Several members of Congress from San Diego County were in Washington D.C. on Wednesday meeting to confirm President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College victory when chaos broke out during the vote.
U.S. Representatives Mike Levin, Sara Jacobs, Juan Vargas, Scott Peters and Darrell Issa were in attendance. NBC 7 spoke with members of Congress as they described the moment they heard the rioters storm the Capitol building.
U.S. Representative Juan Vargas, who represents California’s 51st Congressional District, tweeted out that he and his staff were safe following the events.
“I was close to the capitol and all of a sudden I heard a lot of commotion. I heard some yelling and I thought, ‘Oh, no. Here they come,’” Vargas said. “And then I heard a Capitol Police officer and he goes, ‘You guys gotta go, you guys gotta go, they breached security. They are over the fences, they are over everything.’”
Vargas then describes how he ran back to his office to shelter in place and to make sure his staff was OK. He said he also directed his staff to find whatever they could to defend themselves.
“I could hear that people were running down the hallways screaming. It was chaos. It was absolute chaos,” Vargas said. "It was shocking. It was incredible."
Rep. Sara Jacobs, who represents San Diego's 53rd Congressional District, said she was sitting in the gallery with other members when she started receiving alerts on her phone. Jacobs said she and other members stayed on the Senate floor believing it was safe to do so. It wasn’t until Capitol Police told them to put their gas masks on when they heard protesters knocking on the door and heard flashbangs.
“We went downstairs and saw protesters on the floor subdued and then we were taken to a few different secured locations until finally being let back to our offices after a number of hours,” she said.
Jacob’s said she never foresaw things getting violent the way they did. Wednesday was her fourth day in office after winning the 53rd Congressional this past November.
“There was a moment where Capitol Police told us to take our Congressional pins off because they were worried that our pins would make us more of a target,” she said.
U.S. Representative Mike Levin, who represents San Diego's 49th Congressional District, told NBC 7 he was disappointed in what he saw earlier and thought he would never see in the U.S. Capitol.
“We had the opportunity to go to the House floor. Many of my colleagues did that. I opted not to do that… and soon after that I started to hear the pops of the tear gas, and the sirens going off, and commotion and the news reports, and pretty soon you start to see coverage of the debate was all the sudden coverage of the violent mob that was making their way up the Capitol steps," Levin said. "So at that point, we were told to shelter in place. No one is going to be able to get out or get in the Capitol complex… We’re not leaving until this certification process is done.”
"I want to thank, again, the brave Capitol Police and all those who kept us safe throughout the day. It really will require a deep examination of how this happened," Levin said.
U.S. Representative Scott Peters, who represents the San Diego's 52nd Congressional District, told NBC 7 he saw several members rushed off the floor before being told to shelter in place.
“A lot of us were spaced out in the gallery above, and at one point I saw Speaker Pelosi rushed off the floor, and a couple of our other senior leaders, pretty forcefully ushered off the floor, and then we were told that the Capitol had been breached and we had to stay in place," Peters said. "A little bit later they told us they were going to deploy tear gas and they had us get out gas masks form under the seats, and we weren’t getting a lot of updates."
He said they were ushered off the floor and had to snake around the other side of the building when he heard some gunshots outside the door of the House floor.
"They put a piece of furniture there to block it and there were people with guns pointed outward, and we were all told to get down. That was a frightening moment, and a lot of people behind me were trying to frantically call their families," he said. "I felt like we were probably pretty safe because by then they seemed to have gotten on top of it, but ultimately, they found a way to get us off the gallery floor and through the tunnels into a safe place.”
Rep. Darrell Issa has not responded to a request for comment on Wednesday's events, but posted a long thread on Twitter.