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Newly-elected Congresswoman Kathy Manning recalls chaos at the Capitol

January 21, 2021

You can’t help but feel for Rep. Kathy Manning. Not even 48 hours after taking her oath of office as North Carolina’s new Sixth District representative, she was forced into what would be one of the more traumatic events of her life: the chaos that broke out in the Capitol Building as the proceedings began to confirm officially President-Elect Joe Biden’s election victory.

Because of social distancing rules and the fact it was — at the time — a joint session (members of both the U.S. House and Senate were in the same room), Manning wasn’t able to sit in her usual chair on the House floor. Instead, she was seated in the gallery or balcony. The session had just gotten underway and several speeches had been delivered.

Manning picked up the story virtually with me. Here’s the text (edited for brevity) of our conversation:

Neill

“Talk to me about what was going on in the house chamber and when you first realized something was up?”

Rep. Kathy Manning/(D) NC 6th District*

“We saw Capitol Police rushing in, and I couldn’t see from where I was sitting, but I could see that they took Leader Steny Hoyer and I heard they took Speaker Pelosi and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn out of the House chamber. And then they were, the police, were shouting to each other to close the doors.”

“Then they told us to put on our gas masks. There were gas masks underneath the chairs. Actually, they told us to open the gas masks. There was confusion about whether to put them on.”

Neill

“So they have gas masks under the chairs in the gallery. Did you know that?”

Manning

“No. No, I had no idea nor were we trained on how to open them or how to put them on, but you know we, we watched each other and figured out how to do it.”

“And when we got to the other side they told us to get down and take cover. And we were lying on the floor, they told us to take off our pins so they (the protesters) couldn’t if they reached the doors, they couldn’t identify who the members were.”

Neill

“Do you remember seeing, I guess, the Capitol Police Force there in the House Chamber pointing guns at one of the main entrances?”

Manning

“I remember they had their guns drawn. I remember looking up at one of the officers who was at the door closest to where I was, the officer had his gun drawn.”

“After we waited some time taking cover, they said they were going to be opening the doors. And they wanted us to evacuate as quickly as possible and move quickly down several flights of stairs to get us to the basement level.”

Neill

“Did you ever see any of the protesters or rioters?”

Manning

“I remember as we were evacuating and going down one of the staircases seeing people lying flat on the marble floor in the hallway, one of the hallways that we were running through.”

Neill

“Where did you end up? Where did they take you?”

Manning

“We ended up in the basement and then walking through to get to one of the large hearing rooms. And they had all of us who had been in the House Chamber, in the gallery. They had us gathered in this room. It was members and members of staff. And there were police officers securing all the doors outside of the chamber. And they had us there for probably five hours.”

Neill

“What was the most frightening moment for you, and what was going through your mind at the time?

Manning

“The most frightening moment for me was when we were down on the floor and the police had their guns drawn and when they told us to take off our member pins. That was when it all became very real to me that if they breach the Capitol, we might be targets.”

During the five hours in the basement, Manning was able to use what battery life she had on her cellphone to call her family members to let them know she was okay. Everyone there was also fed snacks and pizza during the wait. She was able to rejoin her house colleagues when the session resumed later Wednesday night.