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. Veronica Escobar of Texas told The 19th. The transcript has been lightly edited:
I’m very close with one of my colleagues, [Rep. Sylvia Garcia], a congresswoman from Houston. On that day, we planned on walking to the Capitol together and sitting near each other to watch history unfold.
We knew there would be an objection to the Electoral College count. I knew it had the potential to get heated, but I wanted to be there because we were ushering in history, the first African American and Indian woman as our vice president. In some respects, it was a routine matter of sorts because it happens every presidential election, but the historical significance of it rather was important to me and Sylvia.
So we walked over together. Because of COVID, there were restrictions. On the floor, for example, were the folks who were managing the states that were being certified and the states who were going to be objected to. The members of Congress were there, waiting their turn. Those of us in the gallery had to have permission from [Speaker Nancy Pelosi] to be seated up there, and there was a limited number of members of Congress up there.
If you’re looking at the speaker’s chair, we were at the left. It’s always remarkable to bear witness and be part of the great tradition and ceremony, especially in the House of Representatives. Then we heard the gavel, and the announcement of [Vice President Mike Pence] coming in the very same doors that the president walks through to deliver the State of the Union. About 1 p.m. is when it all began, as expected.
We knew it was going to be a long day because of the objections, but I did not think I would be in the gallery for a long time. I had my phones with me and my office keys and that was it. So we were seated up there, and I was seated at the very front row of the House gallery. I had a bird’s eye view.
[Rep. Norma Torres] was seated near me as well and she said, “They’re closing the Cannon building.” We get these notices every time there’s a bomb threat or inclement weather. I looked at my email, and that email had not come through to me. So I texted my team, “Hey, I’m hearing the Cannon building is closed.” No one had gotten an email either. Moments after, I had gotten the email.
And I will tell you, in that moment, I still did not realize what was happening.
I knew that there were a lot of people that had been summoned to D.C. by the president. I’ve watched the [former] president’s rally or parts of it from my apartment before I walked to my building. I knew he was essentially doing everything he could to spread the big lie about election fraud, about it being stolen from him. I did feel some level of concern, but in my head I thought we were going to be well protected. I thought there would be rows of police officers, members of the military, National Guard who were standing at the ready.
And I did not take my normal path to the Capitol, which is the outdoor path. The instructions from Capitol Police were to take the tunnels, so I had not gotten a glimpse of the outside of the Capitol. But in my head I had this image of us being well protected.
When I got the email about the Cannon building, I thought, “I guess they’re approaching” and didn’t give it a second thought. The proceedings continued, and I was focused on what was happening there. My communications director started emailing or texting me the notices coming through, so I thought I would check Twitter. And watching my Twitter feed started to make me feel a sense of alarm.
I remember there was one tweet — I couldn’t tell you whose it was, but a journalist I’m sure — that announced that the barricades had been breached. I remember thinking, “Wow that’s bold,” but imagining in my head that there’s still a human barricade protecting the Capitol.
I put my phone down. I started to feel a sense of worry and concern. I was then glued to Twitter at that point. There was a journalist who tweeted a video of the mob, and then shortly after that, the announcement that they were on the Capitol steps! And that is when my heart began to race. I thought, “Oh my God, where is our line of defense? Where are all the folks that I imagined are here protecting the Capitol?”
Clearly, I was not the only one learning this. We were all talking amongst ourselves in the gallery, and I could see on the House floor people were doing the same. [Rep. Paul Gosar] was still at the microphone. And the phrase that we use when people are being too noisy is “Madam Speaker, the house is not in order.” When he said that, it was a really surreal moment. The proceedings were still going on, but all of us knew that the mob were at the stairs or had made their way in. I can’t remember if I heard pounding before or after his statement.
But I do remember hearing pounding, and it was really unsettling. I remember looking over at the doors where [Vice President Mike Pence] had walked in, and I turned to look at the speaker’s chair. I witnessed the Capitol Police whisk [Speaker Nancy Pelosi] out. Then I saw doors to the chambers close, and that’s when I realized that we were in trouble.
There was more pounding. It was so bizarre. [Rep. Jim McGovern] had assumed the speaker’s chair, and we were continuing the process until he recessed.
When [Rep. Dean Phillips] stood up and started yelling at the Republicans for their role in this violence, I stood up and yelled, “I’m with you, buddy.” I remember hearing the pounding. I began to feel rage more than fear. I was feeling anxious, nervous, deeply unsettled and rage. I could not believe that these people had made it all the way up the Capitol steps and that our constitutional duty was being obstructed. It had not really clicked in a meaningful way just how much danger we were in. I just felt anger.
We then got an announcement from a Capitol officer saying we needed to reach under our seats and find our gas masks because tear gas had been used in Statuary Hall. I had assumed, incorrectly, that it was the police that had used it. But apparently, it was the terrorists who had used it.
There was a big black, flat canvas bag container under my seat. I unzipped it. I do remember trembling. I was trying to get it unzipped, and I started feeling major anxiety. People around me were getting their gas masks out more quickly than I was. The masks were encased in some pretty significant packaging. I was trying to figure out how to open it, watching people to see how they were doing it. Right before then, I took a video because I was texting my children, my husband and my brothers. I did not include my mom in the text thread because I didn’t want to make her overly anxious. And so I had this text thread and was sending tweets that I was seeing. I sent them the video of the chaos on the House floor, and that’s what made me be behind in opening up my own gas mask. So then I kind of panicked: “I’ve just got to figure out how to open this up.”
My panic came from a place where I thought we were going to be evacuated at any moment, and I wasn’t going to be ready. I was preparing to hold my breath and close my eyes. At that point, I knew that the mob was around us, around at least two-thirds of the chamber. What I was worried about was the mob getting into the speaker’s lobby. There’s a significant amount of glass on those doors and would be just really easy to kick down.
So I finally got the packaging open, but I couldn’t figure out how to put the gas mask on. Sweet [Rep. Jason Crow] was very calmly explaining how to put it on. I kept asking him how to put it on. He responded, “OK, Veronica, this is how you do it,” in a very calm manner, very much like a dad would. At that point, the floor got evacuated and one of my colleagues [Rep. Diana DeGette] yelled: “What about us?”
Everyone on the floor was moved out to safety, and the doors were locked behind them. A big piece of furniture had been moved in front of the door that the VP had come in. But I was really worried about that speaker’s lobby.
It felt like we were up there for a lifetime.
And then a Capitol Police officer said we would have to make it to the opposite side of the gallery. And at this point, my colleague Sylvia had left significantly earlier to go to the restroom, so they had ushered her back onto the floor of the House. She had left her voting card and her battery charger. I had her stuff and my phones, and we began making our way across the gallery.
I made my way from one side of the gallery to the other amid the “Get down! Take cover!” screams, and when we got there, we were again instructed to get down. I was watching the police officers with their guns pointed at the terrorists. I could see their faces through the broken glass on the door, and I remember feeling very afraid for the police because I thought they were going to get shot in the head. I thought, “If they had guns, we are sitting ducks. I’m just going to tell everyone to just duck” because we were so exposed.
That’s when I heard the gunshot.
I remember thinking, “Oh my God, I hope they didn’t shoot a cop.” Anyone getting shot is horrific, but if they had shot a police officer then mayhem would ensue. Anyway, it was shortly after that, we were told again to get down. A large group left, and there were other groups being escorted out.
I was in the last group to leave the gallery, along with Mikie Sherrill, because Pramila Jayapal was using a cane and we stayed behind to make sure she got out safe. I don’t remember there being a police officer there to escort us out. As we descended the stairs, going from the third floor to the second, I turned and saw men with long guns facedown on the floor and officers surrounding them with drawn guns. The men on the ground were looking right at us. It was just awful.
And then we made it to the unsafe safe room and waited for hours and hours with maskless Republicans to get back to the Capitol to our job.