A few days ago, one of Congressman Jimmy Panetta's Republican colleagues told him that on Jan. 6—the day that Congress was to certify the election of Joe Biden as U.S. President—more of his constituents were going to be in Washington, D.C. than back home in his own district.
That Republican colleague wasn't the only one to tell Panetta that, he says. Similar words were spoken by representatives from Missouri, Kentucky and Arkansas.
"That message is something our security should have taken into account, the threat that would come from this group," Panetta says.
Panetta spoke as a dramatic scene was playing out at the nation's capitol, when anarchist supporters of Donald Trump who had gathered for a rally stormed the U.S. Capitol, forcing lawmakers and their staff to shelter-in-place with the complex on lockdown.
Panetta had sent his own staff home when the evacuation order came down, then went to his office, locked the door and answered the phones on his own.
"This experience," a clearly angry Panetta says, "is the culmination of the lack of leadership by this president. Where is the president now? He's tweeting rather than leading."
"I'm pretty measured, but I'm pretty pissed off right now," he says. "One, because it happened, two because it was allowed to happen and three, the lack of response by this president."
The job Congress faces now: "To make sure the guardrails of our democracy and the constitution remain standing and that we continue to do our jobs and certify this election."
Asked what the immediate plan is, and Panetta laughs: "There is no plan at this point. I'm going to stay here and do my job and answer the phone. I was in a Zoom conference on vaccine distribution plans when this happened."
There needs to be a "serious after-action report on how this happened," Panetta adds. "The information and intelligence was there and, use your common sense in dealing with this president. You know the emotion that was going to be there."
Elsewhere in the Capitol, members of Congress were barricaded in their offices or in conference rooms, sending tweets of their own and giving interviews to local and national press.
Both houses of Congress, which had been gathered to complete the constitutional process by which Congress affirms a President-elect’s victory, suddenly recessed as the mob overcame Capitol security. Some even made it onto the floor of the Senate and into lawmakers’ offices, vandalizing areas such as Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. At least one person was shot, and is in critical condition.
“I am currently sheltering in place in the Capitol complex,” local Rep. Jimmy Panetta tweeted. “My staff and I are safe and secure as protests occur on Capitol grounds. We are following Capitol Police orders and are grateful for their quick response.”
“This is insane,” Rep. Dean Phillips, a Democrat from Minnesota, tweeted.
Others explicitly blamed the President for inciting the chaos. During his rally near the White House on Wednesday morning Trump urged the gathered crowd to march to the Capitol. “I'll be with you,” he said, before returning to the White House.
“This is what the president has caused today, this insurrection,” Republican Senator Mitt Romney said as he was ushered toward a secure location.
When asked by the New York Times why they weren’t expelling the protesters, a Capitol Police officer said, “We’ve just got to let them do their thing now.”
Around 4pm eastern, the Army activated all 1,100 troops of the D.C. National Guard. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam also announced he is sending members of the Virginia National Guard and 200 Virginia State Troopers into D.C.
D.C.’s Mayor, Muriel Bowser, ordered a city-wide curfew starting at 6pm eastern.