LBR in gallery during capitol chaos

Delaware Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester is among lawmakers sheltering  in the House gallery as rioters try to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.

As she drove into work at the Capitol Wednesday to certify election results, Delaware U.S. Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester observed dozens and dozens of flags in support of President Donald Trump and messages written on pick-up trucks that read: "Trump 2020" and "Keep America Great Again."

"We knew that something was going to happen, but I don't think anyone expected what we saw," she said.

That day, Blunt Rochester had requested a special seat in the gallery of the House Chamber, so she could have a bird's eye view of the historic moment when election results certified that Delawarean -- Joe Biden -- would be sent to the White House.

Work got underway at 1 p.m., and shortly thereafter, lawmakers' phones began buzzing about suspicious packages and building evacuations.

"And the next thing we know, the rioters were right there at the chambers," she said.

She described the next few moments as being on autopilot.

"Typically, I think I would be just scared or nervous, but it was more react, react. 'Where do I go? What do I do? How do you open this gas mask?'"  

The rest of the chamber was cleared, but her special seat in the balcony meant she couldn't evacuate as easily as other representatives. Blunt Rochester and her colleagues were instructed to crouch down and hide in the balcony.

"I don't know if they forgot we were in the balcony, and all the doors were locked. So we got to that other side, and I looked over the balcony, and I saw law enforcement with their guns drawn at the door, and that's when it really, really hit what this moment was all about," she said. "I saw these two poofs...come through the window, and I didn't know if it was gunshot or not, but that was when it really, really hit how much we were in jeopardy."

From there, she experienced a tidal wave of emotions from anger and fear to peace and ultimately, triumph. It's also when she turned to prayer with her best friend in Congress, U.S. Rep. Val Demings, a former police chief from Florida.

"She grabbed my arm, and I grabbed her arm, and she just looked at me and said: 'Lisa...we know God is in control or God is bigger than this,'...but that was the moment where I just kind of laid down my sadness and my anger, and I just started to pray--pray for healing, pray for peace, pray for everyone's safety."

She felt other members put her hands on her shoulders and back, and truly felt the notion that they were all in this together. They continued to pray as they heard more loud bangs on the door. 

"'Don't open, don't open it,'" she remembers calling out.

They soon identified that the pounding on the door was from law enforcement officers seeking to get lawmakers swiftly to safety at an undisclosed location. She also issued a video message on Twitter, thanking Delawareans for their prayers and support.

Hours later, Congress would return to a battered and bruised Capitol building with their Constitutional duty in tact. Blunt Rochester called it a necessary first step in healing.

"We came back, and we didn't let that chaos, that hate deter or destroy our purpose, and so I'm just grateful," she said. "I was proud that our institution did not let this moment stop us. We did not let 9/11 stop us; we will not let COVID stop us, and we did not let these rioters stop us either from our duty."

She looks forward to Inauguration Day, January 20, for what will be a new chapter.

"For me, the knowledge that Joe Biden, a Delawarean, Kamala Harris, the first Black woman to be sworn in, and we will begin a new day, it is a powerful testament to who we are," she said. "What lies ahead is each of us just playing our part. Joe Biden talks about 'building back better,' and I think this is the moment for us to do it. This is the test of our time, and I want to thank every Delawarean, again, for their prayers and their support, and I want them to know that I will continue to fight for them. I will continue to fight with them."

But before that new chapter begins, Blunt Rochester did not hesitate to say that President Trump should not get two more weeks in office.

"I had many concerns about his fitness and his competence for the job of president, particularly during COVID. But this situation posed a clear and direct threat to our safety and our security--and not just our personal security--but our national security," she said.  

Whether the 25th Amendment is invoked or the impeachment process is started, Blunt Rochester said she'd support the most expeditious path forward for Trump's removal.

"He needs to be removed as soon as possible, and you will see, I think, proposals over the next 24 hours, 24 to 48 hours, to that effect, she said. "Something must be done."