Rep. Ruben Gallego

Rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol Wednesday, Jan. 6—delaying the Congressional certification of the Electoral College—may have been fortunate not to break into Rep. Ruben Gallego’s location. 

The Democrat who represents parts of Phoenix, Glendale and Tolleson, is a U.S. Marine Corps combat veteran.

As he hunkered down with other members of Congress, Gallego assessed his limited resources and came up with a plan.

 “I had a pen. If anyone broke in, my plan was get that pen and jab it into somebody’s eye,” Gallego said, in an interview with the West Valley View two days later.

“And if they had a weapon, disarm them and start shooting my way out.” 

Gallego has been praised by many for keeping his cool during what he now calls “an insurrection.” He instructed members how to use gas masks they were given—and guided stranded journalists (who were not allowed into the safe area where Gallego and other representatives were) to the safety of his nearby office.

Hours later, when the rioters were expelled and order restored, Gallego used floor time at the House of Representatives chamber to passionately speak against Rep. Paul Gosar’s objection to Arizona electoral votes.

Gallego urged Republicans to “save your souls” and reject Gosar’s proposal.

Republican Debbie Lesko represents the 8th Congressional District, which includes parts of Goodyear, Litchfield Park, Glendale and Peoria, where she lives.

She did not buy Gallego’s arguments.

“After much deliberation and consultation with constitutional attorneys, I decided to agree with the objection to Arizona’s electors,” Lesko said.

In an emailed statement, she said in its election policies and procedures, “Arizona violated state law, and thus the United States Constitution ... In line with upholding my oath to follow the U.S. Constitution, I voted to agree with the objection to Arizona’s electors.”

The House voted 303-121 against the objection and Arizona’s electoral votes for Joe Biden were certified.

Lesko stressed she did not agree with the violent takeover.

“The events (Jan. 6) at the U.S. Capitol were tragic and disturbing. Civil discourse and passionate debate have a place in our democracy, but violence and anarchy are never the answer,” Lesko said.

Gallego in action

According to a biography on his website, “Congressman Gallego enlisted in the Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq in 2005 as an infantryman, serving with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines. His company saw some of the worst fighting of the Iraq War, losing 22 Marines and a Navy Corpsman to enemy action in eight months.”

On Jan. 6, his combat experience helped him stay calm and lead through the chaos, he said.

When he first heard a disturbance, “I was frustrated because we wanted to finish this and make sure democracy wasn’t being interrupted,” Gallego said.

“At some point, I could see people trying to smash through the doors, security trying to hold them up. I feared for my colleagues.

“It was survival at that point. I wanted to make sure my friends were safe and I was safe,” Gallego said. 

Security instructed members of Congress to duck under chairs and prepare to put on gas masks.

“I wasn’t sure how bad it was. With all the unknowns, my adrenaline was pumping,” Gallego said.

“But that’s what you’re supposed to do when you lead people: You need to be calm, give instructions and be clear.”

As the New York Times wrote, “Rep. Ruben Gallego, Democrat of Arizona and a veteran, jumped on the arm rests of chairs and began directing members to move calmly and quickly from the chamber.”

He also advised his peers how to put on the gas masks.  

Minutes later, elected officials were escorted from the main assembly hall to safe areas.

“Members and reporters were being escorted to (a safe area)—or so I thought. But then a guard at the door stopped reporters from entering: ‘No press,’” wrote Olivia Beavers, a Politico reporter.

“Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) stepped in to defend us and pressed the guard to let us in. But the guard didn’t budge. As we stood confused and trying to figure what to do next in an open hallway, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) offered us his office, where I went with five other reporters until we got the all clear hours later. We are all very grateful for your help, Congressman.” 

Two days later, Gallego bristled at the use of the word “riot.”

“It wasn’t a demonstration, it wasn’t a riot. It was an insurrection,” Gallego said.

“It was an actual attempt by those terrorists to kidnap (leaders) and take over.”

Split remains

While Gallego and Lesko were united in survival mode, a chasm between their beliefs remains.

Gallego said he blames the Capitol takeover on “All Republicans feeding the belief that somehow elections were stolen and the only recourse was violence.”

He joined those who placed blame at the top of leadership.

“We’re going to impeach the president,” Gallego said, shortly before repeating his message on MSNBC. “We need to make sure he doesn’t stay in power.”

On Twitter, Lesko said anyone looking for impeachment was “adding fuel onto the fire. People are already at (a) breaking point and upset.”