The room was small, the voices and noises were getting louder. The lawmaker never thought that the chants of the country she represents –– “USA! USA!” –– could fill her with fear. But on Wednesday they did.
U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Bayside, Flushing, Forest Hills, Fresh Meadows, Glendale, Kew Gardens, Maspeth, Middle Village, Rego Park) spent hours locked in a small room near the House Chambers in the nation’s Capitol Building on Wednesday. Outside the door, which had been barricaded with furniture, riotous Trump supporters roamed the hallways, looting representatives’ offices, clashing with Capitol Police and leaving destruction in their wake. Meng and one other lawmaker cowered on their side of the makeshift barricade, listening to the chants of “USA! USA!” Her phone on silent, she urgently texted her staff to let them know where she was so they could alert the police.
“I didn’t believe, with the chaos that was going on at that moment, that someone could come help me if they were able to break into the room. So, I turned off the lights, silenced the TV and my phone, and moved whatever furniture I could to block the doors in case they tried to get to me,” she said on Thursday evening, her story reminiscent of the harrowing tales told by survivors of school shootings. “I was really scared. I was just wondering who would come get me if they came in.”
On Wednesday afternoon hundreds of Trump supporters, angry at the election results and encouraged by words from the president himself, stormed the nation’s capitol building and interrupted the certification of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and President-elect Joe Biden. The unprecedented breach, one not seen since the British overran the Capitol in 1814, ended in the early evening with teargas in the halls of the People’s House, five people dead –– one shot by Capitol Police and an officer killed in the melee –– and the country’s representatives defiantly filing back in to the debris filled chambers for a late night vote.
And now, with just less than two weeks to go before President Donald Trump is supposed to hand over the reigns of power to Biden, Queens lawmakers are joining electeds from all over the country are voicing their support for Trump to be removed from office early by calling on Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment.
“We need a more stable leadership,” Meng said. “I don’t think that President Trump is fit right now to lead our country especially after what we saw.”
The 25th Amendment, which wasn’t ratified until after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, says that should the president become unable to do the job, the vice president would take over. It has four sections. The first section appoints the vice president as the president’s successor, the second section outlines how a president should fill a vice presidential vacancy, and the third states that the president can appoint his vice president as acting president. The fourth section, the one that would be invoked, allows a vice president to take over for a president deemed unfit and “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”
If invoked, it would be the first time in history that the fourth section of the 25th Amendment has been put to use. Critics of invoking the 25th Amendment say that it was not intended for instances like this but rather for when a president is incapacitated for medical reasons.
On Wednesday in a neighboring building overlooking the Capitol Building, a fellow Queens lawmakers was staring out his office window, watching what Meng was experiencing unfold.
“I was scared for my colleagues, and scared for my country,” said U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica, Laurelton, Rosedale, Cambria Heights, Saint Albans, Springfield Gardens, The Rockaways, JFK Airport), who sheltered in place in his office during the mob’s unprecedented breach. “It was unbelievable. The first thing that went through my mind –– Could this be true. This could not be happening here.”
But it was true. And it did happen here.
Meeks watched the crowd get closer and closer to the Capitol Building from his office window. From his vantage point, it seemed as though they’d just run up the steps. But it wasn’t too long before he realized the crowd had reached the door and breached the building.
He and his staff were told to shelter in place. A colleague who was looking for somewhere to shelter after having to evacuate his office in the Cannon House Office Building called him. He was walking to the Capitol to shelter there since it was probably safest, he said. Meeks told him to come to his office, instead. He couldn’t see what he was seeing.
The Capitol wasn’t safe.
While hunkered down in his office, Meeks thought of Trump’s roll in the unfolding chaos.
“He’s the one that had told them –– remember not too long ago –– ‘To stand down and stand by,’” Meeks said about Trump. “He’s the one that even in the midst of it was saying that ‘We love you, and we’re proud of you and never forget what you’ve done here.’ He was the one that was still spouting the lies about the election and the election results.”
This is what the 25th Amendment is for, he said.
“I hope that they put country over this individual,” he said.
When asked if an effort to remove Trump before the end of his term despite having lost the election would further incite his supporters and deepen division in the country, Meeks said no.
“Further incite –– they were in full gear yesterday,” he said on Thursday.
Meng was in her barricaded room for around five hours, she said. After the first couple of hours, the bedlam that she could hear through the walls seemed to quiet down. Despite that, they didn’t leave their hideaway until officers from the Capitol Police came and found them.
When she left the room, she felt relieved. As she walked down the hallway and saw the multitudes of law enforcement officers, she said she wondered to herself: “Where have you been?”
“Every room that I walked past there were ten, twenty officers from various entities in there,” she said. “And I just kept wondering, you know, where were you at 1:30, 2:30 when all of this was happening?”
Meeks, Meng, and many others, have called the ordeal that went down on Capitol Hill on Wednesday an attempted coup, incited by Trump and carried out by his supporters.
“It was very frightening for that reason,” said Meng. “It’s literally trying to stop government from functioning from doing its job and from helping the American people.”
And for that, Trump, and those who commit crimes on Wednesday, should pay the price, she said.
“We cannot send a signal as Congress, as the United States of America, that it is permissible to commit the acts and the crimes that they did yesterday, and to get away with it scott free,” Meng said.