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Q&A with Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman on Capitol riots and contracting COVID-19

Coleman headshot
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12)
Photo courtesy of Rep. Coleman


Bonnie Watson Coleman is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New Jersey’s 12th district, which includes Princeton, N.J. 

In a phone interview on Jan. 14, The Daily Princetonian spoke with her about the riots at the U.S. Capitol, Donald Trump’s second impeachment, and the incoming Biden administration.

The Daily Princetonian: My name is Naomi Hess. We’re grateful to have here with us today, Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, the member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New Jersey’s 12th district, which includes Princeton.  First of all, I’m so sorry to hear about your COVID-19 diagnosis. How are you feeling?  

Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman: Thank you, Naomi. I am feeling very good, actually. My symptoms have been like having a cold and a slight cough, and I'm pretty fatigued right now. But other than that, I've been fine, and I thank you for asking. I thank everybody for the many prayers that I've had. It's been incredible and very affirming for me.  

DP: I hope your recovery continues to go smoothly. As you wrote in The Washington Post, you believe you caught the virus while in hiding from the rioters in the Capitol on Jan. 6. Can you describe what it was like to be in the Capitol during this insurrection? What was going through your mind? 

BWC: You know, I wasn't processing it all at the instant time. I was walking down a hallway going to an office and I encountered a police officer who said to me, "You don't want to go down there, they're coming in." And I said, "Well, I need to go over here to this office." And he kind of shrugged his shoulders and walked away but he was walking away from where he was telling me not to go. I didn't really think anything. And then I walked a little farther down and the officer said, "Ma'am, you really don't want to go down there because they are breaching the Capitol." I said, "I really need to go down this hallway." And he stood in the way so I could go behind them and get where I was going. 


So I got down the hallway and I ended up sheltering in a small office, and there were about five of us. We had the door locked. I could hear the bedlam. I could hear what seemed like just chaos and disruption, and I'd hear things like the chanting of “USA, USA, USA.” It wasn't that far from where I was; it was at the next hallway. I was not privy to everything that was going on, because I was watching as well as I could on TV. And then I stayed there for a good couple of hours, and someone started knocking at the door and telling us that they had to move us. We asked him to show us their badge, and it was indeed the Capitol Police and the FBI. They moved us to what was a holding room, where they had other members. When I got there, I realized there are over 100 people there and some of them were members, and some of them were staff and some of those members of staff did not wear any masks. And we were there for a couple of hours while they cleared the Capitol.

DP: What would you like to say to those Republican colleagues who refused to wear a mask, even while you were all together in that packed room?

BWC: Well, I'd like to tell them shame on them that you didn't care about the well being of anyone else, that you are being arrogantly defiant, and that there should be consequences. You're ignoring the guidance that has come from the scientists, the guidance that has come from the attending physician's office, and the rules that were established by the Speaker of the House. 

You just cannot ignore those things, you cannot walk around as if it's only you, and you cannot deny facts, and the facts are that if you wear a mask you're protecting yourself and you're protecting others. That's your responsibility. We have a collective responsibility to one another, and they willfully ignored it.

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DP: You were one of 232 members of the House to vote to impeach President Donald Trump for the second time. I was wondering if you can explain your reasoning and your hope for the type of accountability the President should face.

BWC: Well, because he still is the President of the United States of America and every day that he serves in that position is a danger to the safety and security of our nation and individuals, and there must be accountability for what happened and what he did was he cited an insurrection against his own government. That's unprecedented. And that is a very serious, a dire, serious issue. If we allow a president of the United States to do that, and do nothing in response to it, then what do we do the next time a president decides to be above the law and do things as dangerous as he is doing? 

And so we have that responsibility. We need to do everything that we can to get him removed immediately. The Senate now has a responsibility to do what it must do and that is convict him. The Vice President of the United States should invoke the 25th Amendment, because by not doing so he's not upholding his oath to the office and his oath under the Constitution, and his promise to keep us safe and secure. So this is about our safety and security and making sure that this doesn't happen again.

DP: What are you most looking forward to accomplishing under the Biden administration?

BWC: Crushing the virus, getting everyone vaccinated, making sure we have protocols in place for the next time that there's any kind of a pandemic, dealing with the social justice issues from the law enforcement, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to the Voting Rights Act, making sure that we're overturning the environmental regulations that the president overturned from the Obama administration to keep us safer from pollution and things of that nature, getting us back to work, making sure that people who have been affected by COVID — be it businesses or individuals — are considered in the resources and the legislation that we try to pass to keep them healthy and to keep them in their homes and food on their tables while we get through this pandemic, just looking at the care and need of the individuals in this country — the majority of people that we are charged to protect — to do many of the opposite things that this administration has done for the last four years.

DP: It was such an honor to speak with you today. Have a great rest of your day, and feel better soon.

BWC: Thank you very much. Have a great day.