Hawai‘i Rep. Ed Case Describes the Violent Attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021
Freshman Rep. Kai Kahele, along with Hawai‘i senators, calls for removal of President Donald Trump.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated on Jan. 7 at 12:30 p.m. to include Rep. Kai Kahele’s experience. Scroll down to find it below the original story.
Hawai‘i Rep. Ed Case was in his Congressional office monitoring the vote to certify the Electoral College certification of Joe Biden’s election on the House floor when Case realized a pro-Trump mob was attacking the U.S. Capitol. In a telephone interview, he says he, his staff and those of the other three members of the Hawai‘i Congressional delegation were all physically safe, but emotionally shaken.
He strongly condemned the actions that led to Wednesday’s violence:
“It’s just a very dark moment for our country and it’s been a very, for me, a range of emotions from anger to disgust to sorrow. Just really the disrespect of our country and the institutions, and especially at the fact that it was the senior leadership of our country that incited this to happen, because there’s no question that the actions of the president did incite this result.
“I’m not sure the president woke up this morning and said, I’m going to say some words that are going to lead to a physical assault on the Capitol and to injury and loss of life, but any reasonable person could have predicted that from his words and from his conduct that this was definitely a possibility.
“And I had some of my own colleagues who stood up on the floor of the House—and came much closer than even the president—to an outright suggestion of violence. For them to think that somehow their words at the senior leadership of our country would not matter, that this was not a result, I don’t know [whether] they consciously hoped it would happen or they were so ignorant that this was a possible result. It’s not something I can understand and I cannot accept that or in any way excuse it. So, there’s responsibility that goes well beyond the folks who actually carried it out.”
As of early evening in Washington, D.C., Case remained on standby, shaken but resolute and ready for the vote to resume if it could be done safely: “Our security folks don’t want us to say where we are, but I’m, you know, I’m in and around the Capitol and in a safe place.”
Here’s how the day unfolded for Case, who represents Hawai‘i District 1, urban Honolulu. He was re-elected in 2018 to that seat. He had previously served from 2002 to 2007 in the U.S. House.
This is an edited transcript of most of his phone interview with editor at large Robbie Dingeman:
Obviously this day is a critical day for any member of Congress, it’s our constitutional duty to review the results of the election and to provide the final certification, and so I was very much focused on that obligation that I had today. The debate over the certification was underway; we were, you know, in the middle of Arizona. So we were debating the Arizona results.
It was a very heated debate, obviously; there were thousands of protesters outside the Capitol, not too far from the Capitol, right on the east lawn, for the most part, and I was not on the floor, as was the case for most members of the Senate in the House because of COVID-19. Otherwise we would have all been on the floor of the House and the floor of the Senate to be listening to the debate. The instructions were not [to physically be there] unless you were an active participant so I was watching it and listening intently to a debate of this consequence.
As I was watching, I could tell that something was happening on the floor because people were acting in unusual ways on the floor and I could tell that the flow of the debate had been interrupted. I thought that there may have been somebody in the House chamber that had started protesting or yelling but what was unusual to me was, I knew that the House gallery, overlooking the chamber, that there were no folks there, so I didn’t know what was happening. I initially wondered whether it was one of my own colleagues that had lost it, but then it became very clear that there was just an outright violent assault going on in the Capitol. And it happened very fast from there.
So, it wasn’t the first thing that had happened but it was, it was certainly the ultimate thing that happened.
(Case says the security procedures kicked in, basically locking down members of Congress, accounting for all and telling them to stay in place as long as there was a threat. Even before the mob broke through security, Case says there had been already been several security alerts, including suspicious packages on the corner of the Capitol grounds that prompted evacuation one of the three main house office buildings.)
HONOLULU Magazine: You were in the Capitol Complex?
Ed Case: I was in my office at the time in one of the House office buildings. I could have walked to the House in five minutes or vice versa, somebody could have walked into my office in five minutes from the Capitol, and of course the Capitol was overrun, and people were hurt very severely. There’s a report now that one of the folks in the Capitol has died. I know for a fact that security officers were hurt, Capitol Police were hurt, staff members were hurt. This was not peaceful protest. This was violent assault and it resulted in severe injury and apparently loss of life.
HM: Could you hear anything from the outside?
EC: No, I wouldn’t hear it and I didn’t hear it, but I could certainly see it. I can go on the live feed and see what’s happening on the floor. That’s how I was tracking the debate. But then it switched pretty fast over to, you know, external live shots by the news media.
HM: Is everyone in your office OK?
EC: Everybody’s OK. I mean my staff is, by and large, teleworking. I have two brand new members of my staff; this is literally their third day on the job and they are physically in the office just because we want to, you know, get them started, oriented properly. And so, I’m sorry that their career on Capitol Hill started with this. Our congressional delegation is a pretty tight-knit family. We all checked in with each other to make sure that everybody was OK. So we were texting back and forth and making sure that, you know, [we were] all accounted for. Everybody was safe and OK other than for the emotional damage.
HM: So Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono and Rep. Kai Kahele were not directly in the area as far as you know?
EC: I suspect that they, like us on the House side, were instructed not to be on the floor, to be in the Capitol, as a COVID-19 public health precaution. We obviously have to go to the floor to actually vote. But other than that, there was no necessity for us to be there, in order to do our duty.
HM: What are the next steps?
EC: I expect us to finish our duty. I think we’re gonna go back in tonight. To do that, I think that we all feel a deep disappointment about what happened and I think this applies to the great majority of us, to include my Republican colleagues. We know that this was assault. This was an assault on democracy and an assault on our institutions. And I think we feel very strongly that we have to say in no uncertain terms that this government will continue. Nobody will bring it down, nobody will stop us from doing our constitutional duty that we respect the institutions and pillars of our government. And we’re going to carry out our duty even though this happened. And I think that’s the right thing to do. So I will find out soon. It’s clearly less about us wanting to do that and more about can we safely do it. Because, you know, the U.S. Capitol was just overrun by folks that, for all I know, were carrying guns, were carrying knives, were carrying other weapons, you know, possibly worse. There was no security measures as they punched out the windows and climbed through them and the doors, and so the Capitol has to be made safe and the Capitol Police have to feel correctly, that we can all resume.
This will not stand. And we’re going to make our decision and we will confirm what the result of the presidential election is and we will definitely stay on track to Inauguration Day.
HM: After that?
EC: I think there’s a much deeper discussion that has to occur across our country. That is, well-meaning Americans asking themselves, why did this just happen, because our democracy has been fraying around the edges for years now, even farther than the edges.
You can’t have this level of division and polarization and anger and disappointment and disrespect for our institutions and then tack on top of all of that, an outright assertion by the president of the United States that an election was fraudulent when there’s absolutely no indication or evidence that it was, as reflected by the folks that administer elections and the courts, and the vote itself. So, that is a consequence, and you can’t go down that road and expect that somehow that road will have a natural self-policing ending. This is where those kinds of roads go.
HM: Beyond tonight’s vote?
EC: Is this the wake-up call that we just can’t keep doing this to each other? I hope so, I believe so. That’s where I’m going to go. We’re going to do whatever we can do possibly to fulfill our duty and make our decision. And to make the statement to the country and to the world, that the United States Congress remains in fulfillment of our obligations and we’re going to get the job done.
Freshman Hawai‘i Rep. Kai Kahele is calling for the impeachment of President Donald Trump after he incited a mob of supporters to violently march on the U.S. Capitol. “The president is a national disgrace,” Kahele says. “Domestic terrorists attacked democracy.”
For Kahele, the chaotic assault stood starkly against the solemn although pandemic-muted start to his Congressional career. He started work in the U.S. House on Monday, was appointed to the Armed Services committee on Tuesday, and witnessed a violent mob attack on the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.
“It was total chaos and anarchy,” Kahele says, not a peaceful protest in a democracy. “It’s what we would see in a country that has no laws, in a country that has no rules.”
He says Trump’s call to the crowd in an outdoor speech Wednesday to march on the Capitol left him shaken, sad and angry. “One of the reasons I support impeaching the president is it would mean that he could never hold federal office again. And he should never hold federal office again. He has been a disgrace to the office of the presidency, and the health and safety and welfare of millions and millions of Americans, [with] his lack of response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Although he works as a commercial pilot, Kahele is also a veteran combat aviator who still serves in the Hawai‘i Air National Guard and has flown in Iraq and Afghanistan. Kahele was getting ready to head to the Capitol for the afternoon session when he heard that the mob had breached the Capitol in the chaos.
“At that point for me, the safest place was to stay where I was and stay with my wife and kids, make sure they were safe,” he says. He and his wife had traveled with their three daughters, ages 16, 6 and 4, so that they could witness the beginning of his term in Congress.
When HONOLULU Magazine reached Kahele, he had reached a secure location in the Capitol to participate in the vote to certify the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. “I’m sitting in the basement of the Capitol right now. There’s trash everywhere; windows are broken. The Capitol was disgraced today by white nationalists, white supremacists, and people that wanted to do our nation harm.”
Kahele is the second Native Hawaiian member elected to Congress since statehood. He said it was important for Congress to return swiftly to work: “It’s hard to take in, but the delegation is strong, your country is strong, the Congress is strong, the Capitol is safe, the Capitol is secure, we are here, we are back to work.”
Schatz and Hirono also called for Trump’s removal on Jan. 7, 2021. Schatz tweeted: “Trump is a danger to democracy itself. I took an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. We must both initiate impeachment proceedings in the House and invoke the 25th Amendment. Our vigilance must increase, not wane, in the final days. Hirono tweeted: “I join Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer in calling for Donald Trump’s immediate removal from office. If the House votes to impeach him, I’d welcome the chance to vote for his conviction a second time.”
In an email to supporters, Schatz wrote: “Yesterday was rough. It was a stress test for our democratic republic. And we passed. But let’s be honest. It was alarming, scary, and maddening to see the United States Capitol under siege. It is the stuff of bad television and far away autocracies, not the shining city on the hill. The good news is we came through it. The bad news is that the threats to American-style democracy remain.”