There Must Be Accountability

Mary Gay Scanlon
7 min readJan 12, 2021
Photo Credit: Creative Commons

Last week cemented the legacy of Donald Trump‘s presidency as the most destructive in our nation’s history, inflicting serious damage on our democratic institutions, our international standing, and our national psyche. Our task now is to prevent further damage and hold accountable those who participated in the attack on the US Capitol to make sure this kind of violent insurrection never happens again

I am on my way back to DC now to hold this president accountable and I just wanted to share my thoughts with you on the events that took place.

On January 6, 2020, I was prepared to join members of Congress to participate in the ceremonial counting of the certified results of the 2020 Presidential Election and confirm that the American people had decisively chosen President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to lead our nation.

Instead, Republican members of Congress chose to hijack this constitutional process and engage in a political charade to humor a president who has refused to concede that he lost both the popular and electoral college vote by wide margins. Those members decided to buy into the President’s desperate and increasingly unhinged claims that the results of the election were suspect, and, at his urging, challenged the duly certified electoral votes of several states that he had lost, including Pennsylvania.

One of the more bizarre aspects of the decision of the President’s GOP allies is that they were challenging the very ballots that secured their own elections. But the real evil of that decision is that their cowardly efforts to please a president who only considers his own self-interest fueled the flames of hatred and lies that caused the attack on the Capitol on Wednesday.

Last Wednesday, I spent the morning in (virtual) meetings with the Pennsylvania delegation and my staff to prepare our response to the baseless challenge to Pennsylvania’s electoral college votes. Though the President’s claims of illegal votes or fraud had been rejected by dozens of courts, including his hand-picked Supreme Court, we anticipated that his allies would challenge the electoral college votes of up to seven states. We also knew that the President had been urging his supporters to come to DC for “wild” protests on January 6, and that previous Trump rallies had resulted in late-night violence in DC, so I arrived at the Capitol with food and clothing for two days, in case I had to sleep over in my office.

It never occurred to me that I, or the people who work every day in our nation’s capital, would be in physical danger.

That realization quickly changed following the start of the electoral college ceremony

The electoral college ceremony began at 1:00 PM. At the other end of the mall, Trump and his allies were holding a rally in which they were repeating the lie that the election had been stolen from him via a variety of unproven conspiracy theories. I decided to watch via CSPAN in my office so that I could continue to work on my remarks, and because COVID restrictions limited the number of people in the chamber.

Arizona was the first state to which the President’s allies objected in the vote count. I leaned in to watch the arguments, but it quickly became apparent that something was wrong.

First, I started receiving emails that some nearby office buildings were being evacuated. Then, some of my colleagues and staff began texting photos and videos of people who had been at Trump’s rally breaking down metal protest barriers at the Capitol. While I was looking at those texts, the House debate stopped and Speaker Pelosi was taken to a more secure location. When debate resumed, Chairman Jim McGovern was in the Speaker’s Chair, and I noticed that some of the members who were speaking sounded nervous.

Suddenly, the House recessed and the screen went blank. My phone started blowing up with texts, emails, Facebook messages, and even LinkedIn inquiries, from family, friends, and colleagues asking what was going on, and if I was safe. I honestly didn’t know what was happening. I started receiving messages from security that there was an internal threat in the Capitol complex, that we should lock doors, move away from windows and doors, be quiet and turn off any devices that might alert the intruders to our whereabouts. This continued every half hour or so for the next eight hours.

My office does not face the Capitol, so it was difficult to directly observe what was happening. I could see Trump supporters walking on the street with their flags and MAGA hats, but saw little evidence of the violence and mayhem at the Capitol until busloads of police and the national guard started pulling up, and I heard explosions as the police detonated suspicious packages (some found to be containing explosive devices) in the area. After moving office furniture and copiers to create barricades in front of the doors, and assembling a cache of makeshift weapons, I spent the afternoon and early evening reassuring my family, answering messages, checking in with colleagues, and seeking more news.

Once the police and national guard gained control of the situation, my colleagues and I turned our focus to how soon we could resume the electoral college vote count. We all felt an urgency to finish the job that the rioters had tried to stop.

We weren’t sure if the halls were fully secured when the debate resumed around 9:00 PM, so I walked over to the Capitol with colleagues. While it is not unusual to see people in uniform on the Hill, now the halls were filled with members of the National Guard. I passed bruised and bandaged members of the Capitol Police and spoke with a young man who had suffered a concussion.

When we got to the House floor, my usual entrance was blocked. A woman was shot there when she and other rioters began breaking windows and doors to force their way into a room where members of Congress and staff were sheltering. Windows were also broken at the main entrance, where the President enters for the state of the union, but police in the chamber had been able to block that entrance and hold off the rioters until everyone was safely out. When I arrived at the House floor, the incredible staff members, most in their 20s, were back at their posts, but many looked truly distraught; one young staffer had red-rimmed eyes and appeared to be in shock.

We debated the trumped-up challenge to Pennsylvania’s electoral votes at about 2 am, and by 3:30 am, Joseph Biden had been declared the President-elect. Despite the trauma and shame of the day’s events, 139 Republican members of the House of Representatives and eight senators still voted to overturn the election.

In the days since the attack, we have learned a lot about why it happened. We know that the President encouraged his supporters to come to DC, and once there, he and his allies whipped them into a frenzy with a toxic mix of lies and disingenuous appeals to patriotism. Trump directed his supporters to march to the Capitol and fight to overturn the electoral college votes. He told them that the Vice President had betrayed him and, in doing so, placed at risk the lives of the Vice President, his family, every member of Congress, and the hundreds of people who go to work on the Hill every day. And when the violence of the attack became clear, he failed to call off his mob for hours or to take other action to defend our government. Instead, he told the mob that he loved them, repeated his lies about a stolen election, and continued his efforts to overturn the clear will of the people.

Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol has now claimed the lives of at least six people, including two brave Capitol Police officers who fought to protect our democracy. Dozens more were seriously injured. Congressional employees, including young aides, custodians, and cafeteria workers, were traumatized. But for the bravery of some key individuals and a lot of luck, it could have been much worse. But for the COVID pandemic, there would have been thousands of visitors, and staff, in the Capitol too.

I want to thank everyone who has reached out for your words of kindness for myself, my staff, and my colleagues. Your messages and calls of concern and support meant so much to all of us during this incredibly challenging time. But even more, I want to thank you for your recognition that this was wrong.

Wednesday was one of the darkest days in our nation’s history, the culmination of our founders’ darkest fears, in which a president led an attack against our own government, aided and abetted by the dangerous rhetoric and actions of members of Congress, and carried out by a mob convinced that their actions were justified because the president lied to them.

This president is a clear and present danger to our country and he must be removed from office, as soon as possible. I have called for his immediate removal through either resignation, invocation of the 25th Amendment, or impeachment.

There must be accountability — and I will do everything in my power to hold those responsible accountable.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.



Mary Gay Scanlon

Mary Gay Scanlon currently serves a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Pennsylvania’s 5th Congressional District.