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. Jackie Speier of California told The 19th. The transcript has been lightly edited:
I walked over to the Capitol around 1 o’clock because I wanted to witness the counting of the ballots and be there for California. I was in the gallery around 1:15 p.m. They were debating Arizona at the time. I remember thinking that there was something fundamentally wrong that a senator from Texas could object to the vote in Arizona.
As that debate was going on, I had seen some video of what was happening outside. People were tussling with the Capitol Police, but I assumed that the Capitol Police would be able to detain them.
Around 2 o’clock, the speaker was escorted out. And she had kind of a determination about her, walking with a certainty. She is always in a hurry and determined, so I don’t think much about that, although the moment registered for me. Then [Rep. Steny Hoyer] was escorted out, and I knew something was up.
We were still moving on with the debate. Then, a Capitol Police officer went up to the podium and said, “The Capitol has been breached.” And I think, “Oh my God.” He said, “Stay in place; we’re locking all the doors.”
There was some confusion as those on the floor were escorted out. For those of us in the gallery, the police officer said that under your seat is a pouch. I’ve been to the gallery hundreds of times, and I never knew there were pouches underneath.
I’m trembling. I’m unzipping the pouch, and there’s an aluminum metal covering under the pouch. I’m ripping it open and out pops a gas mask that’s basically operational immediately. He says, “Put it on.” The hole is not that large and you have to pull it apart to get it over your head. I was struggling to do that, and then they said not to put them on yet. He said just sit in your seats.
Eventually, he said, “Move! Move! Move! Move!” We were moving under the brass railings from one section to another. The railings are meant to prevent people from doing that, so it was difficult.
There was this loud pounding — the rioters wanted to break through. The officers put a large piece of furniture in front of the door and pulled their guns. I was lying on the floor in the second row of the gallery. And then I heard a gunshot ring out. I placed my cheek on the marble floor and thought, “Oh my God, I have survived the jungles of Guyana and here I am, in my own country, in this tabernacle of democracy, and I may be losing my life.” I flashed back to that primitive airstrip in 1978: Congressman Leo Ryan was shot 45 times and died; I was shot five times and lay there, waiting for the shooting to stop and preparing to die. I couldn’t believe this was happening in my own country.
When I was shot five times in Guyana, I was in a foreign country with no contact with the outside world. I got shot I’d say three-quarters of the way through their shooting spree, so then I went through all the emotions of preparing to die. I feared that this could be the end. The difference, of course, was when we were on that airstrip in Guyana, the gunmen had guns but we didn’t. At least this time, we had six to eight officers in the chamber. So I flash back to all of that, certainly, but I just couldn’t believe that this was happening in this safe and protected Capitol, this symbol of democracy. We were now witnessing what was happening in third world countries and banana republics.
There was only one gun shot. Then they said, “All right, leave through this door.” But there was pounding on the door, so we said there’s pounding. And they said, “All right, stay back.”
Eventually we could leave after about half an hour in the gallery. I thought the Capitol Police force was confused and panicked because they kept shouting orders to us that were contradictory. In fairness to them, they were under extraordinary pressure and probably did not have resources and were just acting on training that they had had without having the benefit of command telling them what to do.
So we left, and as we were leaving the gallery, I looked to my right and on the floor are 10 to 12 rioters with their heads down, lying supine with two Capitol Police officers with their assault weapons pointed at them. So they had obviously reached the third floor. And then we raced down many flights of stairs and got to the Rayburn tunnel before we were escorted to a secure location.
There weren’t any protesters in the tunnel, so there was a sense that they had been subdued, but we don’t know what else was going to happen. We got to the secure facility, and it’s packed with members. I remember talking to the attending physician and saying this looks like a superspreader event to me. He said as long as everyone wears their masks, we should be fine. So I went into a room and called my family and friends, who were asking if I was OK.
Then we turned on the TV. Everyone was basically in the dark about what was happening. I looked at the TV, and there were people all over the Capitol. They looked like ants. I thought, “How are they ever going to get people out of there?”
The goal was we wanted to go back in there and get back to work observing the counting of the Electoral College vote. I worried that we could have a sniper hide in one of the many nooks and crannies in the Capitol, but eventually they did secure the Capitol.
I think we finished around 2 or 3 in the morning, and I think I was just numb by the whole experience. I got on a plane that next morning, very early, around 6 a.m. There were all these people clad with Trump gear packed on the plane. These were the rioters and protesters. I had a window seat and just sort of did what I could to look anonymous, which I think was successful.
I remember a number of us in the gallery later that weekend had a counseling session with a professional, and one of my colleagues talked about how he had been aching all over. My thighs had been aching, and I couldn’t figure out why. And we all realized it was from all of that crouching down and trying to get across the gallery. We were using muscles we didn’t normally use and an adrenaline rush that had tensed us up.