WASHINGTON – As rioters stormed through the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was sheltering in a secure location and trying to do what her job demands: take charge of a situation.
“There has to be some way,” she told colleagues, "we can maintain the sense that people have that there is some security or some confidence that government can function and that you can elect the president of the United States.”
Then, an unidentified voice interjected with alarming news: Lawmakers on the House floor had begun putting on tear gas masks in preparation for a breach. Startled, Pelosi asked the woman to repeat what she said.
“Do you believe this?” Pelosi said in disbelief to another Democratic leader, Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina.
It was around 2:45 p.m. and the violent cacophony had already disrupted the planned certification of the 2020 presidential election results. It would be hours before the building was secure.
At one point, Pelosi said of President Donald Trump, “I'm gonna punch him out.”
Never-before-seen video footage played Thursday by the House Jan. 6 committee, and later on CNN, showed Pelosi and other leaders, including Republican allies of Trump, responding anxiously — and angrily — to the insurrection.
The recordings offer a rare glimpse into the real-time reactions of the most powerful members of Congress as they scrambled to drum up support from all parts of the government, including from agencies seemingly ill prepared for the chaos, and vented anger over a president whose conduct they felt had endangered their lives.
In the videos, Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer negotiate with governors and defense officials to try to get the National Guard to the Capitol as police were being brutally beaten outside the building.
The deployment of the Guard was delayed for hours as Trump stood by and did little to stop the violence of his supporters.
The footage, recorded by Pelosi's daughter, Alexandra, a documentary filmmaker, was shown during the committee's 10th hearing as an illustration of the president's inaction in the face of grave danger posed by the rioters to the lawmakers forced into hiding inside.
“As the president watched the bloody attack unfold on Fox News from his dining room, members of Congress and other government officials stepped into the gigantic leadership void created by the president's chilling and steady passivity that day,” said Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, a committee member.
The concerns were not theoretical. Around 3 p.m., as a Trump loyalist outside Pelosi's office pointed her finger and shouted, “We're coming in if you don't bring her out," the speaker was huddled somewhere else in a room with Schumer, who said, “I'm gonna call up the effin' secretary of DoD.”
And so he did, telling acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller on speakerphone that there were senators still in hideaway spaces and imploring him to send in the Maryland National Guard. Pelosi chimed in that she was going to call the mayor of Washington, D.C., for help as well.
As the violence persisted outside — “Officer down, get him up,” a voice could be heard bellowing in one clip shown by the committee — the leaders kept making calls inside. One went to Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam about the possibility of help from the Virginia National Guard, with Pelosi narrating the events based on what she saw from television news footage.
An angrier call followed with Jeffrey Rosen, the then-acting attorney general. Days earlier, and unbeknownst at the time to Congress or to the public, Rosen and colleagues had fended off a slapdash attempt by Trump to replace him with a subordinate eager to challenge the election results.
On that day, though, Schumer and Pelosi sat shoulder-to-shoulder on the couch and laid bare their frustrations with the country's top law enforcement official.
“They're breaking the law in many different ways,” Pelosi said. “And quite frankly, much of it at the instigation of the president of the United States.”
Schumer weighed in too, shaking his head to the side for emphasis: “Yeah, why don't you get the president to tell them to leave the Capitol, Mr. Attorney General, in your law enforcement responsibility? A public statement they should all leave.”
In a clip that aired later on CNN, Pelosi was told that the Secret Service had dissuaded Trump from going to the Capitol.
“If he comes, I’m gonna punch him out,” Pelosi responded. “I’ve been waiting for this. For trespassing on the Capitol grounds, I’m gonna punch him out. And I’m gonna go to jail, and I’m gonna be happy.”
It wasn't until the evening that the Capitol would be cleared and work would resume. The news that Congress would be able to reconvene to finish its work in certifying the election results was delivered to the congressional leaders not by Trump but by Vice President Mike Pence.
After a very bad day, Schumer had two words: “Good news.”
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