Unlike many of his congressional colleagues, Rep. Andy Kim, D-N.J., was in his office in a separate federal building when President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday afternoon. So he didn’t actually see the damage live until nearly midnight, after the House had voted down the last challenge to the presidential election result.
When he finally did walk around the rotunda — his favorite and arguably the most storied room of the building — the disarray left him speechless. Water bottles, broken furniture, tattered Trump flags and pieces of body armor and clothing were strewn on the marble floor as if it were an abandoned parking lot.
“I was just overwhelmed with emotion,” Kim, 38, told NBC Asian America. “It’s a room that I love so much — it’s the heart of the Capitol, literally the heart of this country. It pained me so much to see it in this kind of condition.”
So for the next hour and a half, he crouched down and filled a half dozen trash bags with debris. When he finished cleaning up the rotunda, he began working on the adjacent rooms, including the National Statuary Hall and the Capitol crypt downstairs.
Then he returned to the House floor to debate Pennsylvania’s vote count, a session that lasted until 3 a.m. By Thursday evening, he’d been awake for more than 36 hours.
On a day in which video of mayhem and bloodshed inundated social media, a widely shared photograph of Kim, alone on his knees, picking up the final pieces of garbage in a nearly empty rotunda, was a radical break from — and rejection of — the violent impulses that drove the country to the brink of collapse. Many people labeled him a “true patriot.” While Kim said he didn’t dwell much on the symbolic heft of his actions, the term was on his mind.
“I feel blessed to have this opportunity as a son of immigrants to be able to serve in Congress,” he said. “Democracy to me is this place of opportunity that is affording me a chance to do something extraordinary.”
In 2018, Kim became the first Asian American to represent New Jersey in Congress, flipping a predominantly white district that voted for Trump in 2016 and did so again in 2020. (Kim won re-election in November despite voting to impeach the president last year.)
The irony of a history-making Korean American lawmaker dusting up after a white supremacist riot is not lost on Kim. But he also pointed to the progress that’s been made.
“I represent a district where the vast majority of people do not look like me,” he said. “But they’ve voted for me twice now to be their representative, and that’s a beautiful thing. There are others who seek to make me seem like an ‘other’ whether it’s because of skin color, or gender, or sexuality. But that’s not what this is about. We’re all Americans.”