Three days after U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele was sworn in as a member of the 117th Congress, the Hilo Democrat found himself in Washington, D.C., as an angry mob, encouraged by President Donald Trump, stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to thwart a peaceful transition of power.
Lawmakers were forced to evacuate as they worked to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory.
Kahele spoke by phone just before a mandatory curfew imposed in the nation’s capital went into effect there.
“It’s sad, and at the same time, it’s very deeply troubling. And I’m angry, and I’m infuriated at what happened today.”
Kahele said he and his family were safe Wednesday. They were near, but not at, the U.S. Capitol and not in the Congressional Complex when protesters stormed the area.
He said preparations were made leading up to Wednesday, in case any unrest occurred.
For example, he directed most of his staff to stay at home.
Members of Congress also were instructed to not come into the House and Senate chambers for the opening of the session, but would be called to the floor when it was time to vote, he said.
Kahele said he was preparing to leave his house and head to the Capitol complex in anticipation of the first vote Wednesday afternoon when the violence began.
“Things rapidly got out of control,” he said. “I drove around the capital (Tuesday) night. There wasn’t anybody out. … They were anticipating peaceful protesters. What they weren’t anticipating were anarchists, seditionists, people who came here with the intent, fueled by the rhetoric from President Trump, to penetrate and infiltrate our United States Capitol.”
Kahele was surprised at how quickly the situation escalated.
“Our United States Capitol is our most sacred building in our country, if not one of the most sacred buildings in the world,” Kahele said. “You don’t expect Americans, you don’t expect people in our country, to break down its doors and storm the Capitol to disrespect and disgrace the offices of our highest elected leaders. Sad is not the word. It’s disgraceful. It’s despicable. It’s very, very, (upsetting).”
Other members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation also spoke out about the events Wednesday.
“My staff and I are OK, but many are hurt, and democracy is damaged,” said U.S. Rep. Ed Case. “What a truly dark moment for our country, born of disrespect for our very foundations and institutions and incited by the highest levels of our leadership.
“But I know this is not our America, and I know we will get through this dark time together,” he continued. “And here in D.C., on Capitol Hill, tonight or tomorrow or however long it takes, and regardless of what it takes, my colleagues and I will complete our constitutional duty and confirm the results of the presidential election.”
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz shared similar sentiments.
“The attack on the Capitol and our democracy is despicable, but it will not stop us from completing our constitutional duties and affirming the results of the presidential election,” he said.
During a press conference Wednesday, Gov. David Ige said he thinks Trump caused the siege by demonstrators at that U.S. Capitol.
“I do believe that the president … in his speech this morning, clearly incited the action taken. So I do believe that he is responsible for what has happened,” Ige said.
The governor said some Trump supporters gathered Wednesday at the state Capitol in Honolulu with signs, flags and megaphones, but he commended their peaceful approach.
“Certainly, we have not had any of the violence or the chaos that we are seeing across the country,” Ige said.
Email Stephanie Salmons at email@example.com.