Scenes from the Senate floor
May 11, 2021
As a veteran Capitol reporter, he had sat through many drowsy debates from his perch above the U.S. Senate floor.
But in a moment, it all changed. The calm setting became a place of panic, and serenity turned to chaos. The Capitol Assault was under way.
Paul Kane, AS92, had a disconcertingly intimate view of that awful day, watching as the first hints of trouble grew into a frantic rush for safety inside and outside this icon of Democracy. As senior congressional correspondent for the Washington Post, Kane watched as a rifle-toting officer suddenly appeared on the Senate floor, listened as ominous sounds grew near, scurried along with lawmakers and aides to escape the hate-filled crowd.
“I could hear a loud thwacking sound—possibly a billy club being wielded against the invaders,” Kane wrote in the Washington Post soon after the insurrection. “Soon, the Senate was sealed off and the session was adjourned. Capitol Police raced around the two-story Senate Chamber locking every set of doors. Then Sen. Amy Klobuchar looked at her phone and announced: ‘Shots fired.’”
Armed officers prepared for battle in every corner. Police barked instructions. “They marched us all — a phalanx of senators, staff and press—through multiple office buildings in search of the safest grounds to shelter on the Capitol complex.”
Some senators walked, Kane wrote. Others ran. Elsewhere, people he knew prepared for the worst. “One senior GOP aide, who has an office not far from the Senate floor, said he took a steel rod and barricaded his door when the pro-Trump mob approached,” wrote Kane. “For what seemed like 20 minutes, he said, rioters banged on his door, trying to break in.
“Others huddled in silence in small rooms with doors locked and cellphones turned off while the rioters walked past.”
Recounting the tale recently for a UD journalism class, Kane recalled the odd sensation of being at the nexus of a crisis that he actually knew little about—there were no TVs nearbyto give him a sense of the attack’s full scope, and his cell phone was in another room.
The true scale of the nation’s horror only became evident once he retrieved the phone. “I called an editor who was crying on the phone, because tear gas was being fired off in the Capitol Rotunda,” he told Prof. Dawn Fallik’s class.
Before long, news would come that the building had been secured, and that senators’ solemn duty could resume: The Senate parliamentarian had enlisted volunteers to grab the boxes of electoral college certificates, crucial for legally affirming Biden’s victory.
“Just before 6:45 p.m.—four hours after senators fled the Capitol—loud applause echoed from the secure room. Congress had decided to reconvene,” Kane recalled. “As our group trekked back to the Capitol, someone shouted ‘make way, make way.’
The ballots had returned. The assault had failed. “Biden would still be declared the winner,” wrote Kane.