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. Lois Frankel of Florida told The 19th. The transcript has been lightly edited:
It’s a day I’ll never forget. The [former] president was saying the election was stolen. So we knew it was going to be a long day with quite a bit of debate. Because of COVID, we’re not permitted to go to the floor of the chamber. [Speaker Nancy Pelosi] sent out an email asking members if they wanted to watch the proceeding live, so I did. I emailed back and got an invitation back to watch the proceedings as they started.
I was one of the first members in the gallery. As I was watching, other members started to come into the gallery, and it got quite crowded. I said to myself, “There’s too many people here for COVID,” so I decided to leave the gallery, which I’m glad I did. [Rep. Abigail] Spanberger, a friend and former CIA official, told me to take off my member pin and tell people I’m a secretary. I thought: really? I went up to a Capitol Police officer on my way out, and she looked at me and said: “You’re safe. We have you covered.”
About 10 minutes after I had left the gallery due to COVID-19 concerns, I walked into a lounge room about 15 yards from the chamber to wait for my turn to vote. A couple minutes later, I heard a loud alarm: “Alert, alert, alert! Take cover, lock doors, get gas masks.” It was alarming. I made eye contact with [Rep.] Grace Meng, a colleague and the only other person in the room. We started barricading the doors, piling chairs. Then we found an inner room, locked the door and moved more chairs against the door. My son called me at this time and tried to explain how to barricade the door. We could hear noises but didn’t know what was going on.
We notified our chiefs of staff to tell the Capitol Police where we were. We waited there for five hours. There was a TV in the room, but we took off the volume and forgot to put the closed captions on. We saw some videos, but I was mostly just getting texts from everyone I knew asking if I was OK. They were watching it on television too. My mother FaceTimed me about an hour in. She had been at the foot doctor and didn’t know what was going on and when she did, she called me.
Grace and I brought our masks, so we social distance. And she luckily brought cookies from New York. Really and truly, I spent five hours trying to keep friends and relatives calm, saying I’m OK. You know, I’m an optimist. So yes, I don’t know if it was hope or belief, but I think my state of mind was pretty kind. Grace was much more worried that she was going to die. She stayed calm, but her thought process was a little more dark.
I had one friend who thought it was her responsibility to let me know what was going on every minute. She asked, “Are you OK?” I said I’m barricaded in a room with Grace. She said, “A guy is sitting on Pelosi’s desk,” then “One guy hanging someone on the wall.” And later, “They’re trying to replace the flag with the Trump flag.” As she’s giving me a report, lots of my friends are texting me.
It’s a good thing I actually had a charger in the room. Maybe Grace bought the charger. My mind was being occupied by these texts all day. That probably kept me sane. For literally five hours, I heard from a lot of people many times.
Let’s put it this way: I’m glad I didn’t see the videos that I am seeing now. I was calm. I was a little calmer than Grace, she has two small children and she has very small children. One, I was worried that someone might use some kind of chemicals or gas or bomb or something. We looked to see if there were gas masks where we were, but there weren’t. We had a plan that if there was gas coming in, we would put our water bottles on the curtain and then we would put the curtains over our head. That was our big plan of action.
About 6:30 at night, the Capitol Police came and got us. We were a little hesitant because we had no idea if they were the police. But our staff had called us and we took a chance. We came out into the Capitol, and I saw all these Capitol Police lying on the floor, completely tired.
Then they escorted us to our offices, where I found my chief of staff, who had barricaded himself in the office. I think we were the two stranded members. It would have been impossible for them to move us without the army. We were right off of where the rioters were, and we heard little noises. Our door was probably 15 yards away from the chamber. Here’s the thing, I don’t know how close they came to the door, but I have seen photographs after. And at least based on the ones I’ve seen, they were pretty close.
I’m not even sure I knew much about Trump’s rally. A reporter called me and asked what I thought about what he said, but I don’t think I was paying any attention to that. We were told that there was going to be people in Washington supporting the president. We were told not to walk outside and to stay in the tunnels. Nobody warned me about a threat. When I went to the Capitol Police woman, she said no you’re fine. I guess Abigail Spanberger must have had some knowledge that I didn’t. I wouldn’t have been walking around the Capitol by myself if I knew. Fortunately I went into this lounge and didn’t walk to my office by myself.
My overwhelming thought is how brave the Capitol Police were and how much they sacrificed to keep us safe. This will go down in history as a really black mark and something I will not forget.