‘We were told to pull out our gas masks,’ Florida Congressman describes Capitol breach by Trump supporters

Former, current lawmakers call violent clashes at Capitol ‘deeply disturbing’

Rep. Darren Soto speaks to News 6 investigator Mike Holfeld about what happened before the Capitol went into lockdown.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Congressman Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee, described hearing violent rioters breaching the Capitol building and breaking into the chamber coming within feet of himself and other lawmakers as they attempted to tally the Electoral College vote won by Joe Biden.

The Electoral College joint session is normally a mundane and ceremonial task but was ended soon after it started when supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump descended on the Capitol building where the count was underway to affirm Biden’s White House victory two weeks before Inauguration Day.

Soto said he was in the gallery along with other lawmakers in the midst of the objection debate over the Arizona electoral votes when members of the House begin receiving word about what was going on outside the Capitol building.

“When we started getting messages from our staff that violent protesters motivated by insightful language from Trump had reached the Capitol,” Soto said.

[MORE COVERAGE: Updates: Capitol is deemed secure as Trump supporters continue to riot | Anti-American anarchy:’ Florida lawmakers react as rioters storm Capitol]

A few minutes later Vice President Mike Pence, who oversees the electoral session was evacuated, along with the speaker of the House and the majority leader.

“We were then told to pull out our gas masks, as they secured the chamber, because they had to use bang gun and gas in the rotunda to repel folks who were trying to get in the chamber and you can hear that banging your pop pop pop sound of the bang guns.”

Soto described hearing the banging on the doors as they were led down to a secure area by Capitol police. On the way to a safe area, Soto said he saw some protesters who tried to reach the House chamber on the ground after Capitol police stopped them.

He said those individuals came “within feet of lawmakers.”

Soto called it a violent invasion and insurrection of the Capitol during the electoral college session but he and his colleagues plan to return as soon as Wednesday night or Thursday to finish tallying the votes.

“Democracy came so close today, but we will finish our business. We will stand by and we will do our jobs,” Soto said.

Officials declared the U.S. Capitol complex “secure” after heavily armed police moved to end a nearly four-hour violent occupation by supporters of Trump.

Republican and Democratic officials are directly blaming the sitting president for the storming of the Capitol by huge, angry crowds of pro-Trump protesters.

Republican Sen. Ben Sasse said Wednesday evening that the Capitol “was ransacked while the leader of the free world cowered behind his keyboard — tweeting against his Vice President for fulfilling the duties of his oath to the Constitution.”

“The President has provoked the disgusting events at the Capitol today,” Former Florida Republican Gov. Jeb Bush said in a tweet. “He has gone from creating chaos to inciting insurrection. Mr. President, accept your defeat, go home to Florida and let our elected officials do their jobs and rebuild confidence in our democracy.”

Former Democratic Florida Rep. Alan Grayson was shocked that the National Guard was called in after so many people had already gathered near the Capitol. While there are always protests in the nation’s capital, Grayson says he can’t recall a time when Capitol police weren’t able to control the situation safely.

“The capitol police have always been able to keep people under control,” he said.

Trump supporters stormed the barriers around the Capitol building, swarming the steps and breaking windows to into the building, video shows.

“This is the kind of behavior that we have never seen before,” Grayson said.

The former Democratic representative said it reminded him of an experience he had in another country.

“It’s disturbing to me on a very deep level,” Grayson said. “I lived through a coup when I was in West Africa, and I’m sure that other people live through similar experience in banana republics all over the world. to see it happen in the world’s greatest democracy is deeply, deeply disturbing.

Grayson agreed with other former and current lawmakers calling on Trump to step down from office.

“If Trump does not resign, he should be removed from office by the 25th Amendment, or belatedly impeached and removed from office by Congress and barred From ever holding office again,” Grayson said, referring to the fact Trump was already impeached by Congress.