Read Senator Susan Collins’ Eyewitness Account On U.S. Capitol Attack
Maine United States Senator Susan Collins arrived at the U.S. Capitol around 12:30 this past Wednesday afternoon. It was already to be a special day there, but of course what happened later that afternoon made the day one that would stand out in U.S. History.
- Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, was destined to be a significant day. The Senate and the House would decide whether to certify the electoral votes in the presidential election, and I knew that there would be challenges against at least three states. I had studied the very limited role that the Constitution assigns to Congress, but was well aware that emotions were running high because of the president’s repeated claims that the election was “stolen,” despite the fact that approximately 90 judges, including the Supreme Court justices, had ruled otherwise.
Little did I know when I arrived in the Senate Chamber at 12:30 p.m. just how turbulent and dangerous the day would be, with the Capitol occupied, a police officer murdered and rioters breaking windows, looting offices and attempting to block the certification of an American election.
The proceedings began calmly enough. Around 1 p.m., we senators proceeded to the House for a joint session. Soon there was an objection, baseless in my view, to accepting the electoral count from Arizona. We returned to the Senate to begin our two-hour debate with senators, beginning a series of 5-minute speeches. Sen. James Lankford had just started speaking when, all of a sudden, the Capitol Police and staff from the Sergeant at Arms burst into the chamber and removed Vice President Mike Pence who was presiding. Shortly thereafter, the two Senate leaders were also rushed away.
My first thought was that the Iranians had followed through on their threat to strike the Capitol, but a police officer took over the podium and explained that violent demonstrators had breached the entire perimeter of the Capitol and were inside. Several of us pointed out that the doors to the press gallery were unlocked right above us. That tells you how overwhelmed and unprepared the Capitol Police were, although many, many of them were very courageous.
We were told to stay put in the chamber, which did not seem wise to me, because the rioters’ purpose was to disrupt the counting of the electoral vote, so they were clearly headed our way. Sen. Todd Young of Indiana, who had served in the Marines, moved over near Sen. Lisa Murkowski and me. Only later did I learn that he was positioning himself to repel the rioters and defend us.
Some time passed, and we were informed that we would be put on buses, which, it seemed to me, would make us sitting ducks had it been carried out. Finally, we were ushered out of the chamber and taken through the tunnels under the Capitol, with the police urging us to “hurry, hurry!” (Unfortunately, I had chosen to wear high heels that day so it was hard to run.)
We then spent many hours in a “secure location” in the complex, watching on television in disbelief as the rioters broke windows, scaled the scaffolding put in place for the inauguration and, most disconcerting, roamed around the Senate Chamber, with one thug sitting where the vice president had been presiding and others rummaging through our desks.
I was worried about my staff, but was told that the rioters were focused on the Capitol and not on the Senate office buildings where they were locked down. I kept in touch with them, nevertheless, and of course with my husband Tom Daffron, who relayed messages to the rest of my family.
I called and texted my closest contact at the White House to urge that the president immediately tell the rioters to stop their violence and go home. But President Donald Trump completely undercut that message by repeating his grievances and telling the rioters that he knew how they felt. This was terrible, especially since he incited them in the first place.
We were brought some salads, sandwiches and water, but no one was allowed to leave.
Virtually all of us were determined to get back to work once the insurrectionists were under control. There was no way I was going to let these thugs succeed in their attempt to disrupt the constitutional process and undermine our democracy.
At around 7:15 p.m., we started making our way back to the chamber with lots more law enforcement, including FBI tactical teams in riot gear, and the National Guard guarding us. Pence called us back into session at 8 p.m. and did a remarkable job fulfilling his constitutional duty. The Senate overwhelmingly rejected the challenges to the certified votes for Arizona and Pennsylvania, with only six senators attempting to block Arizona’s votes and only seven Pennsylvania’s. I am proud to say that we finished our work in the wee hours of the morning and certified the election results.
The rest of the night I spent at Murkowski’s home because I was worried about finding a parking space that late and about the violent extremists knowing where I live, given the threats and security problems I have encountered during the past two years. The police drove us to Murkowski’s home, where her husband had built us a nice fire and had glasses of wine awaiting us.
Finally at 4 a.m., I went to bed for three hours before I got up to do a Maine radio interview and catch a plane to Bangor. Saddened and outraged though I was that the rioters had stormed and temporarily taken control of the symbol of our democracy, the U.S. Capitol, I also felt a sense of pride that the Congress had not been intimidated and that we had completed our constitutional duty. It had been more than 200 years since the Capitol was last attacked during the War of 1812, but once again, the forces of democracy had prevailed. -
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