By Emily DeRuy
U.S. Rep. Mark DeSaulnier feared he and two aides might be taken captive by the mob raging outside the door. Rep. Anna Eshoo spent five hours in a windowless room, wrestling with spotty cell service to assure her frantic family that she was safe. San Mateo Rep. Jackie Speier’s mind traveled back to 1978 and Guyana, when she was shot five times by armed devotees of cult leader Jim Jones. Her boss, Rep. Leo Ryan, was killed.
The lawmakers shared those harrowing memories less than 24 hours after they fled into barricaded rooms, under attack and fearing for their lives as violent Trump supporters stormed into the U.S. Capitol and breached the Senate Chamber and several congressional offices. But with those immediate dangers now past, members of the Bay Area’s all-Democratic House delegation also discussed Thursday the steps they believe must be taken to restore respect for American government — including taking action against President Trump.
East Bay Rep. DeSaulnier said he was among the last members of Congress to reach the safe room where many of his colleagues were taken after the House chamber was evacuated. He had been participating in a vote to certify Joe Biden as the next president from a separate room, just off the chamber, as a COVID-19 precaution because he fell seriously ill with pneumonia and spent three weeks in an intensive care unit last year.
That room would become his refuge and hiding place after a voice came over the building’s loudspeaker with a warning: “Lock your doors, shut your lights off and be quiet,” said DeSaulnier, who is still in Washington D.C. Then, he said, “We could hear the confrontations in the hallway right outside the house chamber.”
The lawmaker said he worried that he and the staffers “might be taken” by the rioters. His fears might have been well-founded. Photos from the scene showed one rioter inside the Capitol was carrying a bundle of zip ties.
The congressman said the room had afforded him what is normally a postcard view down the National Mall toward the Washington Monument. But that bucolic view turned into a horror show Wednesday afternoon.
“I could watch the television — hear president Trump, what he was saying, riling them up — then watch them come up toward us,” DeSaulnier said of the frothing crowd of Trump loyalists.
He watched as the demonstrators pushed through barricades and clashed with overmatched police near temporary bleachers set up for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration later this month.
“You just can’t believe that all of this is happening,” DeSaulnier said. “And that it’s happening to a building that, to my way of thinking, is sacred.”
DeSaulnier said he fully supports efforts to remove President Trump from office.
“It just makes me so angry and so determined that the people who did this need to be brought to justice, including the person who incited this,” he said of Trump. “He tried to overthrow the country, he tried to overthrow the United States government. … You can’t just let this go.”
The assault on the Capitol rattled even veteran lawmakers.
“I think we’re all traumatized,” said Eshoo, a Palo Alto Democrat. “If I had a bad nightmare, it wouldn’t have captured what we experienced yesterday.”
Eshoo was en route to the House gallery from her office building when police came running toward her, shouting “go back, go back,” she recalled in an interview Thursday from D.C.
The congresswoman made her way with a couple of staffers to a windowless interior room in another office building, where she spent five hours holed up with Rep. Mike Thompson of Napa “watching in horror as the mob breached the Capitol.”
With nothing but a live stream of the chaos around her, a few bottles of water, her voting card and spotty cell service, Eshoo scrambled to reassure hysterical family members that she was alright.
Eshoo said she agrees that the president needs to be removed but doesn’t hold out a lot of hope that Vice President Mike Pence will use his constitutional powers to boot Trump.
“If I could impeach him right now, I would,” said the congresswoman, adding that although she was scheduled to fly home Thursday evening she was prepared to return to Washington if necessary.
Eshoo also blasted the Capitol Hill police, calling their lackluster response a “failure across the board” and describing the barricades outside the Capitol complex “like doggy doors … it was like, ‘Welcome, I’m taking you on a tour.’ “
Lawmakers, she said, had gotten a detailed memo about street barricades and procedures, but when she arrived and looked across the Capitol Hill plaza, “I thought, where is everyone?”
“I had a very eerie feeling. … I just kept pushing that bad feeling away,” she recalled.
Wednesday’s mob violence brought up painful memories for Speier, a San Mateo Democrat who was shot and left for dead during a 1978 fact-finding mission into the human rights abuses being carried out by Jones, a charismatic cult leader whose many devotees left everything behind in the Bay Area to follow him to Jonestown, Guyana.
“More than 40 years ago, as I lay bleeding from five gunshot wounds on an air strip in the Guyanese jungle not knowing if I would live or die, I swore that if I did survive I would dedicate my life to public service,” Speier, who was en route back to the Bay Area on Thursday and unavailable for an interview, wrote in a late Wednesday statement. “I thought of that moment today, when the U.S. Capitol was stormed by a mob of Trump rioters emboldened by the President fomenting a coup d’état.”
“The president must be immediately removed under the 25th Amendment,” Speier said. “His words and deeds have encouraged a violent insurrection and he presents a direct and deadly threat to our democracy and the rule of law.”
Rep. Zoe Lofgren of San Jose, who also supports removing Trump from office, said she wants to help organize a review of security at the Capitol.
“We can’t allow terrorists to come in and invade the Capitol of the United States,” Lofgren said. “We’ve got to prevent that from happening again.”
Fremont Democrat Ro Khanna also supports efforts to remove Trump from office through impeachment or by invoking the 25th Amendment, and plans to stay in Washington through the inauguration. But he also said he hoped Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other top Republicans would go to the White House and directly tell Trump he must resign and let Vice President Mike Pence assume the office.
“I have faith and trust that (Pence) would preside over the government responsibly for 14 days,” Khanna said.
It’s unclear how likely such a confrontation is, but it would echo a similar meeting ahead of Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974 in which GOP Congressional leadership told the president he would not have the votes to survive impeachment.
Khanna was walking to the House floor from a Congressional office building across the street, using an underground tunnel to avoid the crowds, when he learned the mob had breached the Capitol.
“You can’t go to the Capitol,” Khanna recalled someone telling him. “The Capitol is being overrun — go back.”