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Kildee furious with two Michigan GOP colleagues over election objections

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee laid down on the floor of the House gallery to shelter from pro-Trump rioters trying to storm the chamber Wednesday. 

Chaos reigned around him, with loud rapping on the doors, shouting and gunshots sounding from just outside the chamber below. 

Police officers drew their guns and pointed them at the insurgents trying to break through the chamber's central doors, which had been barricaded with heavy furniture. Kildee, a Flint Township Democrat, briefly shot video of police officers' standoff. 

"Everybody down! Everybody down!" an officer shouted in the clip. 

"I can't get down any further," Kildee said as he takes shelter behind the short wall lining the gallery. 

He was simultaneously fearful of the threat while keenly aware of where he was hiding, Kildee said later.

"I couldn't help but think that this is where people come to sit — in these very chairs — to watch this beautiful, elegant democracy play itself out," he said. "And here I am doing this. I just couldn't reconcile it."

The nation watched Wednesday as the insurgents broke into the Capitol, breached the Senate and tried to force their way into the House, where lawmakers were tallying Electoral College votes ahead of certifying President-elect Joe Biden's win.

Kildee, other lawmakers and members of the press were trapped in the gallery for about 20 minutes before they could be evacuated through underground tunnels to a secure location where they sheltered for about four hours before law enforcement secured the campus, he said. 

Still shaken hours later, Kildee was furious with his Republican colleagues who voted to object to disputed state’s election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania. Despite the delay caused by the rioters, Congress reconvened, resumed debate overnight voted both objections down, ratifying Biden's victory around 3:30 a.m. 

A screen grab from a CNN interview with Michigan Congressman Dan Kildee, Thursday, January 7, 2021.

Kildee blamed Wednesday's violence in part on politicians and on Trump and called for the president's removal.

He wants an apology from his GOP colleagues "until they come to reconcile their own wrongdoing," saying their support for Trump's attempt to overturn the election "added fuel to this raging mob."

Kildee, Michigan's senior House Democrat and chief deputy whip, said some of his GOP colleagues had explained they were supporting the effort to object to the election results "because they were afraid to say no to their Trump base."

"Their own political fortune is more important to them than the principles that have held this country together," he said in an overnight appearance on CNN. 

"Those members of Congress who supported this specious attack on the Electoral College vote will have their names permanently written in ink, and everyone should know those names," Kildee added. 

"I will never look at my colleagues who voted for these challenges, who fueled this insanity — I will never be able to look at them the same, and that includes some of my Michigan colleagues that I could not look in the eye today, when we were huddled in a safe place," he added. "I hope we remember those names forever."

Kildee was referring to Michigan Reps. Jack Bergman of Watersmeet and Tim Walberg of Tipton. Kildee said in an interview that he is going to have a hard time working with them going forward.  

“It’s just going to be more difficult because I lost respect for them. And I did have respect for them,” Kildee said.

“They will have to earn it back. They know better. They know it’s not true, and the only reason they signed up for this stuff is they are cowards and are afraid of the Trump base being mad at them," he added. "For them, it was pure political calculation." 

Kildee acknowledged it's unusual for a member of Congress, particularly within the Michigan delegation, to publicly criticize another member. 

"We normally extend certain courtesies to one another," Kildee said. "I'm sorry. They lost that." 

The offices of Walberg and Bergman pushed back Thursday, noting Kildee hadn't similarly condemned his Democratic colleagues who objected to the Electoral College results in 2017 when Trump won election. 

“Rep. Walberg has repeatedly and strongly condemned yesterday’s violence at the U.S. Capitol and will continue to call for civil debate," Walberg spokesman Dan Kotman said.

"It is shocking that a colleague in the delegation, who work together on Michigan-related issues, would not discuss this member to member before launching personal attacks in front of a TV camera." 

Tony Lis, Bergman's chief of staff, said the congressman shares Kildee's "unequivocal condemnation" of what happened at the Capitol on Wednesday.

"What he said on CNN is embarrassing and nothing short of gross partisanship — especially among members who work together regularly," Lis said.

"Rep. Kildee’s stand here is especially embarrassing considering his lack of having this same vocal opinion in 2016 of his Democrat colleagues who literally did the exact same thing. The General will continue to stand for election integrity and his constituents, regardless of political pressure.”

mburke@detroitnews.com