WASHINGTON (WCBS 880) — Members of the House and Senate were evacuated from the U.S. Capitol after angry pro-Trump protesters clashed with police and stormed the building as lawmakers had been debating the certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the Electoral College.
Dozens of people breached security perimeters at the Capitol and lawmakers inside the House chamber were told to put on gas masks as tear gas was fired in the Rotunda.
Congressman Ritchie Torres, who is marking his first week in Congress, told WCBS 880's Lynda Lopez that the U.S. Capitol Police stormed into his office and directed his staff to immediately vacate the building.
He initially sought refuge in the cafeteria, but is now in a safe room with other Congress members in an undisclosed location "insulated from the panic and pandemonium outside."
Describing the chaotic scene, Torres said, "Protesters have breached the Capitol steps, have stormed into the Capitol to the point of disrupting the presidential vote count which has been placed on hold at the moment."
"This is a dangerously uncharted and unprecedented situation," Torres said. "We've never had an attempt by a sitting president to instigate a violent mob to engage in a violent protest against the United States Congress in order to derail a presidential vote count. This is the greatest assault on American democracy in the recent history of our country."
In a message to his Republican colleagues, Torres says, "This is not a game. They're playing with fire. They're throwing gasoline on the fire and you're doing irreparable damage to American democracy."
As for the protesters, Torres said he would like to say to them, "You're doing a grave disservice to your country. The American people have spoken and when the American people have spoken we all have an obligation to accept the outcome of the presidential election and ensure a peaceful transfer of power."
Torres said this situation is a reminder that democracy is fragile.
"We cannot take for granted our democracy, we cannot take for granted the peaceful transfer of power, we have to be vigilant in defending this country and in defending what we stand for," Torres said.
Torres said it's unknown when the proceedings will resume because the situation is too violent and too volatile.
Protesters also breached the Senate chamber, with one getting up on the dais and yelling, “Trump won that election.”
Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal spoke with WCBS 880's Michael Wallace to discuss what he saw as chaos erupted on Capitol Hill.
"I am definitely safe, Capitol police are doing their job and protesters seem to have breached the security line, but we are walking over to another room in the Capitol, we've evacuated the Senate chamber. The Senate is no longer business, but everybody seems to be safe," he said.
The Senate proceedings were suspended when security officers told senators to stay in their seats and away from doors before ordering them to evacuate the chamber.
"There is commotion, people are staying calm, and really just learning about what is happening and hopefully this interruption in the proceedings will just be temporary," Blumenthal said. "Regrettably the threat of violence has forced our proceedings to stop. It's an indication of what happens when there is the threat of violence and mob interference and I hope that we'll be able to resume shortly."
Blumenthal said he saw protesters outside the window as they left the chamber, carrying flags and marching, but did not see people inside the building itself.
"The breach of the security line, and evidently they're coming into the Capitol, and the threats of violence were sufficiently grave that they wanted us to evacuate immediately so we saw almost nothing," Blumenthal said.
Blumenthal said he'd like the proceedings to resume but said "we have no hard facts as to what exactly the threat is, how long it will last, what will be done about it, and how soon we'll go back."
"I hope it'll be soon," he said.