MEDFORD, Ore. — “It’s a strange feeling to be locked in a room that you know is not really designed to be secure when there are angry people outside,” said Senator Jeff Merkley Wednesday afternoon. “To break down barricades and to force their way into the capitol and put people in fear for their lives and their safety, It’s just not right. We saw the same thing happen in Portland and I spoke out forcefully against it and I’ll do the same thing here,” said Representative Cliff Bentz.
In the U.S. Senate, the debate was suddenly gaveled to a halt, as Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Chuck Grassley, the presidential pro-tem, were escorted from the chamber. Congressman Cliff Bentz was not on the floor as a COVID-19 precaution. “We were watching the situation unfold like everyone else from our office,” said Rep. Bentz.
Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley was on the floor. “All of that was very very sudden and unusual. And because we could hear noises my assumption was that protesters had entered the building,” said Sen. Merkley. The Senate doors were then closed and locked.
“We had heard rumors of shots fired but nobody could confirm that they’d actually seen evidence of that until moments before I got on this call,” said Merkley in a phone press briefing. “With that type of fervor and that type of belief, that people were coming to interrupt the process, we should have been prepared for in ways that we weren’t.”
NBC News later confirmed with law enforcement, the shots fired hit and killed a woman.
“I wanted to compliment the capitol police for doing their very best to keep people safe but they were simply overwhelmed by thousands of people,” said Bentz. In the House, debate was interrupted as members were told to sit and stay calm, and wait for capitol police.
Senator Ron Wyden released this statement, “As a steadfast defender of the First Amendment, I will always support peaceful protest even if I disagree with the views that are expressed. This is far from peaceful protest. But I thank the Capitol Police for their courage protecting all elected officials from criminals bent on destroying democracy. And I very much look forward to resuming the urgent work for our country, as soon as possible.”
Senators and members of Congress were later evacuated away from each chamber, with congressional leadership taken to secure locations. “70 million people believe a big huge chunk of them believe that somehow this election was not conducted correctly and those issues need to be from and center or this kind of a protest will not be resolved,” said Rep. Bentz.
But despite President Trump’s conspiracy claims, dozens of lawsuits were thrown out or rejected. No widespread evidence of voter fraud has ever been proven anywhere in the 2020 presidential election.
“The local leaders say, this mob… we should listen to them. That’s what we heard on the Senate floor. We heard we should listen to the mob and that’s why we should stop the election of Joe Biden because so many people believe that something has gone wrong and that is exactly the wrong position to take,” said Sen. Merkley.
Meanwhile in Oregon’s capitol, supporters of President Trump and a separate group of protesters have gathered near the capitol building in Salem. The Oregon State Police declared an unlawful assembly Wednesday afternoon. A tweet from OSP said everyone must leave the area or be subject to arrest or use of force.
Senator Merkley has released a statement calling the attempt to overturn the election a coup. Meanwhile, Congressman Bentz said he believes it’s a protest gone bad.
Madison LaBerge is the anchor of NBC5 News Weekends at 6 and 11. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Madison is originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico.
She loves living in the Pacific Northwest. She can’t get over “how green everything is!” When Madison is not at work, she looks for new and exciting cooking recipes and explores Southern Oregon.
Feel free to send her story ideas or the address of your favorite Mexican food restaurant!