I was sitting inside the Senate press gallery Wednesday afternoon, writing an email to the CBS News bureau describing the events of the past half hour of debate over objections to Arizona’s slate of electors, when Vice President Mike Pence was suddenly and swiftly evacuated from the Senate chamber. I assumed it was for security purposes, given the crowds of rowdy demonstrators that had gathered outside the building.
I quickly put together another email for my editors letting them know that Pence had left, figuring it was a false alarm. But soon, Senate gallery staffers were shouting “lock the doors,” and it was clear that the situation was serious. Reporters were ushered into the press gallery above the Senate chamber, and the doors were locked. We could hear the muffled sound of the rioters outside.
Electronics aren’t allowed in the chamber, but I had brought my laptop and cell phone inside to let my editors know I was safe. Senators were on their phones, presumably calling loved ones, as police officers eyed the locked doors. At one point, Senator Amy Klobuchar shouted that there had been shots fired, urging her colleagues to stay away from the doors and take the situation seriously.
Suddenly, senators began filing out to be evacuated. Reporters were initially stuck in the gallery on the third floor overlooking the chamber. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker called up to the reporters on the balcony, asking how we were doing. I laughed, probably with a tinge of hysteria. “We’re doing great,” I called back down.
Reporters were shuffled out of the chamber and guided by Capitol police officers alongside the senators to a secure location after the Senate went into recess.
Minutes later, protesters would stream into the chamber, posing for selfies at lawmakers’ desks and in the well of the chamber. Fortunately, as senators and staff were evacuating, one quick-thinking Senate aide had the presence of mind to take the Electoral College ballots with them, Senator Tammy Duckworth later told CBS News.
Trump supporters storm Capitol in Washington, D.C.
We were in a secure location for several hours. Shortly before 5 p.m., Capitol staffers wheeled in trays of food and drink for lawmakers and the reporters sitting in the anteroom outside of where the senators were gathered. I sat on the floor, charged my phone, and wondered what would happen next.
At one point, Senator Ted Cruz emerged from the room filled with senators. A reporter asked him if he felt any responsibility for the day’s events, given his support for objecting to the Electoral College results. Cruz did not answer, but turned and walked back into the room.
We were allowed to return to the Capitol shortly before 7 p.m. I walked down the hall in the Senate subway, directly behind staffers carrying the boxes filled with Electoral College ballots.
It felt surreal to reenter the Senate chamber and watch debate resume. The atmosphere in the chamber was somber and heavy, weighted down with knowledge that today would not be soon forgotten. Vice President Mike Pence’s remarks were greeted with a standing ovation from both sides of the aisle.
Ultimately, the Senate voted against the objections to the Arizona count 93-6.
The voting continued into the night, with one more objection — to Pennsylvania’s results — that ultimately failed. At 3:38 a.m., Wyoming’s results were confirmed and Pence announced President-elect Joe Biden’s victory at 3:40 a.m.