Orange County Rep. Lou Correa said there could have been a bloodbath Wednesday on the floor of the U.S. Capitol had security staff not shown remarkable restraint by not opening fire.
Correa, D-Santa Ana, said he saw security guards train six or seven guns on a door into the House chambers as rioters tried to barge in. But the guards did not fire.
“I’m convinced that if they really wanted to stop that intrusion – If they wanted to stop it at the doors of those halls – all they had to do was start opening fire,” Correa said moments before the House of Representatives went back into session Wednesday evening.
“You would have had 200 to 300 people dead right now,” Correa said. “Think about it. There were a lot of bullets there in the chambers. A lot of weaponry. I know because I walk across those grounds all the time. … There would have been a slaughter.”
“People will say you should have done it,” Correa added. “But you would have had a heavy loss of American lives.”
He said he was relieved that more rioters (one woman was shot and later died) weren’t killed in Wednesday’s chaos that was inspired by President Donald Trump’s insistence that the 2020 election was fraudulent.
Correa said he disagrees strongly with the violent rioters who, he said “have been misled by this crazy, tyrant president who keeps saying it was stolen from him when it wasn’t.
“I don’t want to see Americans, that I so much disagree with, be mowed down by bullets” in the Capitol building.
The day started early for Correa, who was sworn in again as a congressman over the weekend as his family looked on. He said he drove his family to the airport, and then took a train into the capitol surrounded by 60 to 70 people he called “Trumpers.”
“They were nice,” he said, “They were respectful. They were conversational. But when they got to that (The National Mall) mall, the president whipped them up.
“He said let’s go to the Capitol and support those people who are supporting me,” Correa said. “And that’s when all hell broke loose.”
The congressman, who also served Orange County in the state assembly and senate and the county board of supervisors, said, “If there’s a silver lining in this dark cloud, it’s that I think both parties recognize that this partisan stuff is out of control.
“I go home and I tell people I’m an American. God, country, family, community. My partisanship is down six or seven, maybe eight, on my list of priorities.
“But right now there are so many people who make Democrat vs. Republican their top issue. I think this is a wake-up call for both sides.”
The first sign of trouble came shortly after the House started debating a Republican challenge to Electoral College votes for President-elect Joe Biden, Correa said.
“In the middle of all this stuff – we were sitting up in the balcony (socially distancing) because of covid … so all the legislators were in the balcony in that second area when all of a sudden you see security guards running in, grabbing Nancy (House speaker Nancy Pelosi). He said he heard someone shout that protesters are breaking in…we gotta get you guys out of there.”
He said security staff escorted senior Democratic and Republican leadership out of the chambers to safety when he heard another security staffer warn the other members of Congress they might have to put on gas masks “if we heard gas canisters go off or smelled tear gas.”
”And we look at each other like who the hell has a gas mask? And we look under our chairs and there’s a gas mask, OK.” Correa said. “They were preparing for something, They just didn’t tell us. At that point, you saw panic kind of set in with some of the members.”
Correa said he worked with two or three Republican congressmen to help older representatives and women out of the chamber, and he and others stayed back helping the security staff, then waited it out in another congressman’s office. “We were observing the situation. We were talking, trying to figure out what was next.”
“To me, it was a moment when both sides came together and recognized that we’re all Americans. Recognized that we were all in it together. And that all of us together were in danger because of something the president was doing down there in the Capitol mall. You saw that in everybody in those moments of – sheer adrenalin.”
He said he took stock of the situation and readied himself for the very real possibility of the rioters breaking inside while they were still there.
“What is it that I need to do? What is it we’re going to do when those individuals crash through the door?’
Asked what he planned to do, Correa responded, ‘“Whatever I needed to do…It’s not a question of being a badass. It’s a question of, ‘Is this it?’”
“Right now I think we’re an embarrassment,” Correa said. “That shining beacon on top of the hill that beckons…that talks of democracy, justice and freedoms, that light is not shining tonight.
“We are not that shining light on the hill that Ronald Reagan talked about,” Correa added. “Tonight is a wake-up call that our democracy is very fragile right now.”
Correa politely ended the interview after 16 minutes when the house went back into session at about 8 p.m. EST. “We’re going to finish tonight, my friend.
“Pray for our country,” he said.
Larry Welborn is a former Register reporter.
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