John Bresnahan has covered Congress for decades, previously as Politico’s Capitol Hill bureau chief and now as co-founder of Punchbowl News. On the podcast The Ticket, he describes what he saw inside the building as a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol this week—and what implications the searing event could have going forward.
Listen to his conversation with host Edward-Isaac Dovere here:
Below is a brief portion of the interview, edited and condensed for clarity:
Dovere: John, you have been through a lot at the Capitol before. You were in the Navy long before you were a reporter. What is the moment at which it becomes clear to you that things cracked? And is it a scary moment when that happens?
Bresnahan: I didn’t feel particularly scared for myself, personally. I was scared for everyone. I had been in the House chamber, and they were doing the debate over the Arizona objection. And it was kind of a weird scene because the Republicans were sitting on the floor, and they weren’t socially distancing. They were all there. Democratic members were sitting in the gallery; probably 50 Democratic members sitting around me.
And then my colleague Jake Sherman starts bugging me. He [says] there’s a problem with a security fence outside. You can’t hear anything in the chamber, so I go outside. And once I get outside the chamber, you can hear the crowd. I ran down to the second floor of the Rotunda, and the sound was overwhelming. There were hundreds of people pounding on the door from the east side of the Capitol. There were cops rushing up to the door, and they started screaming at us to get out of here. I went up to the third floor. That’s where I could see [the protesters] banging on the door. It seemed like they had tools—like iron rods or something. They were prepared to try to break windows. I mean, these are bombproof windows on the east side of the Capitol, and these doors. They had to be prepared to do that.
Dovere: [The Capitol police] removed everybody from the chamber. They removed the reporters to a safe location.
Bresnahan: I had left the chamber. And by the time I left the Rotunda, they had sealed the members and reporters inside the chamber ... I couldn’t get back in, so I went into my press gallery, where all the reporters who work out of the Capitol work. And [from there], I was actually able to access the catwalk above the Statuary Hall, where all reporters and members of Congress do interviews right after the State of the Union.
So I was up like a half-floor above these people, and I could see them coming into Statuary Hall. And there were no cops. I didn’t see any cops. I sat there and watched the whole thing. First you’d see a couple of protesters. It was a trickle, and then a flood of people. They were walking from the center of the Capitol—the Rotunda—and they were walking toward the House on the south side. They were trying to get into the House. You could hear them banging on the doors. At that point inside the chamber, police officers had pulled guns, and they were going to shoot anybody trying to get in the House floor. Because the members were still on the floor.
But I was actually down there, so I could watch what was happening from the outside. My viewing point was probably one of the better ones for the reporters inside the building, because I wasn’t locked down at that point. I was there for at least an hour. These protesters come into Statuary Hall, where there’s a statue of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King ...
Dovere: Right, that’s the original House chamber. It’s not just a room; there’s history there.
Bresnahan: Exactly. Some of them were taking selfies with the statues like they were tourists. Others—it was strange, I saw this woman pull out documents, and she starts giving a speech. She clearly had people with her. They formed this crowd, and they were filming it. She was reading a speech about the Constitution, clearly doing something for social media. That was the other thing: You could see they were all putting stuff on social media.
Eventually, after an hour or so, cops got control again. Because people were running amok in the Capitol. This SWAT team came back down toward me—and these were really serious guys with really big guns—and they were screaming at me to get back inside. So I ended up back at my gallery, and then we were eventually taken out of the building.
Dovere: How does what happened on Wednesday compare with what you have seen there before?
Bresnahan: There’s nothing really it can compare to. At one point, some protesters had gotten in, and they were trying to open the doors so they could let in more protesters. And one police officer in riot gear was trying to push them out. They were fighting with him, and he got knocked down. He was lying on the ground. I actually ran down and picked him up. And then two of his colleagues came and got him.
The idea that they were attacking police officers to get into the building, and that a reporter had to physically help pick up a police officer and drag them to safety from a crowd ... I mean, there’s nothing I’ve ever seen like that. I was there in 1998 when two police officers were shot. I was there in 2001 on 9/11, which was just terrifying, but it was a lack of knowledge. We knew what was happening here. We knew that there were going to be these protesters outside, and they didn’t prepare adequately. And just—the rage of these people. That anger. Once they were inside, you know, it was just crazy.