Kilmer at the Capitol: Surviving an insurrection and preparing for impeachment

6th District congressman says American democracy prevailed on a pivotal day in Congress

On Jan. 6, TV viewers around the world watched in disbelief as a mob of pro-Trump protesters in Washington, D.C., overwhelmed an undermanned police force to forcibly break into the Capitol Building.

The insurrectionists scaled the Capitol Building, then smashed windows and doors to enter the halls of Congress. Once inside, individuals broke into the offices of political leaders and eventually stormed the Senate floor where moments before lawmakers were tallying Electoral College votes.

The protesters forced members of Congress to flee to secure locations in the complex. Following hours of unrest, police finally cleared the Capitol Building, allowing legislators to return to work and complete certification of the Electoral College vote.

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer. WA-6th District, began that day with an uneasy feeling.

“I started my day with a conversation with my two kiddos and actually said to them, ‘Listen you may see some upsetting things on TV today. There may be rioting in the streets but don’t worry, Dad works in the most secure place on the planet’,” Kilmer said. “I went to work that day with an expectation that things could get a little ‘hinky.’ I actually brought an extra change of clothes and a day’s worth of food, just in case.”

Kilmer waited for his time to enter the House chamber where certification of the Electoral College was taking place. Because of COVID-19, lawmakers reserved times to enter the chamber to watch the debate and offer testimony.

The Gig Harbor lawmaker, who is serving his fourth term, had signed up to be on the floor later that night. That day lawmakers were advised to travel to the Capitol Building via a tunnel for safety concerns.

“Before the Electoral College certification began, we started getting text messages saying there were pipe bombs that were placed near the Capitol,” Kilmer recalled. “I was in my office in the Rayburn Building watching the debate on television, so I saw what everybody else in America saw, and the House went into recess [as the mob breached the Capital].

“Simultaneously, we were getting text messages to shelter in place, as you would during an active shooter situation. The message was along the lines of ‘Lock your doors, shelter in place, stay away from windows, be silent’,” he recalled.

In the midst of the crisis, Kilmer called his family to let them know he was OK.

“So I hunkered down in my office. Several hours later we got the ‘all clear.’ ”

It was a lucky happenstance that Kilmer was in a building not targeted by the insurrectionists. “Thank God I got to avoid more substantial trauma. I think those who were on the floor and in the gallery had a much more harrowing experience,” he said.

“My reaction to the day was not dissimilar to the reaction of many Americans. It was awful to see what was not just an attack on a building, but an attack on our democratic republic. It was not an accident that this was happening during the vote to certify the Electoral College [results]. You had rioters that had made it pretty clear they were there to try and prevent the peaceful transfer of power.”

A week after the riot — an Article of Impeachment of former President Trump was introduced in the House, charging him with “incitement of insurrection” over the violence at the Capitol Building. After several hours of debate, the article was adopted by a mostly party-line vote of 232 to 197.

Kilmer — along with 10 Republicans — was among the Democrats who voted for impeachment.

“What we saw on the 6th of January was an attempt to override the will of the American people to prevent the certification of the Electoral College vote. It was incited by the president who summoned people to our nation’s capitol and lit the flame of the attack,” Kilmer said.

Kilmer was clear about what he hopes will happen in the Senate:

“To me, when you had a mob that was incited by the President of the United States who sought to hunt down the Speaker of the House and called for hanging the Vice President. You had 140 police injured. I think it’s important that there be accountability for that,” he said.