image_pdf
Congressman Donald M. Payne Jr. and Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill (House.gov)

By LOUIS C. HOCHMAN
hochman@montclairlocal.news

U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill, a Democrat from Montclair, was among hundreds of her colleagues when commotion started Wednesday. The vice president was being evacuated from the Capitol building. And the speaker of the House.

Barricades went up. Lawmakers were told to put on gas masks. They heard banging on the door. Police had their weapons drawn.

“You couldn’t see anything. The doors were closed and locked. It was muffled,” Sherrill, who serves the 11th District, told Montclair Local from Washington D.C. Wednesday night. “You knew this violent crowd was getting closer and closer to the chamber.”

Moments earlier, Congress members had been debating an effort led by U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona to dispute his own state’s election results, part of a doomed attempt by some Republicans to reverse President Elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory. To actually invalidate the results for a given state would have taken a majority in both the Democrat-controlled House and in the GOP-led Senate, where many Republicans and Democrats alike had denounced such objections as anti-American.

But lawmakers making objections like Gosar’s about states’ results could force debates on what President Donald Trump has alleged, without evidence that any of dozens of courts has found credible, was an election stolen through massive fraud.

Then the violence started. As described by CNN and several other national news outlets Wednesday, police cleared Trump supporters out of the Capitol building after hundreds breached barriers and the building itself. The House floor was evacuated. The chaos reportedly included an armed standoff between police and at least one member of an angry mob. D.C. police later confirmed a woman who’d been shot by law enforcement during the violence had died, as had three other people who’d suffered “medical emergencies.” Multiple officers were injured, and law enforcement investigated what were eventually determined to be pipe bombs at both the Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee offices.

Sherrill, hours after safely exiting the chamber with other House members, had to cut her conversation with the Montclair Local short Wednesday evening. She was headed back to resume the debate and vote on the Arizona objection, which ultimately failed.

“We take our constitutional duties incredibly seriously. We are not going to let these duties be derailed by protesters that are protesting against the will of the American people,” she said.

The congresswoman said she considered Montclair a place where people are particularly engaged — “and I know people are worried. I know people are scared. They probably, as I am, are shaken by what they have seen.”

“What I want to people to know is we are going through a stress test of our democracy like no other, but our country is safe and we are going to prevail,” she said.

Both Sherrill and Congressman Donald M. Payne Jr., a fellow Democrat representing the 10th district that also includes parts of Montclair, had taken to social media in the hours after the violence to tell constituents they were safe.

Patrick Wright, a spokesman for Payne Jr., told Montclair Local the congressman was at his Washington, D.C. residence when chaos broke out. Wright said the congressman was “very lucky” to be safe and distant from the commotion, attending to other tasks before he had expected to arrive at the Capitol later in the afternoon. The congressman’s permanent home is in Newark.

Payne was spending the afternoon “feverishly at work,” calling fellow Congress members and looking to ensure they were safe, Wright said.

“They’re all in this together. Despite the fact that they have some political differences, colleagues protect colleagues,” Wright said.

Payne, on Facebook, thanked constituents for their thoughts, and said the incident marks “a sad, sad day for America.”

“The actions of these Trump supporters is absolutely and totally unacceptable,” he wrote. “The United States, the home of the world’s longest and most successful democracy, looks like a third-world oligarchy today. Our rule of law is getting trampled right on the steps of our Capitol Building. Every American who loves this country should be horrified and ashamed about what is happening right now.”

Several lawmakers and commentators have pointed to what they described as extraordinary and inflammatory rhetoric by Trump and some Republican lawmakers, in their allegations of a fraudulent election. Twitter and Facebook Wednesday both took the unusual step of removing a video from Trump in which he urged calm, but told his backers “we love you, you’re very special,” and continued to baselessly say the election had been stolen.

“Honestly, I find the events of the last few days have spoken for themselves. Even the video the president just released did not quell the situation,” Wright said.

Facebook vice president of integrity Guy Rosen, in a Tweet, said Facebook removed the video because “on balance we believe it contributes to rather than diminishes the risk of ongoing violence.”

Once-Democrat-turned-Republican Jeff Van Drew, serving New Jersey’s 2nd District, had been among the Trump-supporting Congress members who said they’d seek to challenge the election results. Wednesday, he too condemned the violence in at the Capitol building.

“What is happening at the Capitol is unacceptable, un-American, and disrespectful of democracy,” he wrote. “The debate many protestors have been asking for was happening today and because of these actions it was abruptly ended. Everyone has the right to peacefully protest, but what happened today was not peaceful or productive. Today’s debate was about the rule of law and by harming police officers, being violent, and breaking into a Federal building, the rule of law was broken.”

And that, Montclair’s Sherrill said, is simply “hypocritical.”

“To incite the violence and then not stop the thing you’re doing that incites the violence, and then call for peace — that is not how that works,” she said.

The New Jersey Office of Homeland Security said it was monitoring the situation, but knew of no specific threat to New Jersey.

Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday that at the request of D.C. officials, New Jersey State Police would be deployed to the District “to facilitate the peaceful transition of power & protect our democracy.” He said the New Jersey National Guard could be deployed as well.

“May God Bless America and our brave men and women in uniform,” Murphy wrote on Twitter.

Wright said Payne was rescheduling some events to be safe, but knew of no direct threats to lawmakers outside of the Capitol building area.

“We want to make sure we take the cautious approach, just in case,” he said.