Congressman Joe Neguse reflects on historic month in Washington, D.C.
On Jan. 6, Rep. Joe Neguse joined his colleagues on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives chamber at the U.S. Capitol for a joint session of the U.S. Congress. On the docket was a single item: certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election.
The certification of electoral votes is usually little more than a formality, but in the lead-up to the hearing, it was clear the session would be anything but normal. Dozens of lawmakers had previously signaled their intent to challenge states’ election results on unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud, and pro-Trump protesters were planning to converge on the Capitol, eventually turning into a violent mob that breached the building for the first time in more than 200 years.
Inside the complex, lawmakers began the proceedings unaware of the frenzy set to unfold outside. Neguse — the House representative for Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes Summit County — was playing a central role. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tasked Neguse — along with Adam Schiff, D-California; Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland; and Zoe Lofgren, D-California — to deliver arguments against the expected challenges to the election results.
“It’s a task that I was honored to perform,” Neguse said. “Because of what we had heard from public telegraphing from various senators and members regarding their planned objections, … we had prepared arguments for upwards of six different states. So we knew these proceedings could have gone into the early morning of Jan. 7, which of course it did.”
Minutes after Neguse delivered his remarks on the House floor — the joint session had separated, sending the House and Senate to their respective chambers to debate the objections — he began getting texts from his wife and friends that the protests were growing in size, but he said it wasn’t clear at the time that “things had taken a turn for the worst.” Shortly after, he recalls seeing senior party leaders being led out of the room by their security details, including Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
“We resumed our business,” Neguse said. “I figured we would continue but that clearly there was something going on. Then we recessed, and a police officer proceeded to come up to the dais and told all of us on the House floor and gallery that the Capitol had been breached and the House chamber was locked down. … At that point, I started getting more texts from my family and wife, who told me the rioters were in Statutory Hall. I knew that was very close to the House chamber.”
Police told Neguse and his colleagues that they had deployed tear gas inside the Capitol Rotunda against the rioters and that they needed to be prepared to take cover and don gas masks.
“I texted my wife and told her that I loved her and that I love our daughter very much and that everything would be fine,” Neguse said. “We could hear the rioters beating down on the doors to the chamber. … I was concerned for all of the members, for staff, for our country.”
Capitol Police evacuated the chamber and ushered everyone to a series of different locations, finally ending up in a secure location somewhere inside the Capitol complex. Neguse said about 100 members of Congress and various staff surrounded him.
Despite the breach, Neguse said that during the hours of waiting, he was focused on getting back to work and having conversations with other officials on how best to proceed if they were allowed to reconvene that night.
“In the room, one thing was very clear to all of us — Democrats and Republicans — and that was we had to continue,” Neguse said. “We had to go back to the House chamber that night to resume the work and send a message to the rest of the country and the rest of the world that American democracy would not be impeded, that we would not be deterred and that our peaceful transfer of power would occur.”
The joint session eventually did reconvene and, after the House and Senate rejected challenges to then President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral wins in Arizona and Pennsylvania, affirm the election results in the early morning of Jan. 7.
For Neguse, there was a conflicting sense of pride and disappointment.
“I was disturbed and unsettled and disheartened by the violence and the destruction that had taken place but proud that Congress was returning,” Neguse said. “I was in the chamber when the Senate returned to the joint session of Congress, and for all of us who had been in the Capitol complex a mere four to five hours before as it was stormed, (it was important) to know that tens of millions of Americans and people around the globe would be watching these proceedings and would see that the Congress was not going to be intimidated into abdicating its duty to certify these election results. … At that point, we began thinking about what would come next. What were the next steps to rebuild our constitutional republic after this attack that took place?”
For Neguse, the next steps were twofold: seeing Biden sworn into office and holding former President Donald Trump responsible for “inciting an armed insurrection” that left five individuals dead, including a police officer.
On Jan. 13, the House voted to impeach Trump for the second time. The article of impeachment already has been delivered to the Senate, and the trial is set to begin the week of Feb. 8. Again, Neguse is expected to play a central role. Pelosi selected Neguse to serve as one of the House’s impeachment managers who will argue the case against Trump in the Senate next month.
“I have been working, preparing with my colleagues for the last two weeks, and will continue to do so as we prepare to present our case to the United States Senate, both on behalf of the Congress and the American people,” Neguse said. “Our goal is to vindicate the Constitution and secure a conviction in the Senate. We believe, as did many of our colleagues in the House, that what the president did was impeachable and that it warranted us moving forward with that very solemn process.”
After a wild few weeks in Washington, Neguse said he’s looking forward to returning to his home in Colorado when the time comes and to working with local officials to enact legislation. In the meantime, he urged Summit residents to come together.
“I would encourage every person in Summit County to join in the message that I think President Biden so articulately delivered during his inauguration, which is for us all to do our best to work together as a community to address the challenges we face,” Neguse said. “We have a lot more in common than some might think. I think that’s an important message for us all to take to heart.”
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