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caption: A view of the Capitol building on a  peaceful day.
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A view of the Capitol building on a peaceful day.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal on the Capitol breach and next steps

Seattle Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal on her experience inside the Capitol building during the breach and Congress moving forward with impeachment.

This is an edited transcript of Bill Radke's interview with United States Representative Pramila Jayapal on Thursday, January, 7th 2020.

How are you this morning?

Well, it's it's a sad day for the United States. This was the most violent, most destructive attack on the Capitol and breach of the United States Capitol, since the war of 1812. This was domestic terrorists who assaulted the Capitol. They were armed, violent individuals, many associated with white nationalist movements. And they were incited and fueled by the President of the United States with an intent to overturn the election. This is about as serious as it gets.

Not everybody has heard your story. Would you tell us what happened to you in that gallery?

I was sitting in the gallery, which is just above the chamber. You know, because of the COVID rules there, there were only a certain number of members allowed on the floor, and only a certain number of members allowed in the gallery. And so, I was one of the members that was asked to sit in the gallery.

We could hear actually, perhaps before they even realized it on the floor, the sounds of the insurrectionists that had breached the Capitol--the screams and the shouts. We saw the speaker and the leadership of the House being ushered off the floor, there was a brief attempt to suspend proceedings with the thought that maybe we would resume proceedings. But we could hear the banging on the doors up where we were and then we noticed that all of the members on the main floor were being ushered off. But because we were in the gallery, we were not able to leave and we were instructed to pull out gas masks. And if you look at the pictures, you see some of the people with those gas masks on from under our seats, to put them on or [be] ready. We had to take off our masks in order to do that, which is why you see me without a matter. And we were instructed to get down on the floor between the seats, which is very narrow, by the way. And to get down and to cover because we could hear the shots at that point.

There was no one on the floor of the chamber except for Capitol Police at that point, and then us in the gallery. And we could hear the shots being fired into the Chamber. And we saw down on the floor, the Capitol Police barricaded the main entry to the chamber with furniture and then about six half a dozen or so law enforcement officials, Capitol Police, I think, who had their guns drawn, ready to fire on anybody who breached the chamber. It was a pretty terrifying moment. And I think it was terrifying, not just for our own safety, the safety of our staff who were across the Capitol, the personnel of the United States Capitol, but also just that this was happening in the United States of America and fueled by the President. And you know, there's lots of questions about why we didn't have the security that we needed to have, and why we didn't have the barricades that were that should have been there.

You have called for either President Trump to be impeached or for Vice President Pence and the President's cabinet to invoke the 25th amendment and declare Trump unfit for duty and make Pence the president. What are the odds of either of those things happening?

I think that there is real consternation as there should be to what it means to keep this President in office through two weeks. Remember that we have an inauguration of a new president coming in 14 days. And we did not have what we needed and the excuses that are being given around why the National Guard wasn't there after Speaker Pelosi, and I spoke to her about this last night, had called for the National Guard to be there. The delay of of getting the kind of security to us that we needed and the kind of assistance that we needed, the fact that the Capitol perimeter was not secured. You know, that happens all the time Bill, but obviously, this was not taken seriously.

I cannot help but point out what I pointed out to Bill Barr this summer in the Judiciary Committee, that the approach to white nationalist protesters, and insurrectionists in this case, breaching the capital was extremely different than what we saw with Black Lives Matter. Truly Black Lives Matter protesters protesting racial justice, this summer after the death of, the murder of George Floyd. And so, I think that there are so many issues here, but we can't afford to have a president that we don't even trust to control the military to stay in office. I don't know how to say how serious this is. I served on the Judiciary Committee, as you know, I in my opening statement of the impeachment trial in the Judiciary Committee, I said that Donald Trump is the smoking gun, and the smoking gun is loaded and whether or not it's fired, is up to us. We impeached the president in the United States House of Representatives, but the Senate did not take that action and so Donald Trump is still there. And yesterday, we saw what happens when you keep a dictator and somebody who has no respect for the Constitution in office,.

What are the odds of some kind of removal happening? And how much does it matter that some Trump aides and Cabinet members are resigning?

Well, you know, Adam Kinzinger, one of my Republican colleagues is the first to call for the 25th amendment to be invoked. There are discussions, secret discussions being reported that members of the cabinet are talking to Donald Trump. Cabinet Secretaries who resigned 14 days before a new president comes in is more about preserving their own legacy, they should stay there. And they should be part of making sure that this President that we do invoke the 25th amendment and that we do not keep this president in office. So, I think that's what they should be doing. I don't think it's out of the question. I do think that there were a lot of people who were shaken, not only by what happened yesterday, but by the fact that then Republicans on the House floor, some Republicans, I want to be clear, not all, in fact, Jaime Herrera Butler gave a really excellent speech about why she was not voting with her colleagues on these attempts to obstruct and overturn the election. But some republicans like Matt Gaetz and others got up and started spinning more conspiracy theories, calling these people patriots as did Donald Trump, the United States President, that I find absolutely terrifying.

Let me just say, there were 50 arrests yesterday, Bill. 50 arrests, that's it. And most of them is my understanding that most of them were for curfew violations. We had armed insurrectionists with hostage plans, plans to take hostages, and bombs in the DNC and the RNC that are reported this morning to be live bombs and these people walked in and walked out of the United States Capitol. It is stunning. It is scary. And everybody in this country should be afraid. And I believe that some Republicans are beginning to speak up. Will it be enough? I don't know. But we we can't stop that from pursuing the right the right path.

Well, let's talk about who will be charged with what. What charges are we talking about? Because beyond curfew violation there. There's trespass but we're hearing about sedition, insurrection, treason, domestic terrorism? Will President Trump be charged with incitement? What do you expect?

These are all on the table. Mayor Muriel Bowser did an excellent job this morning, the mayor of Washington DC. And actually by the way, this is a great argument for why we need DC statehood, because she didn't have the authority she needed to have because DC doesn't control everything that it should as a state. But she spoke about how this is the exact textbook definition of domestic terrorism. What happened yesterday. So yes, all those potential charges are on the table.

Okay, I'll leave you with the last word. Congressmember Jayapal, you've told your personal story about what happened in that gallery to you, what went on around you, and what it means. What happens next and what what lessons should be takeaway?

Well, Speaker Pelosi has already just in the last hour, joined with Senator Schumer to say that we do need to invoke the calling on the Vice President to invoke the 25th amendment, that if they, if he doesn't do that, then we will move forward with impeachment proceedings. So that is clear.

So, that's happening? There will be either removal or impeachment proceedings in this democratically controlled Congress. That is what Speaker Pelosi just announced in her press conference about an hour ago. And I also think we have to have immediate and thorough investigations, the sergeant at arms of the house has resigned, as is appropriate. Our safety, and the safety of the Capitol, and the security of the United States Congress, and the Constitution is at risk here. We need to immediately put people in place that we can trust to actually take security seriously. And then I think, so that needs to happen right away. Let me just try to end on a positive note, I just want to say, Bill that I am so touched by, you know, the thousands of messages I've gotten from constituents, from friends from people who across the district, across the state across the country, worried for my safety, and I you know, and also talking about how we need to hold this President accountable, and we need to protect our Constitution. I just want people to know that I will never stop doing that. That is all, that is exactly what I intend to do. And so, I'm grateful to to people of Seattle and the District, for your faith in me and rest assured we are we are not letting this go.

We haven't even had time to talk about what you expect to be accomplished in a newly Democratic majority, not only in the House, but in the Senate. But that's our time for today, so will you talk with us again soon, Congresswoman?

Absolutely, Bill. You know, I love being on KUOW with you. And and I will come back anytime. And there is a new day coming. And if you listen to President-elect Joe Biden , today talking about the Department of Justice, I really recommend everybody do that, listen to a speech, my dear friend Vanita Gupta is going to be the Associate Attorney General. But he talks about the Department of Justice and why it was established to protect civil rights. That it is not the attorney for the President of the United States. It's the Attorney General for the United States people. And so this is going to be a new day, but we just have to get through this and we have to hold these individuals [accountable] including Donald Trump.

Seattle Congressmember Pramila Jayapal, thank you for your time and we'll talk again soon.

Thank you.