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. Lizzie Fletcher of Texas told The 19th. The transcript has been lightly edited:
Everybody knew that tensions were high and there would be large demonstrations and protests. That day, I think I had a heightened awareness going in. My husband had come to D.C. with me over the weekend and said he’d stay through Wednesday because it could be a dangerous day. I don’t think anyone had a sense of exactly what would happen, but we all got notice to be there by 9 a.m. and to use the tunnels. I expected to be there until noon the next day, bringing food and a blanket and ready for whatever was going to happen.
My husband came with me because my staff was working remotely. He brought his laptop to do work from my office. I promised my staff I’d get a lot done because I was watching the proceedings from my office. There had been an email the day before from the speaker’s office: We couldn’t be on the floor because of COVID, but could sign up for a time to be in the gallery to watch the proceedings.
Right around 12:30 p.m., it popped up on my calendar that I could be there at 1 p.m. but had to be there by 12:55 p.m.. It was quick. It takes about 10 minutes to get there, so I said to my husband, “Why don’t you get some sandwiches or something? You keep the key to the office.” I didn’t take my whole bag, and he had the key to the office. I walked over to the gallery. When I got there, there were two staffers from Pelosi’s office who said we’d be there for an hour — two dozen people at a time.
I went in, took my seat near friends and watched the proceedings. As they were going through, probably around 1:30 p.m., I got an email that the Cannon House office building was being evacuated. A lot of people around me were looking at their phones getting the same notification.
My office is in Cannon, and my husband was in my office. I texted him that there was an evacuation notice. He was there when they did the notice, and there had been some people from the Architect of the Capitol Office doing work in my office. When I texted him, he was walking out the door.
I was sort of watching my phone and got in touch with my chief of staff and asked them to stay in touch with my husband. My phone was at 30 to 40 percent battery. At the beginning, I spent all of my focus making sure he was OK. We were still proceeding on the House floor. He had evacuated to a cafeteria.
About 10 [minutes] to 2 p.m., I stepped out of the gallery to make a phone call. I asked the two staffers who checked me in if I needed to leave my seat here in the gallery, which is what I was thinking. They said, “We’re going to keep you here. The 2 o clock shift isn’t coming.” Certainly, in the next 20 minutes, a couple of my colleagues got up and walked out. Before I stepped out, I asked if it was OK to go out. They said yeah but just asked that I don’t go near the windows. So I stepped out into the hallway and thought, “Should I leave? What’s happening?”
We were getting “stay where you are” notices. I called my husband from outside the gallery and said they were going to keep us here. I walked toward the front, and I saw all of these people on the steps of the Capitol. I think I had been on those steps once in my life. The only time I remember ever being on those central steps was when the women stood on the steps in front of RBG’s casket.
The stairs were packed. I could hear them. I could see out the window. You could tell there was a heightened sense that things were happening. I talked to two guys who said things were escalating, that things were happening. The notice to evacuate Cannon was because there was a bomb at the RNC, not official information but I saw on Twitter. It still felt like we were safe in the Capitol. I got texts from a few friends. They were watching on TV and worried. I said, “I’m safe but pray for our country.”
I kept reassuring people that I was really OK because I was getting these messages from folks. I sent messages out to my family. I was obviously talking to my husband. I was worried about him sitting in the cafeteria. When I went back in the gallery, I asked if someone had an office in Longworth. I had just moved from Longworth to Cannon. Abigail Spanberger said her office was in Longworth, and she had just moved next door to my old office. “Go to her office,” I texted him, and I talked to him as he climbed the stairs. The doors are locked but Spanberger was on the phone with her staff at the same time and told them when it was okay to open the door.
We were standing up talking about this when the Capitol Police told us to sit down, please sit down. Sit down and stay in your seats. So that they could do a head count, we needed to sit.
The other thing we were told was don’t take any pictures and don’t tell anyone what’s happening in here. I’m a rule follower, so I didn’t take any pictures. They were worried about those pictures getting out.
When I first came back in the chamber after seeing people on the steps, I’m not sure if the speaker was still on dais or not. But I remember seeing people escort [Rep. Jim Clyburn] and [Rep. Steny Hoyer] out. I had a sense of the danger as they were escorted out. I thought, OK, they’re moving leadership. This is serious. They wouldn’t just do that.
Rep. Jim McGovern took the dais and just continued the proceeding. So for a while, we were proceeding with the proceeding but there was a heightened sense and lots of chatter. You could tell everyone was focused elsewhere. You could hear shouts. You could tell things were happening. The Capitol Police got up and made an announcement: “The building has been breached. There are people in the building. You need to sit down.”
What I remember more clearly is when they stopped the proceeding. The floor staff was still working, making sure things continued. The Capitol Police, at a certain point, got on the microphone and said there were insurrectionists that have made it into the building. They’re in the rotunda, and there’s tear gas being used so you need to get your air hood out from under your seats. It may come into the chamber.
When you’re in the house, the doors to the gallery are all open. I remember them closing all the doors to the gallery, and I assume locking them. Some people said they weren’t sure if they had the keys. Once they told us to put air hoods on, Chairman McGovern came off the lectern and then Capitol Police were basically updating us every couple of minutes. It was between 2 and 2:30 p.m.
We were in there for a little while. At one point, one of my colleagues from Arizona, a Marine, got on the table and was shouting up at us how to put [the gas masks] on. I didn’t know there were air hoods under the seats. There wasn’t one under every seat in the gallery — only one every few seats.
I’m in some of the Associated Press pictures from that day, and when I saw those, I remember thinking: “Where’s my mask?” There’s this picture that shows when we took our masks off to put the air hoods on. Should we put it on? Should we not put it on? Not wanting to be premature, I think I had put it on and then taken it off. I asked Capitol Police. They were instructing people, but there were things that weren’t clear. They were telling us to be ready, but not necessarily to put them on.
At a certain point they evacuated those on the floor, but we were still in the gallery. We watched them evacuate them and leave through the speaker’s lobby. But they hadn’t secured the third floor, and so we were up there. It was all Democrats in the gallery and the press. So the press gallery was full, and then the Democratic side of the House. We were in the gallery and at a certain point, there were a couple police officers in the gallery and some on the floor.
Right around this time, they moved the furniture and drew guns at the back of the chamber. They said they were trying to secure an escape path for us on the other side of the gallery. We had to walk or crawl over or under the sections’ brass railings to get to the other side.
They were hoping to evacuate us, but we could hear people all around us. It sounded like people were pounding on the doors, so much sound from outside. You hear shouts. Just general confusion. We were in there when we heard the gunshots when the woman was shot just down below us, trying to get into the speaker’s lobby where the members on the floor had just exited.
They told us to move to the other side. We went across and climbed over and under. But when we got there, we couldn’t get out because everything was locked. That’s when I remember asking Capitol Police, “Should we put on air hoods or not?”
And he said: “Well, it’s easier for you to see and hear if you don’t have it on.”
That tells me that people could be coming at us at any minute. I didn’t put it back on. We were crouched. There were people, around the same time, telling us to get down. I don’t have a perfect timeline. We were probably in there for about 15 minutes after the floor was evacuated. They told us to hide, and I was on the first row behind the wall up there. I thought that was a good place.
Abigail Spanberger was behind me, and said she was taking off the pin of my jacket. A lot of the women have started wearing their pins on necklaces. The last Congress and now, rather than putting them on the lapel on your suit. That day, I was wearing a little necklace, so I put my pin on that. I remember kind of fumbling trying to unclasp the necklace, and I was standing with Scott Peters. I asked him what he did with his pin, and he said he put it in his pocket and asked if I wanted to give mine to him. I said no; I need it. But just at that moment, I fumbled and dropped my necklace before getting on hands and knees to look for it. I ended up just pinning the pin inside my pants.
The pins are like a target if people knew what they were. I think, for me, that was the scariest time. We were in there. We heard the gunshot, and people said to take off our pins. There was noise and confusion, and we were near the door.
The Capitol Police were talking to people on the other side of the door, and I’m not sure anybody was certain if the people on the other side were Capitol Police or insurrectionists. It got quiet while they were asked a series of questions. I felt at the time that they were about 80 percent sure, not 100 percent sure, that it was the police because they were talking amongst each other. I just remember I was at the bottom of those stairs, and I think the scariest part was when they opened the door.
I was sort of crouched on the ground to see what was happening on the floor. I was peeking over the edge to see what was happening, peering over and seeing what was happening at the door. It was Capitol Police when the door opened, and we all started to file out.
They told us to go down the stairs, members and members of the press. As soon as we walked out the door, I looked to my right. The stairs were basically straight ahead. I looked to my right, and there were a bunch of people lying on the ground, spread eagle, and the Capitol Police had guns drawn. That’s what we saw before we went down the stairs.
They secured a route and were telling us where to go. We went down and down into the basement and into the tunnels and ultimately to where we were going. It felt good that we were leaving, but also along the way there was a sense of hurry and “don’t dawdle.”
For me, at the beginning, I wasn’t focused on feelings. I was worried about my husband, making sure he was safe. I just needed to follow directions and stay calm. And I was surrounded by my colleagues. I thought everyone was pretty calm. I was sitting with Abigail Spanberger and Norma Torres, a former 911 dispatcher, and Val Demings, a former police chief. Everybody felt pretty calm; we were doing OK. But as we were walking through that tunnel, one of the people near me was clearly nervous. As we went through, Capitol Police were saying to keep going and telling us where to go. “Don’t stop. Don’t slow down,” and by the end it was, “Hurry!” Then we got into the room where we were staying, reunited with the people who had been on the floor. We were there for several hours after that.
Looking back, we see that we were safe in that room. At the time, we didn’t know if they would be coming there. Someone got on the microphone and said, “Don’t tell people where you are. Don’t do interviews from here. Don’t take photos.” In hindsight, I felt better the longer we were in there, and they were getting us updates that they had secured and then cleared the Capitol. It went back and forth. Over time, we felt much safer.
I think I was in shock mode. You have that fight-or-flight instinct. I remember at one point when I was walking across the gallery, my mouth got really dry. Intellectually, I sort of got that I was having a visceral reaction. I was in that mode for about 24 hours. And then Thursday night, I sent an email to my constituents explaining the day before and all that had happened. I think it was then at 10 p.m. that night, when I sat down and started looking at Twitter and news coverage, and I think that’s when I got much more terrified. All of the things were going on around me, but I didn’t know about it then.
In the safe room, people were kind of coming and going. I don’t think any of this is confidential. Some people were leaving that room and someone told me that there were buses, and they were going to bus us out of there. I called my husband and he said, “Yeah, I’m in Longworth, and I can see all these buses between Longworth and Rayburn.” Someone else said to just go to your office if they try to get you to go on a bus. It was still scary in that sense.
I saw people were coming and going. I went to the sergeant-at-arms, and I asked if [my husband] could come in here. They said OK, so I told him to get here as fast as you can: “Here’s where I am. Come here.”
He came down, and I waited for him outside the room. That’s when I saw that the FBI SWAT team was there, and I thought, “OK, we were protected.” I was so relieved. He arrived, and he had two phone chargers in his bag. I had been putting my phone on airplane mode to save battery. Everyone needed chargers, including some of the staff from the clerk’s office. Thankfully, I was able to charge, and we let people use his chargers for a while we were in there. I was really glad that he was there, and glad I’m glad he brought the chargers. A lot of people were checking the news.
I remember up in the balcony, we weren’t getting all of this information. The Capitol has been overrun, then where is the backup? Where are the reinforcements? I remember someone saying the [Department of Defense] rejected requests for help. We’re here, overrun, and no one is coming to help.
We stayed in that room until just about 8 o’clock. People started to leave the room more and more as the day went on. [The Capitol] was secured but then had to be cleaned. We were going to go back and finish voting as soon as we can. Hakeem Jeffries and Liz Cheney talked to the House conferences and spoke on behalf of the Republicans and Democrats. They were telling people not to tell people where we were. Right now, the plan is we’re going to go back and finish the vote.
Probably around 7 p.m., Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Hoyer came in and addressed everyone in the room. Once they were there, I think people felt like things had been secured because they had been brought back. They talked about how important it was for the electoral votes to be certified and being there was the most secure place. Some people were leaving because a lot of people were refusing to put on masks. It was a super spreader event, and there was a lot of tension because of that.
There was all that and eventually, the room was starting to empty out. Some were staying there, but I went back to my office with my husband and did a couple of interviews, ate the sandwich that he got at noon and watched the debate on the TV in my office. When it was time to vote, he walked with me because so much of security was in the Capitol — not a lot in my hallway.
When I went to vote, I then stayed in the Capitol for a while. I couldn’t stay on the floor, so I voted but then walked around the Capitol and took some pictures that night. I walked around to look at the damage. I was amazed at how much had been cleaned up already. Still broken windows, markings in stone around the door and some of those things. Scars, but not things that would make it less secure. Outdoor wrought iron benches that had clearly been used as battering ram were broken and on the floor of the Capitol.
I saw a bunch of people that I knew and visited with them. I did see a friend who worked with Clyburn, and she was telling me they had been in their office. I was asking her how it went, and she showed me some pictures of all the people on her team holding furniture against the door.
I went into the speaker’s office and saw the damage there. I was actually in the hallway with Speaker Pelosi’s daughter. We were talking and she said, “Oh, I’ll show you.” So I walked in there with her and saw the damage. It was so heartbreaking. They shattered photographs of her family and stuff. It was really awful. And I just remember sort of walking around that night and seeing some people, and ultimately I stayed until I went back to my office.
Then, I went back to vote the second time when we voted on Pennsylvania. Maybe I stayed through that vote and then went back to my office until the final vote, and that was at like 4 or 4:30 in the morning. Then I went back to my office and got back home at 5 a.m.
I did a radio interview the next morning for our local NPR affiliate, and I remember talking to them about all of these members and how I was very proud that they stayed and voted. There was a sense that this was a sort of test, but we were not just going to pass it. We were going to ace it and do everything we needed to do.
I kind of went through that next whole day: interviews, TV hits and wrote to my constituents and got the article of impeachment that I wanted to cosponsor. I was working. I worked until 9 or 10 p.m. that night.
It was very frightening, that I remember at the time, that this is terrifying. I was afraid. I was worried, but I was able to cope and able to stay calm. I remember thinking about that stuff — I read the articles about guys with the zip tie and how serious it was, not just a bunch of hooligans in funny outfits coming through. There were people there that seriously intended to hurt people if they could find them. And we were those people. It hit me: just how in danger we were.
When we were debating the impeachment a week later, I gave a 30-second floor speech. I sat in the gallery listening just a week after, and I said to a couple people that this looks like an abusive relationship. I asked for time, wasn’t sure I was going to get it, and used my 30-seconds to say that I’m opposed to this gaslighting masquerading as argument. People telling us that it didn’t happen, wasn’t serious, didn’t matter and the president wasn’t responsible.
The idea that we should just “move on” remains the most terrifying to me. Many, many years ago, I volunteered at a domestic abuse shelter, and it felt like people kept saying, “Don’t impeach the president or it might happen again.” That’s just the language of abuse. “I’m really sorry that I hit you, but if you don’t do it again, I won’t either.”
We’ve had this moment in our country that is not unlike 9/11. An attack on our country — an attack on our Capitol hasn’t happened in 200 years. And there are a lot of people within Congress who are saying, “Let’s just move on,” and not understand it or do a root cause analysis and are minimizing it for reasons that aren’t clear or good. To me, that’s why we have to keep this out there. We have to work through it and get to a point where we understand it and have accountability for the people who were involved.
A lot of us who were in the gallery talk to each other pretty regularly. So we all still talk, and I think that’s really good. We’re kind of processing it together. We also want to lead the country. What you’ve seen from Speaker Pelosi is we’re resolved to going back in. Many of us feel that while this has been a traumatic event, it’s our responsibility to lead us to a better place after this. That’s out there. Keep it out there, but keep doing COVID relief and not forgetting why we’re there. We’re showing people what we can do.