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What it was like being with Congress as a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol

We were prepared to cover a different kind of fight in Congress today, a debate that would delay but fail to block Joe Biden's Electoral College win.

  • Instead, we there when mobs stormed the House and Senate chambers on behalf of President Trump, waving Trump 2020 flags and the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy.

The big picture: Later that night, we were back in each chamber as lawmakers vow to finish counting the Electoral College votes tonight. We're shaken but OK. We're also seeing democracy and politics in a different light.

Here's how we experienced today's events.

Alayna: I was in the Cannon House Office Building, one of the first buildings on the Capitol complex to get evacuated. I was a minute away from going on live television, just after President Trump urged the protesters to march down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol.

A Capitol police officer ran into the Rotunda and screamed, "EVERYONE EVACUATE! GET OUT. MOVE!"

  • People were confused, but most of us didn't realize the severity of the threat. I repositioned in the Senate Press Gallery, only to be rushed into the chamber balcony by police and gallery staff. They locked the doors, sent reporters to the balcony, while senators and staff held below. Vice President Pence had been evacuated just before they locked the doors.
  • At 2:25pm, an officer in a gray suit wearing an orange sash saying "Police" yelled, "Shots fired, stay away from the door." Senators moved away from the perimeter, into the center of the chamber. Most sat at desks.

At 2:31pm, the chamber was evacuated. Senators and staff were ushered out first, and press followed.

  • As they rushed away, Senate parliamentary staff grabbed hold of the mahogany boxes containing the Electoral College certificates. 
  • In the basement at the Capitol, reporters, staff, police and senators were running through the subway tunnels to the undisclosed location. People were shouting: "Move faster! Move."
  • Capitol Police required all the evacuees to show their badges to make sure none of the rioters got mixed in with the crowd. Later, we were all moved, first senators, then reporters, to undisclosed locations in adjoining rooms.
  • I could hear calls on a police radio as they moved floor by floor, securing each area.
  • We were held in a room (whose location we were asked not to disclose for security reasons) for roughly five hours. Police couldn't tell us what would happen next or what was going on in the rest of the complex.

Kadia: I was in the House Press Gallery when police announced the Capitol was breached and there would be a lockdown.

Photo: Kadia Goba/Axios

At first, officials asked everyone to remain calm and seated: "You can move around inside but please do not try to leave at this time."

  • “Thank you, Capitol Police,” someone on the Republican side yelled, and members applauded.
  • But soon the police were saying the protesters were in the Rotunda and instructed members, “Please be prepared to be relocated.”
  • I heard Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) yell, “Call Trump!” and to tell the president to call his backers off.
  • Police told everyone inside: “Be prepared to get down.” There was loud banging. A window was bashed. Everyone inside moved to one side of the chamber.
  • The House was pretty rowdy, and you could hear constant banging coming from the intruders on the other side of the door trying to gain access. We were told tear gas had been released outside. Lawmakers reached under their seats for gas masks.
  • A woman started praying. Capitol Police had barricaded the chamber doors with furniture. I was down in a crouch. I couldn't see much. Police had their guns drawn, pointed at the door as the invaders smashed the glass.
  • After some time, we were instructed to pack up.
  • Soon we were running, in a pack, screams and fear in the air, from the chamber, down halls, to an undisclosed location, grateful to be safe.

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