The smell of tear gas – familiar to him from his time in the military – greeted U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie as he walked through the halls of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday night.
The Bowling Green Republican hours earlier had left the Capitol and was set to return to vote to certify presidential election results when a mob of supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the building.
Because space in the House chamber was restricted because of the COVID-19 pandemic as deliberations began Wednesday on certifying results, “I came back to my office to watch the Senate” on television, Guthrie told the Daily News in a phone interview from Washington on Thursday morning.
Guthrie’s office is in a separate building from the Capitol.
“I was getting ready to go back” when the TV screens went blank. Then he received a message advising him to shelter in place.
While he was not witness to the looting and destruction in the Capitol, “we could see out our window” the Republican National Committee headquarters, where a bomb was found.
There were large groups milling about.
“We were concerned, as we should be,” said Guthrie, who distinguished the many peaceful protesters from the “violent mob” that stormed the Capitol.
Guthrie noted that many in the mob were taking selfies as they looted and vandalized the Capitol. Law enforcement “should be able to find them,” Guthrie said, “and hopefully they will be prosecuted.”
He said he was perplexed in the first place by the call for the protesters to come to Washington to fight against a set outcome.
“Since Democrats control the House (the effort to not certify the election results) would never succeed,” he said.
Trump “brought them here to get an outcome that couldn’t happen. ... Everyone knew the outcome, but he chose to bring people here.”
As a result, there are images and videos of the storming of the Capitol being shown around the world that “plays right into China and Russia,” Guthrie sad.
When the Capitol was finally cleared, Guthrie and his fellow legislators returned to the Capitol late Wednesday night.
“You could smell the tear gas,” said Guthrie, a West Point graduate and Army veteran.
Windows were broken and there were other signs of the vandalism and looting, but the House chamber was in relatively good condition.
“It was absolutely amazing,” he said of the hasty cleanup effort.
Guthrie said having legislators return that night and continue deliberations was important to show “you can’t stop the Constitution. I’m so glad we did convene.”
Early Thursday, Congress certified the election of Joe Biden as the next president.
It was the Constitution that also led Guthrie to vote to certify the results, and not join some Republicans who objected to the election results from certain states.
“The 12th Amendment is pretty clear” that the role of Congress is to only count and certify results, Guthrie said.
“If yesterday had prevailed, Congress will always elect a president,” he said. “It would amount to a federal takeover of state elections.”
He also noted that five of the six state legislatures in contested states have Republican legislatures that signed off on the results.
Sens. Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell joined all but one of Kentucky’s eight-member congressional delegation in voting against the election challenge. Rep. Hal Rogers of the 5th District was the lone representative from Kentucky to vote to challenge the election results.
In the aftermath of Wednesday’s events, some legislators have called for Trump’s impeachment or removal from office using the 25th Amendment of the Constitution, which allows for the removal of a president found to be unable to do his job.
“I don’t think we need to go down that path,” Guthrie said, noting that to accomplish either in “13 days is impractical.”
Instead, Guthrie said the focus should be on keeping government operational until Trump leaves office.
Amid a rash of people resigning from the White House in the wake of Wednesday’s events, Guthrie said it is critical that “everybody doesn’t resign” and government continues to operate amid a pandemic that has killed more than 360,000 Americans.
Guthrie was traveling back to Bowling Green on Thursday as Congress is in recess. He said he believes what should now happen is that representatives work with the executive branch staff on keeping governmental operations going.
Guthrie said he will specifically be focusing on vaccine rollout for the next few weeks.
In that effort, Guthrie said he hopes to work with state officials.
“Whatever Gov. (Andy) Beshear needs me to do,” he said.
– Follow Managing Editor Wes Swietek on Twitter @WesSwietek or visit bgdaily news.com.