U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, of Glen Cove, was in the House of Representatives chamber when the Capitol was breached by protesters Wednesday afternoon. A debate over certification of Electoral College results in the presidential election was under way, sometime between 3 and 4 p.m., when Congress members were instructed to retrieve the gas masks from under their chairs.
“Tear gas had been used in the Rotunda,” Suozzi said during a call to the press while he remained in an undisclosed area. His voice was measured and calm when sharing his experience. “The chaplain of the Congress said a prayer. The doors in the chamber were locked, but then people began banging on them.”
Capitol Police drew their guns. Republican and Democratic lawmakers huddled together, Suozzi said. A protester broke through the glass on the main door, which the president enters through for the State of the Union.
“The glass is broken, but I don’t know if it was shots or banging,” Suozzi said. “I did hear a ‘pop, pop, pop.’”
Representatives on the floor of the chamber were escorted out first. Suozzi was upstairs in the gallery, far from the door, at the time. “At one point we were concerned that we couldn’t exit, so 30 of us stayed there,” he said. “We wanted to see if [protesters] would break through the doors. Capitol Police had their weapons drawn.”
Members of Congress and their staffs tried to determine which door to use for an exit because they could hear people in the hallways. “We finally left the chambers, and I saw several protesters on the floor surrounded by Capitol Police,” Suozzi said. “We went downstairs through a labyrinth, and I saw people sheltering in place.”
Suozzi felt strongly, he said, that the members of Congress should return to chambers to continue the process of certifying the presidential election. “We must show countries that our democracy will continue to survive and thrive even in the mist of this lawlessness,” he said. “We cannot allow thugs and violent people to change the way that our country works.”
As of press time at 4:45 p.m. Wednesday, tens of of thousands of Trump supporters had stormed the U.S. Capitol, overrunning police barricades, scaling walls and entering the heavily protected structure.
The protesters had forced security to barricade the doors to the House chamber with furniture, their weapons drawn, prepared to fire. The Associated Press was reporting that an unidentified protester had been shot, and National Guard troops were in route to the Capitol to restore order, along with officers from the Federal Protective Service and Secret Service.
At 4:03 p.m. Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice, who represents the 4th Congressional District in central and south Nassau County, tweeted, "For those asking, my staff and I are safe. Thank you." No one from her office could be reached for comment at press time.
U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, who represents the 5th Congressional District on the southwest Queen-Nassau border, spoke to the history of the moment on Twitter. "The world is watching as the greatest democracy braces against an attempted coup." Referring to President Trump, he continued, the day's events were "stirred by its leader who'd rather watch the country burn than transition power.
"Our ability to advocate for democracy around the world," Meeks said, "will be significantly hurt after this tragic day in America."
Andrew Garbarino, the newly elected representative from the South Shore's 2nd District, had only been in Congress four days when the Trump protesters stormed the Capitol. At a little before 4 p.m., he tweeted, "It doesn't matter which side you support — violence is never the answer. This must stop now."
He added, "Thank you to the law enforcement at the Capitol for working diligently to keep everyone safe."
Local reaction was swift. "For hundreds of years, the peaceful transition of power has been a foundation of our country," Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said. "It doesn't matter who you voted for — violence like what we are seeing in Washington today should never be accepted in a free society. This is not about politics. This is about safety, freedom and decency. I am lending my voice in support of law enforcement who are keeping everyone safe."
Village of Lawrence Deputy Mayor Michael Fragin said, "This is not how we settle our differences, who do it through debate as the Senate and House has done. Violence is never the answer."
— Jeff Bessen and Jennifer Corr contributed reporting to this story.