About one month after pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol, The 19th reached out to all 143 women in the 117th Congress to ask about their experiences on January 6. Twenty-three shared their points of view from that day. We are also publishing each lawmaker’s full account of that day. Here is what Rep. Brenda Lawrence of Michigan told The 19th. The transcript has been lightly edited:
I was in the gallery because I’m from Michigan, one of the contested states, and wanted to be prepared when it was our turn to debate. I decided to go to the bathroom, and my daughter called me as I left the chamber. She asked where I was and if I knew what was going on. I told her I was at the Capitol and I didn’t.
“Mom,” she said, “you need to get out of there. You need to leave right now. Mom, promise me.”
When I was in the stall, I heard a man screaming, asking “Who’s in there?” I didn’t know who it was, so I stayed in the stall and kept quiet. Later, another man came in, identified him as Capitol Police and said I had to get out now. I tried to wash my hands, but he practically pushed me out and onto the House floor. And then they locked the door. Well when they pushed me in, everyone was standing around and I didn’t see [Speaker Nancy Pelosi,] who was running the floor when I left. People seemed confused.
An officer with a walkie-talkie interrupted the proceedings, went to the mic and told us: “The Capitol has been breached.”
A few minutes later, another police officer told everyone to take cover. Soon after, we heard banging on the door. It was vibrating, and I thought “Oh my God. Am I going to die today? Is this it? Am I going to die today?” I thought of my daughter telling me to get out. I stood, I knelt and then stood back up again because I didn’t know what to do. Then some officers came in and ushered those of us on the House floor out. As I was leaving, I turned around, looked up at the gallery and asked a nearby officer: “What about them?”
The police just said, “You gotta go! You gotta go!” But I was supposed to be up there too.
We’re running down the twisting, curved stairwells. I’m so thankful no one fell or was hurt. I remember reaching back for the hand of the clerk. We were literally trotting, running, and she was like, “May we walk out the door together?”
This is the first time I’ve talked about it without having chest pain.
I had taken my mask off to put on the gas mask but in the confusion, when they told us to leave, I had no mask on. I’m getting nervous about that. They keep us right by the outside door. I went to go out the door, but it was locked. I was able to grab a mask and put it on while I’m running downstairs. I was with the clerk and then I grabbed her hand and said: “We gotta go. We can’t walk slow, now. We gotta go. I got you.”
We trotted up and down the stairs, arms locked, as we were traveling through the tunnel toward Rayburn. When we got there, there was confusion with Capitol Police because some told us to go left and some right. We were split up. They took us to the cafeteria, and the people there were looking at us like, “Why are these people here?” There were reporters and workers there. And finally another police officer came and said, “You’re not supposed to be here. Come follow us.”
They took us to a committee room. It seemed like a lifetime. It seemed like forever. It was at least two to three hours. This was another moment that stood out. Thank God I remembered to get my phone because my family was going nuts: aunts, cousins, neighbors. [Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan] was texting me, asking if I was OK, if she needed to do anything, to just say something — even if just a thumbs up — to let her know I was OK. I texted her back, “OK, thank you.” That was refreshing.
All the members were there, and I saw the Republicans huddled on one side with no mask on. Lisa Rochester was walking around offering masks to people who didn’t have one. If I hadn’t grabbed mine, I wouldn’t have had one either because of that gas mask. Then we start talking with police all around us.
Then Nancy Pelosi walks in. She has a very serious expression, a bit disheveled and not the smiley, happy, strong Nancy. She looked stressed. [Rep. Liz Cheney] brought us water and juice. They would tell us things like, “They’re clearing the building,” “You can’t leave,” and “We’ll keep you updated.” Then Nancy said: “We have been attacked today. We are at war. And they are not going to win. We are going back to the floor to fulfill our constitutional responsibility.”
They tried to stop us today, she said, but they will not stop us. Mentally, I’m thinking I need a drink. I need therapy, you know. What do you mean going back? It was crazy. When they finally gave the all clear, I didn’t want to wander off back to my office alone. I’m going back to the Capitol because we still didn’t know if they were going to challenge Michigan.
When we finally walked back to the Capitol, we passed broken glass and tear gas canisters. It was eerie, the most eerie feeling. The bathroom I had been in earlier was right by where the woman was shot. I was in shock, not feeling emotions and just going through the motions.
To see Nancy and Pence walk in with a TV setup — that’s when I knew it was real. I never saw how large the crowd was before then. To this day, I’m angry. I am so angry. I’m disappointed beyond belief because for me and so many people, when my family and friends visit and I give them a tour, it’s clear that it’s such a sacred, special place. A friend of mine said after visiting there that it kind of makes you want to sit up straight and pay attention.
[The rioters] had to know it was special. As crazy as these people were, there was so much footage of them walking between the roped aisle in Statuary Hall. You’re raiding a place, but you’re going to conform in a gated area.
It was just disheartening. That’s why I tell people I survived the “three I’s”: insurrection, impeachment and the inauguration.
Being at home and having to grapple with my anger, it’s been so uncomfortable. It was unacceptable. This is not the country I live in — what I saw. We have had disagreements, protests, but we’ve never in my lifetime not been a united democracy. We’ve always used civilized, thoughtful processes to deal with our disappointment.
When I heard the banging at the door, it became like survival. How do I get out? How do I survive? We were protected on the floor but my thought, after the fact: What were they going to do to us if they had gotten to us? What was the plan? What were you going to do? My governor has faced protesters that said they were going to kidnap, torture and then kill her. What was the plan? Some of these same groups were the ones in the Capitol that day.
At the end of the night, I had to go back to the gallery to find my purse. I ended up walking with an officer through the building to their main office in the basement of the Capitol and talking to him. He shared with me that a lot of the force was injured today. Just disbelief.