Kinzinger reflects on dark day at Capitol


WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger heard flash bang grenades exploding outside his office in Washington D.C. as large numbers of insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6.

The Republican, who is in his fifth term representing Illinois’ 16th District, said he had a feeling the events that took place that day could take an ugly turn. The day started as expected, with Kinzinger and his congressional colleagues entering the House chamber around 1 p.m. for a Joint Session to certify the results of the 2020 election, which saw Democratic President-elect Joe Biden defeat Republican President Donald Trump.

When Kinzinger returned to his office, he began seeing tensions flare on social media, with some people on Twitter directing comments specifically toward him. After speaking to his wife on the phone, Kinzinger sensed that actions outside the Capitol were turning for the worse.

“I could see a little of the crowd, but I felt a real dark and evil sense coming over the place,” Kinzinger said during a recent phone interview. “I’m not one of those guys who feels that all of the time, but that’s the best way I could describe it. When I heard the Capitol alarm, which I’ve only heard twice in my 10 years, and I heard the panic from the narrator’s voice that we needed to shelter in place, I knew things were going to get pretty bad, so I locked myself in my office and told my staff not to come in.”

Kinzinger, who said he expressed his concerns about how events could transpire on Jan. 6 to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, added he typically carries a weapon on him everywhere but the Capitol building. That changed on Jan. 6, with Kinzinger deciding to bring his weapon into the Capitol because he felt he may have needed to defend himself if tensions escalated.

“I have profound sadness for that day,” Kinzinger said. “I think we realized how fragile democracy is. The vast majority of people out there had no intention of doing this, but the whole narrative of why everybody was out there was because of misinformation and the idea the election was stolen in the face of any proof. I could go along with that narrative because it’s an easy political decision, but I also know the deep ramifications of making that decision.”

The insurrection at the Capitol building resulted in the House of Representatives impeaching Trump for the second time in his presidency, something that hasn’t happened to any other president in American history. It was also the most bipartisan impeachment in history, with 10 Republicans, including Kinzinger, who represents over 700,000 Illinoisans in the 16th Congressional District, voting to impeach Trump this past week for inciting insurrection.

“I voted for the president during the election, but as we got past the election, I saw the massive increase in misinformation,” Kinzinger said. “I predicted multiple times that there’d be violence on Jan. 6. When Jan. 6 happened, I matched the president’s words during his speech and the president’s accusations of a stolen election and I couldn’t come to any conclusion other than what happened at the Capitol was an insurrection and the president played a significant role.”

Kinzinger noted that the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 persons in the presidential line of succession (Vice President Mike Pence, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate President Pro Tempore Chuck Grassley) were under attack as a result of the Jan. 6 insurrection. Kinzinger also noted how Trump’s action on Twitter and his refusal to mobilize the military on Jan. 6 played a role in his vote to impeach the president, who was ultimately impeached with a 232-197 vote.

“I know it's not an easy political decision, but on things like this, I’ve made it clear to myself and the people I represent that my ultimate oath is to the people of the district and the Constitution,” Kinzinger emphasized. “The first impact of what happened on Jan. 6 to me was the recognition of how fragile our democracy is. Our democracy survived that day, but we saw how close it came to not. The second impact was knowing this would be one of the things our history books write about [Trump]. From second-hand accounts, the president knows that and he’s sad about that.”

With the House voting to impeach Trump, who left office on Jan. 20, the Senate will begin a trial to debate and decide whether or not Trump should be convicted. Two-thirds of the Senate must vote in favor in order to convict Trump, who was acquitted after his first impeachment. While the trial will not be completed before Trump leaves office and Biden is sworn in, Kinzinger said he hopes to see a fair trial that fully analyzes what happened during the Jan. 6 events.

“I’d like to see our senators make decisions based on merits and not on politics,” Kinzinger said. “I actually think there’s a decent chance enough senators will vote to convict, which would prevent him from running again. I think it’s an important step, and I don’t know if that’s what will happen, but over time, I think it would be seen as the right thing to do and I think the longer time passes until the Senate trial starts, it’s probably more likely there will be enough senators.”

With the Biden administration now in place, Kinzinger said he hopes to see congressional leaders on both sides return to a more normal sense of diplomacy.

“I want to see an attempt to calm down rhetoric and get back to professional disagreements,” Kinzinger said. “I’ll disagree with the Biden administration on a lot of things, but I’ll do so in a way I think is reflective of the great past of how we do politics and not necessarily the present. Hopefully there are areas where we can work together. One area would be actually getting an infrastructure bill done. I’m willing to work with the administration when I can and when I have to oppose the administration, I’ll do so in a professional and upright manner. I’m not going to adapt to the politics of personal destruction, conspiracies and stoking division.”