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. Susie Lee of Nevada told The 19th. The transcript has been lightly edited:
First of all, I usually walk or ride my bike, but I was driven to the office by a staff member because that was the guidance: Come in through the parking garage, and come in early. There was a little expectation that there would be violence. I’m from Nevada, one of the states expected to field an objection.
I was actually in my office prepping my speech that I anticipated was going to happen later in the day. We were evacuated around 12:45 p.m. from Cannon. We were evacuated because of a pipe bomb at the RNC. They evacuated us to another building. I didn’t feel it was very well organized. While in the basement, I called my friend and said, “Hey, I’m coming up and hanging out with you.”
I was back in my office when they breached the Capitol, watching the proceedings there. Being a freshman, I had never been through this process. I was trying to understand what was going to be expected of me when I had to speak on behalf of Nevada. I specifically remember [Rep. James Lankford] was speaking when they took the vice president off the floor. Then they panned quickly to the House. At that time, I was watching C-SPAN, and so I didn’t know what was happening outside.
Then we switched to CNN and MSNBC, and I got the feeling — when watching the protesters against those police officers — that these police officers are unprepared for this. That was my biggest concern: They are going to be overrun. There’s just not enough police officers.
I remember I had brought running clothes to the office because I was going to be waiting all day to speak. I wasn’t going to wait around in my blazer. I remember thinking, “I should just leave. No one is going to know because I’m in my running clothes. It’s just a matter of time until they break in.”
We were in constant contact with Capitol Police. I never evacuated again. We just remained in our office. At that point, texts started to come into me from my family and friends: “Are you OK? Are you OK?”
At that point, I was like, “Yes, I’m safe. I’m in my office, not on the floor of the House.” As the day went on, we got guidance to turn our lights off, stay away from the windows and barricade your office. We took my flags down outside my door. My hallway is configured — because I’m in Cannon and they’re doing construction on the hallway adjacent to mine — so you can only enter the hallway from one way. My door is the last door that you would come to. I thought if we took my flags down, at least if someone looked down this hallway, maybe they wouldn’t come to my door. They’ll not connect the dots.
I was in my office with my chief of staff and my scheduler. It was her first or second day on the job working for me. A lot of times the Capitol Police warn of “a suspicious package,” so I didn’t even know if the pipe bomb was a real thing. And so literally I sat in my office, returning texts and watching what was going on outside. I was flabbergasted that there was not more support for the Capitol Police. I couldn’t understand why the National Guard wasn’t called in earlier. It was shocking.
So then, after we were cleared and they had secured the Capitol, we knew we would be going back to the House to certify the electoral votes. I actually convened with my closest friends in Rayburn and recollected what happened.
We then went to the floor to vote, and that’s when we saw the broken glass and the extent of what had transpired. Even at that point, I must say, I remember seeing my good friend Ayanna Pressley and thinking about how this is the stress that this woman deals with every day — because she was characterized as part of “the squad” early on. These are the stressors that they deal with every day. I just had so much empathy for her, just thinking about that stress.
Then I went home. Even the next day, I had a lot of stuff to do and went to many meetings. I definitely underreacted on January 6. It wasn’t until I flew home to Las Vegas the next day when it caught up to me. I started to see all of the videos that people had taken from their own cameras: the police officer getting crushed in the door, the officers getting overrun without helmets and the hand-to-hand combat. By Saturday, I had to turn the TV off because it was triggering to hear that noise and hear how much danger we were really in. That’s when I broke down. And now I have to ask myself, “Am I even safe in my own district? In my own home?”
And then, I called my new staff member. She was really shaken up, which is interesting because when she came in the next day, we were joking. But you have the concern of your personal safety back at home. You didn’t know. The Parler headquarteres is in my district, and there were reports that there were people from Las Vegas who attended the rally. I mean, we’re not doing many public events now because of COVID, but it made you think twice about any public appearances.
I will say, I do think we take our democracy for granted. People do. When you’re seeing that attack, you can see just how fragile it is and how much care we need to put in to preserve it. And I really think that coming out of this, obviously we have to hold people accountable. There has to be consequences for people. But also, how are we going to move forward? Because this obviously one of the most devastating attacks — the most devastating domestic attack that we can remember. The Capitol was attacked. There was intent, and the thing is this could have been so much worse. It could have been a heck of a lot worse.
I have a window that faces the courtyard side, so I couldn’t see or hear anything from outside. All of my information was coming from the television. Again, I didn’t really understand what had gone on on the floor of the House. I mean, I knew that they had breached it. I knew that people had been evacuated, but I hadn’t seen a lot of that footage. We were advised not to text our location. I just told people I’m in a safe spot. I’m safe.
I remember the next morning, I took a walk down to the Capitol and they were putting up the barriers that are now there. I took a picture, and said: “A day late and dollar short. Where was this barrier yesterday?” And now, sadly, it looks like a war zone down there, which is really depressing.