Fighting through tears, Rep. Rashida Tlaib described her first memory of Congress. “On my very first day of orientation, I got my first death threat,” she said. “I didn’t even get sworn in yet and someone wanted me dead for just existing.”
The death threats kept coming, Tlaib said, speaking at a special floor session Thursday night organized by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who placed a hand on her back to comfort her.
“One celebrating, in writing, the New Zealand massacre and hoping that more would come. Another mentioned my dear son Adam, mentioning him by name,” she said, choking up at the thought of her teenage son.
“So, I urge my colleagues to please, please take what happened on Jan. 6 seriously,” the Michigan Democrat said. “It will lead to more death. And we can do better. We must do better.”
Tlaib wasn’t in the building during the sacking of the Capitol on Jan. 6, she said, but as she got word of what was happening, it felt like a continuation of years of fear. Her first thought was, “Thank God I’m not there.”
Ocasio-Cortez organized the special floor session so several lawmakers could recount their personal experiences of the mob attack. It came after she shared her own account with more than 150,000 viewers on Instagram Live on Monday night, vividly describing the terror she felt when a police officer came to escort her to a secure location yelling, “Where is she?” At first she thought it was a rioter with violent intentions. “This was the moment where I thought everything was over,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
She compared the lingering psychological damage inflicted during the attack to the mental anguish survivors of sexual assault may carry as they wonder if they will be believed.
“I’m a survivor of sexual assault,” she said, publicly revealing that for the first time. When Republicans like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas downplay the gravity of the storming, she hears the same tactics that abusers use to try to browbeat their targets into silence, Ocasio-Cortez said.
On the floor Thursday, she pleaded with Republicans to address what happened a month ago, instead of rushing out of political expediency to move past the dark stain on the nation’s history.
“Twenty-nine days ago, food service workers, staffers, children ran or hid for their lives from violence deliberately incited by the former president of the United States,” she said. “Sadly, less than 29 days later, with little to no accountability for the bloodshed and trauma of the 6th, some are already demanding that we move on or worse — attempting to minimize, discredit or belittle the accounts of survivors.”
After her lengthy live-streamed confessional earlier in the week, some conservatives mocked Ocasio-Cortez and accused her of embellishing her experience of the Capitol attack that left five dead, including Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick.
Ocasio-Cortez turned it into a teaching moment, gathering eight of her Democratic colleagues to share their own experiences. Dean Phillips of Minnesota described hearing screams and glass breaking that day.
“We know what it feels like thinking that it’s a real possibility that we would not see our families and loved ones again,” he said, voice cracking. “We won’t forget. We won’t forget.”
Phillips described yelling to his fellow Democrats to get over to the other side of the chamber so they could pose as Republicans and possibly be spared by the insurrectionists. But then he realized that while he could blend in with the largely white GOP conference as a white man, his colleagues of color couldn’t so easily do the same. He apologized for not understanding that sooner.
As rioters got closer to the House chamber on Jan. 6 and panic began to set in, Phillips was also overheard shouting a message directly at Republicans: “This is because of you.”
No Republicans participated Thursday night, though many were clearly just as shaken from the attack as their Democratic peers in the immediate aftermath. In the days since, the party line has coalesced around moving on, blaming the assault on the mob while ignoring their peers who cheered it on before things turned violent.
The special floor session was reminiscent of one Ocasio-Cortez held in July after a tense interaction with Florida Republican Rep. Ted Yoho, who allegedly called her a “f—— b—-” while berating her after a vote.
Afterward, Yoho offered an explanation for the incident instead of contrition. “The offensive name-calling, words attributed to me by the press, were never spoken to my colleagues, and if they were construed that way I apologize for the misunderstanding,” he said from the floor.
Ocasio-Cortez dismissed that as a non-apology and instead used the incident to highlight a pattern of sexism in American politics, with a cavalcade of Democratic colleagues echoing her on the floor.