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. Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey told The 19th. The transcript has been lightly edited:
I was concerned about the people that were coming into town. Some of them were known to be groups that carried weapons, including the group that attempted to kidnap the governor of Michigan. I had told everyone in my office not to come to the office that day.
So I went down to the chamber, and I sat up in the gallery. There are no TVs in the gallery, and I wasn’t watching any live feeds on my phone. But I was getting texts. One of the office buildings was evacuated, but I wasn’t too concerned because I wasn’t in my office. Then, I heard they were evacuating [Vice President Mike Pence]. We were in separate chambers after they started to read the roll call of the states and one House member and at least one Senator contested. We heard that the vice president was being taken out of the Senate chamber, and then they took [Speaker Nancy Pelosi] out and locked the doors.
We could hear some muffled noise but had no sense of what was going on. Then [Rep. Jim McGovern] kept trying to continue with the debate. The lower chamber eventually evacuated, and they locked all the doors behind them. I was sitting on the Democratic side of the gallery when they said to get out the gas masks. The last time I had a gas mask on was when I was in the military, but these looked very different.
I turned to other members who looked a little shell shocked and made sure they were following instructions. I’ve been trained in the military on how to evacuate people in situations like this — so I wanted to help, but I didn’t want to be in the way. I focused on helping other members get across the gallery, particularly [Rep.] Pramila Jayapal, who had just had surgery and was struggling with a cane. At one point, I was on the ground and thought to call my husband to let him know I was OK. I was also trying to make sure people were calm while some other members tried to call family members.
So when we were in the gallery, we heard what I think now was the shot that killed the woman. At the time, someone asked if that was a gunshot, but I said I didn’t know. The mob was banging and beating against the doors. We could hear them there, and I saw them as we walked out of the gallery.
As we were on the ground, there was a knock on the door, and the police officer went to open it. [Rep. Abigail Spanberger] yelled not to open the door. We don’t know who’s on the other side. I think in that situation it’s really important people keep calm.
So we kept the doors shut. Then, they ascertained that it was safe to open the door. As everyone was evacuating, I think Congresswoman Jayapal’s knee was about to collapse. As we exited, I asked if she needed help. I turned, and there were mob protesters right on our right, and the police were with them. [Jayapal] was calm and collected, but her knee buckled a couple times as we were going down the stairs.
We had been told by the cops where to go when we were up in the gallery. But to be honest, I generally don’t sit in the gallery — we sat up there to socially distance because of COVID — and I was on the other side of the gallery than I normally sit. We were kind of winding down the stairs, and it was kind of a group census figuring out which way to go. We all had different familiarity with the halls. We ended up sort of leading the group to a secure location. It felt like it took forever to get to the safe room because as we got to the bottom of each stairway or went to turn a corner, we didn’t know if we would encounter a mob. I kept eyeing the elevators because that would have been so much more convenient, but I don’t think any of us wanted to get on and have the doors open up to a mob.
I would just say I was just incredibly proud of the people I serve with. Some of them have really suffered quite a bit of trauma from that day. As we went out of the chamber, we heard more and more about the mob. We heard reports that some people had been killed. And yet, all of them came back to certify the election, to vote against those trying to overturn the election. It was an act of courage. Just imagine being in a horrible situation and your life is at risk without being assured that it’s secure or if it truly was safe to go back in — all because you believe so much in the country.