Oregon delegation caught in evacuation of U.S. Capitol
As Congress began certifying the win of President-elect Joe Biden Wednesday, protesters breached the Capitol building, leading to an evacuation.
U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Oregon, spoke to the Pamplin Media Group at 11:50 a.m. Pacific Time and said she and her staff are safe and out of the building.
"I'm OK," she said. "But it's just awful. I'm concerned for the safety of everyone."
The Washington Post and other media reported that throngs of protesters — at the encouragement of President Donald Trump — stormed the Capitol to protest the process for certifying Biden's win.
"Just before 1 p.m. (Eastern), a group of primarily white men pushed, then toppled the barricades, storming through them to the grassy fields leading to the Capitol," according to the Washington Post. "Hundreds scaled and kicked side the barricades, yelling 'Forward!'"
As Bonamici spoke to the Tribune, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser used an emergency broadcast system to announce a citywide curfew.
"The last four years, tempers have flared," Bonamici said. "Donald Trump has brought this about by urging people to come here, based on false statements."
She continued speaking but said, "I'm sorry. I have to—" And was abruptly cut off.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley spoke to reporters via conference call around 12:34 p.m., saying "We are safe. Senators were rushed to an undisclosed, safe location. We're safe and they're reestablishing control of the Capitol."
He added that his employees are no longer in the Capitol. "As far as I'm aware, my whole staff is safe. I didn't have much staff here because of COVID. But they're all safe, thank you."
Merkley later shared video on Twitter noting the intruders entered his office, stole a laptop computer and "trashed" the room while senators were sheltering in a safe location.
"They stole the laptop that was sitting on the table next to the telephone," Merkley said, panning around the room to show video. "The hooligans who attacked the Capitol, smashed the door off its hinges. It was unlocked. They could have simply opened the door." The Oregon senator showed an art print torn down and a Trump flag, as well as cigarette butts left in his office by those who broke in.
Merkley spoke with anger about the lies regarding the November election, which drove protesters to the Capitol. "That's what we heard on the floor today. 'We should listen to the mob. And that's why we should stop the election of Joe Biden.' That's exactly wrong," he said.
"It should never have come to this," he added. "It should never. Never. Have come to this."
The Post reported that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has requested deployment of National Guard troops to the Capitol.
Oregon U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, who was in the Senate chamber as protests raged, called storming of the Capitol "a direct assault on democracy."
"What's happening today in our nation's Capitol is a direct assault on democracy, a riot by insurrectionists that caps off four years of Donald Trump fanning the flames of fanaticism," Wyden said in a statement. "Every Republican lawmaker who supported his efforts to overturn a legitimate election shares responsibility for the violence at the heart of our democracy.
"All Americans must be able to elect House and Senate members safe in the knowledge that their views will be represented in civil debate here in Congress without mob rule ever squelching that discussion."
Wyden called himself a steadfast defender of the First Amendment and peaceful protest, but added, "This is far from peaceful protest. But I thank the Capitol Police for their courage protecting all elected officials from criminals bent on destroying democracy. And I very much look forward to resuming the urgent work for our country, as soon as possible."
Oregon elected leaders safe
Rep. Earl Blumenauer spoke to the Pamplin Media Group around 1 p.m. Pacific and said his whole team was safe. He had just been on his way to the House floor to hear the debates when the mob breached the building. "I watched with just horror as this situation got out of hand."
He called today's procedures — the counting of votes — as "normally perfunctory."
"This is like the Academy Awards, where the presenter gets the envelope and reads the winner," Blumenauer said. "They don't get to pick which movie or actor wins. It's pretty perfunctory. It takes a matter of minutes. There's no way they can stop this election."
He said he was angry about the efforts by supporters of Trump to claim the election was stolen. "People are feeding this paranoia. And you see the effects of it, with several thousand people out of control. This is what we're seeing, right now."
Around 1:05 p.m. Pacific, President-elect Joe Biden spoke to the nation, urging calm.
At 1:24 p.m., Trump went on TV to again claim the election was stolen from him, but to urge rioters to go home. Attorneys general, secretaries of state, legislatures, the U.S. Justice Department and nearly 100 judges have said that is not true.
U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, also a Democrat, reported that he was unharmed just after noon.
"I am safe, but I am horrified at the dangerous actions of those now storming the Capitol in an effort to overturn the will of the people. This is nothing short of a direct assault on our democracy," DeFazio wrote on social media.
Hank Stern, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, confirmed Wyden "is safe" in a brief email to the Tribune.
"What's happening today in our nation's Capitol is a direct assault on democracy, a riot by insurrectionists that caps off four years of Donald Trump fanning the flames of fanaticism. Every Republican lawmaker who supported his efforts to overturn a legitimate election shares responsibility for the violence at the heart of our democracy," Wyden said later in a statement.
"My staff and I are in an undisclosed safe location," said Rep. Kurt Schrader.
CBS News is quoting the Sergeant of Arms' office saying security personnel have been tear gassed in the Capitol and adding, quote, "we are losing."
Oregon Congressman challenged election results
U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz — who was sworn in Sunday, Jan. 3 to replace retired Rep. Greg. Walden in the district covering Eastern and Central Oregon — also decried the violence.
"Peaceful protest is essential to our society. Violent protest is not. I urge all to respect @CapitolPolice and allow Congress to resume deliberation in the electoral process," he wrote on Twitter.
It may be a change in heart for the newly-elected leader, who announced in December that he was calling for an investigation of the 2020 presidential election.
"I have joined many of my colleagues in asking for a congressional investigation and review into what has happened in states where election irregularities have been observed," Bentz said at the time.
Nick Clemens, spokesman for Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario said that the congressman and all his staff in Washington, D.C., were safe and awaiting word on next steps. Clemens declined to discuss Bentz's position on the objections to the Electoral College vote.
Reporters Dana Haynes and Zane Sparling contributed news story.
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