Apr 11, 2021 - Politics & Policy

House members still reeling from Capitol siege

Illustration of heart emojis hovering over the Capitol building

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

House Democrats still reeling from the Jan. 6 Capitol assault have found a new refuge: a group text chain in which they share everything from their anxieties to recipes and other attention-shifters.

What they're saying: “I liken it to that experience when I was in combat,” said Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.), a decorated Army Ranger and veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who's one of about 20 members in the “Gallery Group."

  • “When you go through a traumatic experience and a situation like that together, it brings you together in a way that is very unique," Crow said.
  • The group — whose members hunkered down together in the House Gallery as a pro-Trump mob tried to break into the chamber — was organized by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).

Why it matters: Many lawmakers and staffers from both political parties still struggle with trauma and fear.

  • Some members have added cameras to their homes to increase security back in their districts. Rep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.) told Axios she now has a bulletproof vest.
  • Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.) said she won't be holding town hall meetings with her constituents for the foreseeable future. Crow gripped her wrist on Jan. 6 as they laid on the floor of the Gallery.
  • Aides to multiple Republican House members said their boss would not be comfortable speaking about the topics and would not facilitate connecting them to Axios.

Three months later, Congress has yet to decide on permanent security measures, including recommendations from a month-old report by a Capitol review panel.

  • The concern was rekindled on April 2, when a man rammed a car into the north entrance of the Capitol grounds. A Capitol Police officer was killed in the attack and two others were injured.
  • Lawmakers were amid a two-week recess at the time, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday that Congress is "going to have to pass" legislation to improve on Capitol security "very soon."
  • She gave no firm timeline, but lawmakers return this week.

How it works: The Democrats on the group chat connect through a secure app, virtual Zoom meetings and in-person gatherings.

  • It's a group with wide-spanning ages, geographic locations and ideologies who share their communal bond from riding out the attack.
  • The Zoom meetings started four days after the insurrection, with the help of the Office of Employee Assistance. The congressional office routinely provides support services to the House of Representatives community.

Flashback: This particular group of lawmakers was among the last to evacuate the House chamber. Some of them walked past rioters being held at gunpoint by police, while other law enforcement officials whisked them off to an undisclosed location.

  • In the following days, the group text they'd begun became — for many of them — the first thing to read in the morning and the last before going to bed, Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) told Axios.
  • Another member is freshman Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.). The 32-year-old was just days into the job on Jan 6.
  • She ducked behind a chair in the Gallery and waited for guidance.

The group's conversations have evolved to include discussions about their families, recipes and plans for the weekends.

  • Crow says he’s still subjected to “unrelenting hell” by the group for bringing cookies to a potluck gathering after initially volunteering to bring a key lime pie.
  • "That did not go over well,” he said with a laugh.
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