Rep. Dan Kildee recounts 'traumatic' Jan. 6 attack, a year later

"It just hit me that I was having that phone call you hear about."

January 02, 2022, 3:36 PM

On Jan. 6 last year, Rep. Dan Kildee was asked to defend the 2020 presidential election results from his home state of Michigan. Although there had been recounts, investigations and court cases, several Republican members of Congress were planning to object and refuse to certify results from key states that showed Joe Biden had overwhelmingly won.

Over the last several months, Kildee has been outspoken about the experience he had during the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and what he has had to deal with since.

"This was one of the most traumatic things I’ve been through," he told ABC News.

The Michigan congressman said he started his day by prepping remarks in his office before heading across the street to the House of Representatives.

Kildee was sitting in the gallery as attackers rammed past security and broke into the Capitol. The gallery is an area normally reserved for visitors, but during the pandemic, members were sitting there to offer space and social distancing between each other.

He said he remembers first hearing the crowd -- a murmur and roar -- but that he and his colleagues could neither make out how big the group was nor could they imagine how violent they would become.

PHOTO: Rep. Dan Kildee and other members take cover as protesters attempt to break into the House chamber during the joint session of Congress to certify the Electoral College vote, Jan. 6, 2021.
Rep. Dan Kildee and other members take cover as protesters attempt to break into the House chamber during the joint session of Congress to certify the Electoral College vote, Jan. 6, 2021.
Tom Williams/AP, FILE

The sergeant-at-arms went to the microphone at the main lectern normally used by the Speaker of the House -- which Kildee said was unusual -- and told lawmakers the Capitol had been breached.

"I just remember thinking to myself, 'What the hell is going on? Why isn't this, why isn't this being put down more quickly? How could this happen?'" he said. "Obviously, it still bothers me."

The moment when Kildee felt the situation turned especially dangerous was when rioters had fought their way to just outside the House floor and were banging on the doors where the president normally enters for the State of the Union address, he said.

"Our officers had their guns drawn and had barricaded that door, but [the attackers] had broken the glass, and we didn't know what was going to happen," Kildee said. "I called my wife, and as soon as I heard her voice, it just hit me that I was having that phone call you hear about. From the building that's about to collapse or from the airplanes going down."

PHOTO: Rep. Dan Kildee speaking at a press conference about the extension of federal unemployment benefits, July 24, 2020, in Washington.
Rep. Dan Kildee speaking at a press conference about the extension of federal unemployment benefits, July 24, 2020, in Washington.
Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA via AP, FILE

Kildee said he made a split-second decision to lie to his wife on the phone. He told her he was OK, even though the situation increasingly seemed dire. He worried about her worrying, he said.

A few minutes later, the congressman captured on video the sound of a single gunshot, as an officer staged outside the chamber fired on a rioter.

"Nobody ever thinks there's gonna be one gunshot and no more, and I figured, 'Well, this is it. This is going to be a shootout or something,'" Kildee said.

In total, five people died that day. More than 150 police officers were injured, many hospitalized with serious wounds and unable to return to work for months.

Kildee said he remembers lying on the floor of the balcony thinking back to his first visit to the Capitol as a teenager.

His first view of Congress had been from this spot, and he now wondered if it would be his last sight, too, he said.

"I grew up loving this institution, wanting to be a part of it. Finally getting here, feeling this incredible honor every time I walk into it," Kildee said. "And then to have people who are also Americans who not only don't feel that, who desecrated, who tried to literally try to tear it and what it stands for apart. That hurts me even today."

PHOTO: Rioters on the West Front at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.
Rioters on the West Front at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.
John Minchillo/AP, FILE

Kildee said both he and the Capitol have changed since last year.

In the days after the attack, the congressman said he could not sleep; he was irritable and not himself. A friend eventually urged him to receive counseling, which he credits for helping him cope with the trauma of that day. He said he still meets with several of his colleagues who were also in the gallery that day. They have an informal support group, he said.

Looking ahead to the one-year anniversary of the attack, Kildee, a Democrat, said he has lost respect for his many of his Republican colleagues who told lies about election fraud and objected to fair election results, which he believes directly inspired the events of that day.

He said he plans to be back at the Capitol on Jan. 6 this year, because he believes the most important thing about the attack last year was that Congress did came back and certify the results

"We finished our work over the objections of the majority of one of the two political parties in this country. If they had had their way, we would not have certified that election," Kildee said. "The insurrection would have succeeded."

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