WASHINGTON – A solemn session of Congress to formally declare the victory of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. turned into an instant scene of violence and chaos on Wednesday when a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol and the polling stopped votes .
New York Times journalists witnessed the events. So the chaos unfolded.
Not long after Kentucky majority leader Senator Mitch McConnell warned his Republican colleagues that their efforts to overthrow an American election would put their democracy on a “death spiral”, fear rose in the Senate Chamber.
A large group of pro-Trump protesters broke through barricades and broke through the building, and police abducted Vice President Mike Pence from the podium and from the chamber when the shouts of the mob came outside.
Above the Senate floor, in the press gallery, reporters craned their necks to catch a glimpse of the chaos outside. Journalists were brought into the Senate Chamber when staff members shouted “in or out!” and picked himself up to secure the doors from intruders. Indiana Republican Senator Todd Young called for the doors to be locked.
Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat of Minnesota, looked at her cell phone and alerted other Senators to the escalating danger and shouted that “shots” had been fired somewhere in close combat. Panic colored the voices of lawmakers and journalists.
When it became clear the Senate Chamber was unsafe, security officers ordered the senators to leave.
As lawmakers and staff rushed out, aides snatched boxes of electoral college certificates, making sure the vandals couldn’t literally steal the election results.
“If our capable staff hadn’t packed them, they would have been burned by the crowd,” said Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon.
The senators walked quickly through the Capitol tunnels with an armed police escort. A member of Mr. McConnell’s security detail took the arm of the Senator, who is limping about a childhood polio battle, and pulled and supported him as they withdrew from the danger.
It wasn’t long before the President’s supporters were in the Senate Chamber, wandering among the mahogany bowls, and even sitting on the marble table that Mr. Pence had not long sat on.
On the other side of the Capitol, a police officer stepped onto the podium of the house to inform lawmakers that he may have to duck under his chairs.
“We now have people who have violated the Capitol,” he told them, warning members of the House to be ready to move quickly out of the chamber. “You are in the rotunda.”
“Call Trump,” replied Steve Cohen, Democrat of Tennessee, to shouts and murmurs from the floor of the house. “Call your friend.”
Representative Ruben Gallego, an Arizona Democrat and veteran, jumped on the armrests of the chairs and began directing members to warn them to move quietly and quickly from the chamber.
Capitol police officers were handing out gas masks to reporters in the press area upstairs when lawmakers pulled out their own silver masks from under the chairs in front of them. There were warnings that tear gas had been fired in the Capitol rotunda and they prepared to put on their masks.
The chamber filled with frantic shouts and the hum of masks. Their red lights flashed as lawmakers tried to figure out how to open the plastic bags that were supposed to go over their heads. Police officers and staff on the floor urged lawmakers to get out and climb over chairs and railings to reach the doors.
A wooden box was pushed in front of the main doors of the chamber, through which Mr. Pence and the chests of election certificates had only come an hour earlier. Security officers drew their guns and pointed and yelled at the door, the glass of which was broken as lawmakers, staff and reporters crouched on the top levels of the chamber.
There was a bang and the evacuation was stopped for a moment. Everyone was told to get down, and reporters and lawmakers struggled to hide behind low-back chairs and equipment that were normally used to broadcast the floor procedure.
Outside, members of the mob felt at home throughout the Capitol, including Spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi’s office.
The evacuation resumed shortly after 2:45 p.m. and a number of lawmakers and journalists emerged from the chamber of the house. They climbed over chairs and ducked under railings – anything to get out quickly. Police officers had their guns drawn.
“Are you all right? Are you all right? “was the constant refrain as members of Congress, aides and reporters scurried down stairs and hallways. The phones were full of texts and calls, and lawmakers desperately scrutinized the staff who were in office buildings responding to the family.
Senators gathered in a safe location in another building in the Capitol complex, and journalists were asked to stay outside. F.B.I. Tactical units, camouflaged with guns and shields, monitored the place while the senators spoke in hushed tones about whether and how to proceed with the polling.
“These thugs won’t let us go,” said Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia. “We’ll be done tonight. Everyone strives to stick around to do our job.”
As night fell, an announcement came over the loudspeaker in the Capitol, informing lawmakers that the city was now under curfew. Distant sirens could still be heard throughout the capital.
Nicholas Fandos Contribution to reporting.