Illinois Congress Members Share Their Experiences from the Capitol

For members of Illinois’ congressional delegation, Wednesday was an unprecedented —  and for some, scary — experience.

U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley spoke to WTTW News from a vacant committee room, where he was holed up, waiting to return to what he described as “whatever level of normalcy” can still exist.

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He described the scene in the House chambers.

“We hear noises, shouting, and they start bolting the doors of all the entrances to the House floor and then they tell us that the barricade has been breached, that tear gas has been released,” he said. “So now you know they’re there. The mob. And then they started moving us around, they started evacuating. And they had us in one corner, about 20 of us members, and they moved us to the far corner. Had us crouched down. Tear gas masks. Literally crouching down, with Capitol police with guns drawn.”

He said “six brave” Capitol police officers, armed with guns, used furniture to try to blockade the doors.

“It sounded like a battering ram,’”Quigley said. “At some point they (the police) said ‘we’re going to make a break for it.’”

He said police then escorted them to the secure location from which he talked to WTTW News.

U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, meanwhile, was in what he called the “sanctuary” of his office on the Capitol complex, but not within the actual building. Like many, he watched the attacks on the Capitol on TV.

“It’s quite honestly a very sad day for democracy in America. Because while we are accustomed to demonstrations and accustomed to people finding ways to express their disagreements, their disappointments, to do it in such a disruptive manner is not something that we are in fact accustomed to. And to do it with the idea that democracy does not count, does not matter. I mean that’s the most unfortunate part of this,” Davis said.

U.S. Rep. Sean Casten says every member of the U.S. House of Representatives now knows what it feels like to live through a mass shooting.

“I think we got to a situation like this because a number of colleagues forgot about their oath. We are a country governed by the rule of laws, we are a county that’s predicated upon the idea that the people will consent to be governed. And that’s lasted for 245 years because by and large the people who hold the job that I have and that my colleagues have, have recognized that the office is important but we as individuals are not. And we have a president who doesn’t understand that,” Casten said.

“And we have a president that, who, over his four years has used every tools that every demagogue in history has used. He’s told people who are in real pain – economic pain, personal pain, pain from COVID – that rather than ‘let’s get through and work on this together as Americans’ he’s told them that ‘your problems are caused by other people and I can tell you who they are, and if you just mobilize against them we’ll fix this.’ It’s an old playbook. And you don’t have to read a lot of history to read how that story ends. And I’m not saying that anybody predicted today. But it’s not outside the pale of what happens once you let a demagogue loose,” he added. “This was somewhere between an attempted coup and an act of terrorism.”

Casten says had this happened in any other country, that's what it would be called.

As for how to fix it?

Casten says that’s up to President Trump doing what every other president before him has and accept the results of the election. And he says it’s up to the president’s enablers to stand up with that.

Casten also spoke to WTTW News from a secure location in the Capitol.

U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, however, was at his apartment. Because of the coronavirus, all members aren’t on the floor together. He had been on the way in to vote, when his staff told him to turn around.

“This is what mob rule looks like. It is unAmerican and the mob action that we saw today will delay our Constitutional duty but it will not stop it,” he said.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker called for President Trump to be immediately impeached and removed from office given that, “Trump’s attempts to encourage a coup represent high treason to this democracy, our Constitution and to all Americans. He poses a danger to our nation."

“Well, there’s no question that he poses an enormous danger to his – to our country and frankly, that’s not a new situation,” Foster said. “The responsibility of this mob action lays straight at the foot of President Trump who encouraged it and also partly with every politician who’s tolerated his lies and his threats of violence and failed to speak out against it.”

“I’ve been encouraged by the fact that some members of Congress – I’m thinking specifically of Liz Cheney, the leaders of the Republican caucus who spoke out quite frankly about how unacceptable Trump’s behavior is,” he added. “And they will be – Republican senators will decide whether or not this has finally reached a point where the president should be removed even at this late date. I made my vote clear along with almost all members of the Democratic Party in the House some months ago.”

In December 2019, Foster was among those who did vote to impeach Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

As for the events of the day, jarring, to say the least. But Congressman Quigley says it also leaves him with resolve.

“I never imagined this could happen. It’s scary. Frankly I think it makes me more determined that we clear the Capitol, we secure it to the extent possible, and we get back over there and finish this job,” he said.

That procedure, now underway.

Quigley says he’s often asked how can the U.S. protect against something like this?  He says the answer isn’t hardening the target, it’s preventing the need to have that sort of protection, and he says that’s in the hands of President Trump.

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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