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"Everybody watched out for each other." Rep. Dingell describes frightening moments at U.S. Capitol

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In the chaos at the U.S. Capitol Wednesday, Michigan Representative Debbie Dingell smelled tear gas, heard gun shots, felt "panic mode" kick in inside the House chamber, and benefitted from the kindness of others. 

After Congress certified President-elect Joe Biden's victory over President Donald Trump early Thursday morning, Dingell, D-Dearborn, spoke to Michigan Radio's Morning Edition about the scene as the pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol. She also discussed the possibility of invoking the 25th Amendment in order to remove the president from office, and how she'll deal with colleagues who tried to overturn the election.

Gun shots and pounding at the doors 

"I was on the House floor as it was happening. I was watching law enforcement become uncomfortable," Dingell said." And then they quickly whisked leadership off of the floor. And then the next thing we knew, law enforcement came into the chamber, told us we needed to sit in our seats, take the gas masks out from underneath, and that we may need to very quickly get down on the floor. Then we heard gunshots. Some of my colleagues were boarding up doors. There was pounding at the doors."

In the pandemonium, Capitol Police shot and killed a woman, one of four people to die during the violence.  

"I hope people saw what happened and say, 'This isn't the America that I know.'" -Rep. Debbie Dingell

"It was right outside of someplace that I walk by 10 times a day to get to the House chamber. You could start to smell tear gas," Dingell said. "Then we were evacuated through back corridors and tunnels and lots of flights of stairs and taken to an undisclosed location for several hours."

Helping fellow House members

As things started to get out of hand, Dingell got a message from newly elected Representative Peter Meijer a Republican from Grand Rapids.

"He was in the gallery, knew I was down there [on the house floor], texted and said, 'Do you need help? Are you OK?' One of his other colleagues, who I don't know, he stayed with me just to make sure I got down some stairs," she said. "People are moving very quickly. You get into even that panic mode."

Dingell said it was fortunate to have Meijer and other military veterans in the building.

"The veterans in the chamber knew what they were doing. I didn't know how to put a gas mask on. There was no politics in that chamber when this happened. We were a community and everybody watched out for each other," she said. "Those young veterans really knew what they were doing and they helped everybody."

The 25th Amendment

Some other Democrats in Congress, including several from Michigan, are calling for Trump to be removed from office. Dingell says she would support the use of the 25th Amendment, if it reached the point of a vote in Congress, but she doesn't think there's enough time for it to happen before the inauguration on Jan. 20. 

"I hope it's true that there are those [in the Tump cabinet] that are looking at it. And I think that it is very important that those that are around him at the White House and that we in the Congress work very hard to ensure we never see another scene like we did, and that there is no further damage done to our democracy in the next two weeks."

The future in Congress

Congress did eventually return to the Capitol and certified Biden's victory, but many Republicans supported objections to electoral votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania.

Three Michigan Republican representatives - Jack Bergman, Lisa McClain, and Tim Walberg - voted in favor of those objections, despite the fact that there's absolutely no evidence of fraud in the voting. 

Dingell said it's frustrating, but there still needs to be a path to everyone working together.

"I'm very disappointed in those members. I've had ongoing and honest conversations with them. I hope people saw what happened and say, 'This isn't the America that I know," she said.

"I am not a Republican or Democrat first. I am an American first, and our democracy can't be taken for granted. So I will remember. But I am going to work with them because I have to to protect our democracy."

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