Rep. Debbie Lesko knew Jan. 6 would be a big day at the U.S. Capitol, with debate scheduled over the Electoral College.
She didn’t realize how big it would be.
“The last thing I would have thought I’d have to do at work today (actually yesterday since it’s now past midnight) is to read instructions on putting on an escape hood to protect me from chemical and biological agents,” she tweeted, early on Jan. 7.
Lesko represents the 8th Congressional District, which includes parts of Goodyear, Litchfield Park, Glendale and Peoria, where she lives.
Members of Congress were debating an objection over Arizona’s presidential election results when rioters stormed the Capitol.
After being instructed to have gas masks at the ready, Lesko and other lawmakers were rushed to secure areas—shortly before rioters invaded meeting chambers.
Hours later, when the rioters were expelled and order restored, Rep. Ruben Gallego—a Democrat who represents parts of Phoenix, Glendale and Tolleson—used floor time at the House of Representatives chamber to passionately speak against Rep. Paul Gosar’s objection to Arizona electoral votes.
Lesko did not buy Gallego’s “save your soul” plea.
“After much deliberation and consultation with constitutional attorneys, I decided to agree with the objection to Arizona’s electors,” Lesko later said in an emailed statement.
She said that in its election policies and procedures, “Arizona violated state law, and thus the United States Constitution. … In line with upholding my oath to follow the U.S. Constitution, I voted to agree with the objection to Arizona’s electors.”
The House voted 303-121 against the objection, and Arizona’s electoral votes for Joe Biden were certified.
Lesko stressed she did not agree with the violent takeover.
“The events (Jan. 6) at the U.S. Capitol were tragic and disturbing. Civil discourse and passionate debate have a place in our democracy, but violence and anarchy are never the answer,” Lesko said in an emailed statement.
On Twitter, she repeated the message: “The violence that occurred at the U.S. Capitol today was totally unacceptable and should be condemned completely. I predicted there would be a problem, but I could not predict the magnitude of what happened (Jan. 6).”
Gallego ready to act
Rioters may have been fortunate not to break into Gallego’s location.
As he hunkered down with other members of Congress, the U.S. Marine Corps combat veteran assessed his limited resources and came up with a plan.
“I had a pen. If anyone broke in, my plan was get that pen and jab it into somebody’s eye,” Gallego said in an interview with the Peoria Times two days later.
“And if they had a weapon, disarm them and start shooting my way out.”
Gallego has been praised by many for keeping his cool during what he now calls “an insurrection.” He instructed members how to use gas masks they were given—and guided stranded journalists (who were not allowed into the safe area where Gallego and other representatives were) to the safety of his nearby office.
According to a biography on his website, “Congressman Gallego enlisted in the Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq in 2005 as an infantryman, serving with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines. His company saw some of the worst fighting of the Iraq War, losing 22 Marines and a Navy Corpsman to enemy action in eight months.”
On Jan. 6, his combat experience helped him stay calm and lead through the chaos, he said.
While Gallego and Lesko were united in survival mode, a chasm between their beliefs remains.
Gallego said he blames the Capitol takeover on “all Republicans feeding the belief that somehow elections were stolen and the only recourse was violence.”
He joined those who placed blame at the top of leadership.
“We’re going to impeach the president,” Gallego said, shortly before repeating his message on MSNBC. “We need to make sure he doesn’t stay in power.”
On Twitter, Lesko said anyone looking for impeachment was “adding fuel onto the fire. People are already at breaking point and upset."