desperate bid to stay in power resulted in a group of Republicans challenging the Electoral College vote inside the Capitol. Outside, fueled by conspiracy theories and Trump himself — you know, the law and order president — the insurrectionists flooded the Capitol in a futile mission.
The violence backfired because as night fell — and with D.C. under a curfew — even the Trump-loving Republicans in Congress who wanted to thwart the Electoral College vote were deploring the rioters — but not Trump.
The violence backfired because some good came of this dark day — the election deniers, at least some of them, realized where the dead end the Trump road they were on had led.
Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., — whose defeat on Tuesday led to the Democrats winning control of the Senate — stood on the Senate floor and dropped her Electoral College objection.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., finally broke from Trump. Said Graham, Biden and Kamala Harris “are lawfully elected.”
Some Trump White House staffers, out of a job anyway on Jan. 20, announced they are or were contemplating resignations, so disturbed they were about what Trump’s followers were doing. Twitter locked Trump’s account, at least for a bit.
Earlier in the day, because of COVID restrictions, only a few members at a time were allowed in the House chamber as the electoral count got underway.
Kelly and two other Illinois Democrats — Reps. Mike Quigley and Brad Schneider — were in the House gallery watching the historic proceedings.
I interviewed Kelly on the phone; she was in a secured, undisclosed location on the Capitol grounds.
After the mob stormed the Capitol, Kelly and the other lawmakers in the gallery — on the third floor of the Capitol — saw some of the leaders a floor below whisked away.
Kelly and other lawmakers were screamed instructions — Kelly is not sure from who — to reach under their seats and look for gas masks. That there were gas masks hidden under some of the seats “was news to me,” Kelly said.
Kelly found the black bag with the gas mask in a silver wrapping and she ripped it open. She had it with her as she and the others, crouching, inched their way across the gallery to the door on the Republican side of the chamber.
“We saw the (Capitol Police) guns come out, there was a barricade, so then we all stopped and just started hiding,” waiting for directions.
“I remember getting my phone, texting my family, because I was like, oh my God, is this how it’s going to be? It was scary.”
I first reached Quigley on his cell as he was being rushed out of the chamber, escorted by Capitol Police. By then, law enforcement had already launched tear gas at the rioters. “I’m carrying my gas mask in my hand; many members have them on,” he said.
We talked again once Quigley was in a safe, secured location with other House members.
At the start of what turned into an evacuation, there was “shouting, yelling” that Quigley heard. He was sitting a few seats away from Schneider.
Then, “They are moving us around in the balcony to keep us safer and finally they (Capitol Police) made a decision to get us the hell out of there,” Quigley said.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., one of the only Republicans to criticize Trump for pushing baseless conspiracy theories and lies, said in a tweet the attack on the Capitol was “a coup,” noting later, “See what these “pro police” garbage clowns did?”
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., talking to reporters via Zoom, said, “I cannot believe this is happening.”
Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., one of the Electoral College vote counting “tellers,” said in a statement, “Political violence of any kind is never acceptable and must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. There’s no excuse for what we saw today.”
DEMOCRATS WIN SENATE CONTROL
The insurrection cast a shadow over what in another time would be the giant story: The Democrats won control of the Senate with the Georgia elections.
“Did you know, this was such a wonderful day for Democrats, and then not so much,” Kelly lamented.
Loeffler was beat by Raphael Warnock. Sen. David Perdue lost to Jon Ossoff. The Senate is 50-50, so Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will cast the tie-breaking vote.
This brings a world of change, suddenly and importantly.
With Democrats in charge of the White House, Senate and House, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. J.B. Pritzker — and other local leaders — will get the federal help for their COVID-ravaged budgets that Trump and congressional Republicans denied.
And with the Senate in Democratic hands, Biden will nominate the Lincolnwood-raised Judge Merrick Garland for attorney general knowing that he can fill the federal judicial seat the Niles West grad will vacate.