Whether its by Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet invoking the 25th Amendment, Congress doing another impeachment or criminal prosecution, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said Thursday, outgoing President Donald Trump must be held to account for his role in Wednesday’s siege of the Capitol.
On a day when many of Gillibrand’s colleagues — including incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer — called for Trump’s immediate removal from office, the junior senator from New York told reporters in a conference call expressed doubts that Republicans will go along with the effort.
“In the days ahead our duty will require us to push for accountability for every rioter who desecrated the Capitol, for the president who incited them — every option available,” she said. “These options will require the vice president, Cabinet members and Republican members of the Senate to hold the president accountable in a way they never have before. When they fail to do so, history will rightfully judge them as complicit.”
“Both Congress and the Department of Justice must undertake a thorough investigation of these events — how they happened, why the planning was inadequate, why they (the mob) were not treated as criminals and the evolution of white supremacist websites and groups in inciting the violence,” Gillibrand added.
The senator spoke of being held in lockdown within a secure room in a Senate office building for hours while thousands of Trump supporters — egged on by the outgoing president at a rally earlier that morning, and months of outright lies inflammatory rhetoric — stormed the heart of American democracy in an attempt to violently thwart the Congressional certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
Gillibrand described being seated in the Senate chamber, listening to senators debate the validity of Arizona’s electoral votes following Republican objections, when all hell broke loose.
“[Oklahoma Senator James] Langford was in the middle of the speech, then all of a sudden staff go up, ran toward the podium and quickly removed the vice president [Mike Pence] from the podium,” she recalled. Pence was hustled out of the chamber to an undisclosed location.
“A few moments later, a representative from the Capitol Police stood behind the podium and said the Capitol had been breached,” Gillibrand added. “They began the lockdown protocols, to close all the doors and lock the doors. That process started happening. They were having trouble getting all the staff into the room.”
The senators remained locked in the chamber for about an hour before Capitol Police finally moved them out of the chamber and through a secure path of hallways, staircases and tunnels to the secure area, Gillibrand said.
During the lockdown, Gillibrand and other senators spoke to their family members and looked aghast on social media and news feeds showing the siege in progress.
“There was a lot of fear and anxiety and worry,” the senator noted. “As the hours began to pass, people started to get frustrated and angry because we needed to close out this election.”
The Senate was ultimately able to reconvene formally just after 8 p.m. Wednesday after law enforcement reinforcements moved in and removed the invaders. Hours later, the certification process was ultimately completed, after Congress resolved the Arizona objection and a similar protest to Pennsylvania’s vote, lodged in part by Missouri Senator Josh Hawley.
The siege, Gillibrand observed, seemed to change the mind of many senators who had intended to join Hawley and others in protesting the certification.
“Several of the Republican senators withdrew their objections and changed their votes to no,” she said. “It made the time go more quickly, but at least in my mind, it seemed that they understood the gravity of their actions, and that playing along with Trump’s lies is not only bad for the country, it’s bad for our democracy.”
Gillibrand criticized her Republican colleagues in the House and Senate who voted to object to the electoral votes of several swing states where Trump had made false voting fraud claims. She suggested that many of them “look at themselves in the mirror” for indulging in conspiracy theories that inflamed the president’s supporters and helped spark Wednesday’s coup attempt.
Asked whether she would seek any kind of action to hold them account, such as motions to censure or expel them from office, Gillibrand said she believes that should be examined.
“I’m deeply concerned, and I don’t think they fully understand how misguided and how irresponsible their actions have been,” she concluded.