'My goal wasn't about making friends': Dem congresswoman speaks out about offering GOP colleagues masks during Capitol siege

'My goal wasn't about making friends': Dem congresswoman speaks out about offering GOP colleagues masks during Capitol siege

When a mob of violent far-right extremists stormed the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6, members of Congress not only had to worry about being attacked by the mob — they also had to worry about being infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus. Democratic Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware, in an article published by The Atlantic on January 13, recalls her efforts to get more of her Republican colleagues to wear masks on January 6 and avoid a superspreader event.

The Philadelphia-born Rochester opens her article by recalling that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did her part to promote coronavirus restrictions on January 6.

"It started that morning with a notice from the speaker's office," Rochester explains. "If members wanted to witness the certification of Joe Biden's Electoral College victory, we had to send an e-mail to a particular address. We would have to go in groups, staggered. I told my staff I really wanted to be a part of it. I was a part of Joe Biden's campaign from the very beginning. To me, this was an important historic moment, and I wanted to witness it. You had to be there between 12:45 and 1 p.m. I literally got in the room at 12:50."

The congresswoman notes that she was inside the U.S. Capitol Building when she "started receiving these e-mail alerts about suspicious packages, evacuations of buildings."

"I remember turning to my right because I could hear noise," Rochester recalls. "I looked down on the House floor and noticed that security had lined the back of the floor. And next thing you know, they whisked Nancy Pelosi out of the room, and then (Majority Leader) Steny Hoyer. I noticed the leadership leaving. There was an announcement that folks had breached the building. The hard part about it was that we saw everyone being evacuated from the floor; then they said, 'Lock all the doors, lock all the doors!' And I realized we were locked in the balcony. I remember someone right behind the door, banging on the door — and I think they were trying to get in."

Rochester goes on to say, "They took us through an unfamiliar tunnel. I still don't even know where I was. They got us in the undisclosed room, and we waited for the Capitol to be swept and be secured. When we saw people not wearing masks, I was talking to a few of my colleagues, and they were really concerned. Some were angry about it. And I saw somebody had extra masks."

Having "literally escaped bullets," Rochester writes, she "wanted to make sure that we were not in a superspreader situation."

"I was just thinking about how many people I could get to put on a mask," Rochester recalls. "My goal wasn't about making friends. My intention was to make us as safe as possible."

The congresswoman adds, "I saw somebody had extra masks. I said, 'Hey, are you using those?' I just went around and started asking people, 'Would you like a fresh, clean mask?' People took them. One of my Republican colleagues actually said he had sneezed in his, and that's why it was in his pocket — and he said, 'Yeah, I'll take it'…. I was just thinking about how many people I could get to put on a mask. My goal wasn't about making friends. My intention was to make us as safe as possible."

The Atlantic's Edward-Isaac Dovere notes that on January 6, Rochester "tried to convince several of her Republican colleagues to put on masks. They refused, and laughed at her — behavior that was captured in a viral video":

On January 6, Rochester tweeted:

The following day, on January 7, Punchbowl News reported that according to a House member, "at least 50" House Republicans put their colleagues in danger by refusing to wear masks when the Capitol Building was under siege. Since then, at least three House Democrats have tested positive for COVID-19: Rep. Brad Schneider of Illinois, Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington and Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey. Jayapal has been especially outspoken, tweeting that she blames the irresponsible Republicans who refused to wear masks on January 6.

According to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, COVID-19 has killed more than 385,000 people in the U.S. and over 1.9 million people worldwide — and the global death count is expected to pass 2 million soon.

Rochester, looking back on January 6 and 7 in her Atlantic article, explains, "They certified the vote at 3:41 a.m. Afterward, I had too much adrenaline to go to sleep. I probably went to bed around 5 in the morning. When I woke up, my entire body was sore, just from falling down and bending, and stress."

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