Chaos shook the U.S. Capitol and the entire nation Wednesday, and Southwest Florida was no exception.
We spoke to former lawmakers in Southwest Florida about the assault on Capitol Hill. Former members of Congress say they remember always seeing a big police presence surrounding the Capitol, with metal detectors and security at every entrance to get in.
That’s why they are confused, saddened and disappointed fellow Americans could storm and endanger a place they once found so secure.
This is a stark contrast from the level of security three former Southwest Florida congressmen remember from their days at the Capitol.
“I never thought I would see something like this,” said Connie Mack IV, a former U.S. representative (R) for Florida’s 14th Congressional District. “It just really breaks my heart.”
“You just don’t walk into the Capitol,” said Porter Goss, a former U.S. representative (R) for Florida’s 14th Congressional District and the first and former director of the CIA. “There are all kinds of checks and balances and surveillance.”
Former Congressman Trey Radel says checks and balances and surveillance were some of the first things he learned about when he got to Capitol Hill.
“Capitol police give you an entire briefing on security protocols if something were to happen,” said Radel, a former U.S. representative for Florida’s 19th Congressional District. “You and your office have an actual box. It is referred to as a safety box, an escape box. It has an escape hood.”
It’s an escape Radel never had to use; however, some members of Congress did Wednesday, as they evacuated the Capitol Building.
Mack says lawmakers were not the only ones who were at risk.
“You’ve got parents who are trying to get to their children in day care,” Mack said. “It’s not just about members of Congress. You’ve got staff and staff families.”
Goss says he knows the Capitol has plenty of security, and the group could have been stopped.
“I think the decision was made to say, ‘OK, it’s not worth the physical confrontation to keep these people out of the Capitol. Let them come in,’” Goss said.
All former congressmen we spoke to said they had experiences with lockdowns or evacuations while they worked at the Capitol, but they’ve never seen anything quite like this, and all of them told us they hope to never see anything like this again.
Mack says, regardless of how rioters got in, there is work to do to keep everyone in the Capitol safe.
“A lot more needs to be done to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again,” Mack said.