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Unprecedented Die-offs, Melting Ice: Climate Change Is Wreaking Havoc in the Arctic and Beyond




Forces profound and alarming are reshaping the upper reaches of the North Pacific and Arctic oceans, breaking the food chain that supports billions of creatures and one of the world’s most important fisheries.

In the last five years, scientists have observed animal die-offs of unprecedented size, scope and duration in the waters of the Beaufort, Chukchi and northern Bering seas, while recording the displacement and disappearance of entire species of fish and ocean-dwelling invertebrates. The ecosystem is critical for resident seals, walruses and bears, as well as migratory gray whales, birds, sea lions and numerous other animals.

Historically long stretches of record-breaking ocean heat and loss of sea ice have fundamentally changed this ecosystem from bottom to top and top to bottom, say researchers who study its inhabitants. Not only are algae and zooplankton affected, but now apex predators such as killer whales are moving into areas once locked away by ice — gaining unfettered access to a spoil of riches.

Scientists describe what’s going on as less an ecosystem collapse than a brutal “regime shift” — an event in which many species may disappear, but others will replace them.

“You can think of it in terms of winners and losers,” said Janet Duffy-Anderson, a Seattle-based marine scientist who leads annual surveys of the Bering Sea for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center. “Something is going to emerge and become the more dominant species, and something is going to decline because it can’t adapt to that changing food web.”

A team from The Times traveled to Alaska and spoke with dozens of scientists conducting field research in the Bering Sea and high Arctic to better understand these dramatic changes. Their findings suggest that this vast, near-polar ecosystem — stable for thousands for years and resilient to brief but dramatic swings in temperature — is undergoing an irreversible transition.

“It’s like the gates of hell have been opened,” said Lorenzo Ciannelli, a fisheries oceanographer at Oregon State University, referring to a once ice-covered portion of the Bering Sea that has largely disappeared.

Since 2019, federal investigators have declared unexplained mortality events for a variety of animals, including gray whales that migrate past California and several species of Arctic seals. They are also examining large die-offs — or “wrecks,” as avian biologists call them — in dozens of seabird species including horned puffins, black-legged kittiwakes and shearwaters.

At the same time, they are documenting the disappearance of the “cold pool” — a region of the northern Bering Sea that for thousands of years has served as a barrier that protects cold-water species, such as Arctic cod and snow crab, from subarctic species, such as walleye pollock and Pacific cod. In the last five years, many of these Arctic species have almost entirely disappeared from the northern Bering, while populations of warmer-dwelling fish have proliferated.

In 2010, a federal survey estimated there were 319,000 metric tons of snow crab in the northern Bering Sea. As of this year, that number had dropped by more than 75%. Meanwhile, a subarctic fish, the Pacific cod, has skyrocketed — going from 29,124 metric tons in 2010 to 227,577 in 2021.

Whether the warming has diminished these super-cold-water species or forced them to migrate elsewhere — farther north or west, across the U.S.-Russia border, where American scientists can no longer observe them — remains unclear. But scientists say animals seem to be suffering in these more distant polar regions too, according to sporadic reports from the area.

Kodiak, like many communities in Alaska, depends on the health of the region’s fisheries for commercial, recreational and subsistence fishing.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Which gets to the basic challenge of studying this ecosystem: For so long, its remoteness, freezing temperatures and lack of winter sunlight have made the region largely inaccessible. Unlike in temperate and tropical climates, where scientists can obtain reasonably accurate population counts of many species, the Arctic doesn’t yield its secrets easily. That makes it hard to establish baseline data for scores of species — especially those with little commercial value.

“That part is really frustrating,” said Peter Boveng, who studies Arctic seals for NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center. He said he and his colleagues wonder if the information they are now gathering is truly baseline data, or has already been shifted by years of warming.

Only recently have he and other scientists had the technology to conduct these kinds of counts — using cameras instead of observers in airplanes, for instance, or installing sound buoys across the ice and sea to capture the movement of whales, seals and bears.

“We’re only just beginning to understand what is happening up there,” said Deborah Giles, a killer whale researcher at the University of Washington’s Center for Conservation Biology. “We just couldn’t be there or see things in the way a drone can.”

The dramatic shifts that Giles, Boveng and others are observing have ramifications that stretch far beyond the Arctic. The Bering Sea is one of the planet’s major fishing grounds — the eastern Bering Sea, for instance, supplies more than 40% of the annual U.S. catch of fish and shellfish — and is a crucial food source for thousands of Russians and Indigenous Alaskans who rely on fish, birds’ eggs, walrus and seal for protein.

“Globally, cold-water ecosystems support the world’s fisheries. Halibut, all of the cod, all of the benthic crabs, lobsters…. This is the majority of the food source for the world,” said NOAA’s Duffy-Anderson.

The potential ripple effect could shut down fisheries and leave migrating animals starving for food. These include gray whales and short-tailed shearwaters — a bird that travels more than 9,000 miles every year from Australia and New Zealand to feed in the Arctic smorgasbord before flying home.

“Alaska is a bellwether for what other systems can expect,” she added. “It’s really just a beginning.”


Flying along the southeastern coastline of Alaska’s Kodiak Island, Matthew Van Daele — wearing a safety harness tethered to the inside a U.S. Coast Guard MH-60T Jayhawk — leaned out the helicopter door, scanning the beaches below for dead whales and seals.

The clouds hung low, so the copter hugged close to the sandstone cliffs that rise from this green island, which gets about 80 inches of rain and 60 inches of snowfall every year. Although few dead animals were spotted on this September afternoon, plenty of furry brown Kodiak bears could be seen bounding across open fields and along the beaches, trying to escape the ruckus of the approaching chopper.

Matthew Van Daele, left, checks on a dead gray whale he spotted during an aerial survey around Kodiak Island. Joe Sekerak stands by with a rifle in case any Kodiak bears object to their presence.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

“There’s one!” yelled Van Daele, natural resources director for the Sun’aq Tribe, speaking through the intercom system to the chopper’s pilots as he pointed to a rotting whale carcass on the beach.

The pilots circled and deftly landed on a little strip of sand, careful to keep the rotor blades from hitting the eroding wall of rock on the beach’s edge.

Joe Sekerak, a NOAA enforcement officer, jumped out after Van Daele, holding a rifle should hungry Kodiak bears arrive to challenge the small team in its attempt to examine the whale carcass.

According to Van Daele, the whale had been dead several weeks; her body was in poor shape, with little fat.

Since 2019, hundreds of gray whales have died along North America’s Pacific coastline, many appearing skinny or underfed.

Although researchers have not determined the cause of the die-off, there are ominous signs something is amiss in their high Arctic feeding grounds.

Gray whales have one of the longest migrations of any mammal and have proved themselves adaptable. But can they adjust to rapidly changing oceans?

“We’re used to change around here,” said Alexus Kwatchka, a commercial fisherman who has navigated Alaskan waters for more than 30 years. He noted some years are cold, some are warm; sometimes all of the fish seem to be in one area for a few years, and then resettle elsewhere.

This fall has been extremely cold in Alaska; the town of Kotzebue, in the northwest, hit minus-31 degrees on Nov. 28 — the record low for that date. This follows several years of record-setting warmth in the region.

What is new, said Kwatchka, is the persistence of this change. It’s not like it gets super warm for one or two years and then goes back to normal, he said. Now the changes last, and he said he’s encountering things he’s never seen before — such as gray whales feeding along the beaches of Kodiak, or swimming in packs.

“Usually there are whales just scattered around the island,” he said. “But I’ve seen them kind of bunched up and podded up, and I’m seeing them in places where I don’t ordinarily see them.”

A gray whale off Kodiak Island in Alaska. (Kevin Bierlich / Oregon State University)

In September, an emaciated young male gray whale was seen off a beach near Kodiak, behaving as though it were trying to feed, scooping material from the shallow shore bottom and filtering it through his baleen, a system many leviathans use to separate food from sand and water.

Three weeks later, that same young male washed ashore dead, not far from where he had been spotted previously.

Dozens of scientists validated Kwatchka’s observations, describing these periods of intense ocean heat and cooling as “stanzas,” which are growing more extreme and lasting longer than those of the past.

That’s a problem, said Duffy-Anderson, because the longer you stress a system, the deeper and broader the impacts — and therefore the harder for it to bounce back.

While it’s always possible the current stanza is temporary and the ecosystem could reset itself, “that is unlikely,” said Rick Thoman, an Alaska climate specialist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

As a diver and photographer, I feel an urgency to document the Arctic’s vulnerable ice, which is vanishing due to climate change.

Due to atmospheric warming, the world’s oceans hold so much excess heat that it’s improbable the Chukchi Sea will ever be covered again with thick, multiyear ice, he said. Nor will we see many more years where the spring ice extends across the Bering, he said.

Even though Nome saw one of its coldest Novembers in 100 years of record keeping, and King Salmon — a town of roughly 300 near Katmai National Park and Preserve — recorded its all-time lowest November temperatures, “the escalator of warming is going up,” Thoman said.

He conjured up an image of a 5-year-old running up and down an ascending escalator. “Somebody standing off of the escalator might say, oh, it looks like the kid is going down. But as we know, the escalator is continuing to go up.”

“What we’ve seen in the Bering Sea in recent years is,” he added, “unprecedented.”


A Kodiak bear ventures close to town on Kodiak Island, Alaska.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Lee Cooper and Jackie Grebmeier, researchers at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, have visited these waters every year since the 1980s, when they were graduate students at the University of Alaska. Their initial proposal centered on one basic question: What makes these Arctic-like waters of the northern Bering Sea so productive?

It was tough work. So much of the ocean was frozen, and therefore inaccessible. Other researchers faced the same challenge.

“When we started out, we couldn’t get north into the Bering Strait area because of ice until mid-June,” said Kathy Kuletz, a bird biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who has been researching the northern Bering Sea and high Arctic since 2006 and studying Alaskan birds since 1978. “Even then, it wasn’t until late June that you could get into the Chukchi. And that’s certainly not been the issue … since, let’s see, about 2015 or so.”

Researchers are focused on ice — or the lack of it — because the frozen ocean is the foundation of the region’s rich ecosystems. It not only keeps the waters beneath it cool, but a layer of algae grows on the underside of these ice sheets — the key to the entire food web.

For eons, as the sun moved south in autumn and the temperatures dropped in the high latitudes, Arctic sea ice thickened near the North Pole. At its edges, it reached its frosty fingers into the inlets along the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, winding its way south through the Bering Strait and into the northern Bering Sea. By March, the northern Bering Sea was typically a vast field of white ice, its edges marked by broken sheets that had been pushed into a vertical position by whipping winds and churning currents below.

But for the last 50 years, as the region’s warm stanzas have increased in duration and intensity, that seasonal ice has dwindled.

A 2020 study published in the journal Science documented a reduction in ice extent unlike any other in the last 5,500 years: Its extent in 2018 and 2019 was 60% to 70% lower than the historical average. In an Arctic report card released just this week, federal scientists called the region’s changes “alarming and undeniable.”

A herd of sea lions gathers on the rocks along Kodiak Island’s shoreline.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Long before the sea was named for the 18th century Danish cartographer and Russian naval explorer Vitus Jonassen Bering, the icy water body consisted of two distinct ecosystems — one subarctic, the other resembling the high Arctic. Fish in the subarctic zone — such as Pacific cod — were deterred by the frigid temperatures of the cold pool, which hover just below 32 degrees. But other fish — such as Arctic cod, capelin and flatfish — evolved to thrive in this environment, with the cold pool serving as a protective barrier.

Now that “thermal force field” has all but vanished.

Lyle Britt, director of the Resource Assessment and Conservation Engineering division of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, leads annual trawl surveys in the Bering Sea, part of a U.S. effort to systematically monitor commercial fish populations and their ecosystems. The federal government has conducted a survey of the eastern Bering Sea every year since 1982 — with the exception of 2020, when COVID grounded the personnel and boats. Federal surveying of the northern Bering Sea began in 2010 amid concerns about the loss of seasonal sea ice; the government has surveyed it a total of five times.

With each survey, Britt and his mariner colleagues navigate the sea as if tracing over the same piece of graph paper, year after year, with 520 evenly dispersed stations at 20-mile intervals. At each one — 376 in the eastern Bering Sea and 144 in the northern Bering Sea — they stop to collect environmental data, such as bottom- and surface-water temperatures, as well as a sampling of fish and invertebrates, which they count and weigh.

Matthew Van Daele scans the beaches below during an aerial survey of gray whales and other species around Kodiak Island.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Data from a Bering Sea mooring shows the average temperature throughout the water column has risen markedly in the last several years: in 2018, water temperatures were 9 degrees above the historical average.

Not only have the scientists noticed, so too have the fish.

Consider the plight of the walleye pollock — also known as Alaska pollock — one of the region’s most important fisheries.

While adult walleye pollock are averse to super cold water, juveniles are known to gravitate to the interior of the cold pool. In this protective chilly dome, the young fish are not only walled off from cold-hating predators, but as their metabolisms slow in the frigid temperatures, they can gorge on and grow from the Arctic ecosystem’s fatty, rich food sources.

With the cold pool gone, “there’s no refuge” for small fish seeking to grow big, said Duffy-Anderson. “Instead, the adult fish can now move into those spaces.”

So what has happened to the Arctic fish? Have they just moved north, following the cold water?

It’s not that simple, said Britt. The northern Bering Sea is very shallow. When ice is not there to cover it, it warms up quickly — and can exceed temperatures detected in the subarctic southern Bering Sea.

Freshly caught halibut and a lingcod seen from above on a Kodiak dock.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

“So we don’t fully understand all the implications of why the fish are moving in the directions and patterns that they are,” he said. But in some places — particularly the places that once harbored cold-loving fish such as Arctic cod and capelin — they are just gone.

In a healthy Arctic system, thousands of bottom-dwelling species — bottom fish, clams, crabs and shrimp-like critters — feast on the lipid-rich algae that falls from the ice to the bottom of the sea. But in a warm-water system, the algae gets taken up in the water column, said Duffy-Anderson.

The healthy system is highly energy-efficient — with sediment-dwelling invertebrates and bottom fish feeding on the rain of algae, and then birds and large-bodied mammals, such as walrus and whales, scooping them up.

“One of the things I’m really concerned about is … that the whole food web dynamic kind of comes apart,” she said. As warmer waters and animals infiltrate the system, “you put more links in the food chain, and then less and less of that energy is transferred efficiently. And that is what we’re beginning to see.”

Ice is also essential habitat for some Arctic mammals. As with gray whales, several types of ice seals — which include ringed, spotted and bearded seals — started showing up skinny or dead around the Chukchi and Bering seas in 2018, spurring a federal investigation. These Arctic-dwelling species rely on sea ice to pup, nurse and molt. Without it, they spend more time in the cold water, where they expend too much energy. Young seals are particularly vulnerable; their chances for survival plummet without the ice, said the Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s Boveng.

The U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy on a 2018 research cruise in the Chukchi Sea. Warming waters have meant not only the loss of habitat, but the introduction of harmful species including toxic algae and killer whales.
(Devin Powell / National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

There are also reports of killer whales — also known as orcas— showing up in areas they haven’t been spotted before, feeding on beluga whales, bowheads and narwhals, said Giles, the University of Washington orca researcher.

“They are finding channels and openings through the ice, and in some cases preying on animals that have never seen killer whales before,” she said.

Climate scientists worldwide have long warned that as the planet warms, humans and wildlife will become more vulnerable to infectious diseases previously confined to certain locations and environments. That dynamic could be a factor in the massive die-off of birds in the Bering Sea — experts estimate at least tens of thousands of birds have died there since 2013.

The culprit was avian cholera, a disease not previously detected in these high latitudes, and one that elsewhere rarely fells seabirds such as thick-billed murres, auklets, common eiders, northern fulmars and gulls.

Toxic algae associated with warmer waters has also been detected in a few dead birds (and some healthy birds) in the Bering Sea, said Robb Kaler, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — and may have been responsible for the death of a person living on St. Lawrence Island.

Kuletz, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist who has been observing birds in Alaska since the late 1970s, said she’s never before seen the large-scale changes of recent years. In 2013, the dead birds did not show signs of being emaciated, but in 2017, hundreds to thousands more began to wash up dead on beaches with clear signs of starvation, she said.

“There’ve always been little peaks” of die-offs that would last a year or so, but then things would go back to normal, she said. “These animals are resilient. They can forgo breeding if they aren’t getting enough nutrition.”

The horned puffin is just one of dozens of seabird species that have suffered large die-offs in recent years.
(Wolfgang Kaehler / Getty Images)

Not all bird species are suffering. Albatross, which are surface feeders, are booming, underscoring for Kuletz the idea that there could be “winners and losers” in the changing region. Albatross do not nest in Alaska. They only come in the summer to feed, and are therefore not tied to eggs or nests while looking for food.

Yet for some scientists, it isn’t easy to reconcile how a system in balance could so quickly go off the rails, even if some species adapt and thrive as others struggle.

“For me, it’s actually very emotional,” said Thoman, the University of Alaska climate specialist, recalling his elementary school days, when he read Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” and other stories from the Arctic.

“The environment that he described, the environment that I saw going through National Geographics in the 1970s? That environment doesn’t exist anymore.”

A lone boat heads out at dawn in Kodiak, Alaska.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

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News Analysis: Biden, in Blasting Trump, Concedes the Nation Has yet to Heal




For the better part of the last year, President Biden has sought to ignore his predecessor as he has tried to deliver on a campaign promise to return the country to some semblance of political normalcy.

But in a passionate speech at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday marking the one-year anniversary of the bloody insurrection, Biden essentially conceded he could not reconstruct a world before Donald Trump’s tenure, nor could he deliver on his promise of protecting democracy without calling out the former president’srole in lying about the 2020 election results and inciting the mob that stormed the Capitol.

“For the first time in our history, a president had not just lost an election. He tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob reached the Capitol,” Biden said from Statutory Hall, a historic chamber in a Capitol building that Biden, a former senator, reveres.

Biden avoided using Trump’s name, following a practice he has tried to abide since taking office on Jan. 20. But it hardly mattered. Like a prosecutor delivering a closing argument, the president methodically detailed Trump’s conduct as the slow-motion riot accelerated. He described how Trump lit the fuse and watched it on television from the White House, “doing nothing, for hours” to stop it.

In concluding his case, Biden hit hard at Trump’s motive:

“His bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution,” Biden said. “He can’t accept he lost.”

Visual coverage from remembrance events throughout the day marking the anniversary

This was not a commemoration filled with calls for unity or a return to normalcy as much as it was a plea for Americans to accept the truth of what happened a year ago. There was no attempt to say the nation had healed and has come together with common purpose or belief.

On the contrary, Biden spent much of the address debunking Trump’s claims of a rigged election, point-by-point, asking why many of the Republicans who have supported the former president’s fraud claims have not disputed their own victories, on the same ballots.

Few thought such a speech would be necessary a year after a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, inflicted injuries on more than 100 police officers, contributed to the deaths of five people and forced the evacuation of lawmakers from the complex. Biden certainly hadn’t anticipated needing to make such an address. He pitched his candidacy on the idea that he was a seasoned hand who had worked across the aisle, one of the grown-ups in the room. The nation, he believed, could snap back from a twice-impeached president who smashed norms and challenged bedrock institutions.

“The thing that will fundamentally change things is with Donald Trump out of the White House,” Biden said in his first 2019 campaign visit to New Hampshire. “You will see an epiphany occur among many of my Republican friends.”

On the night he was declared winner of the election, Biden still believed healing would come.

“It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric, to lower the temperature, to see each other again, to listen to each other again. To make progress, we must stop treating our opponents as our enemy,” he said.

But many elected Republicans and conservative media figures — even those who once agreed Biden had won the election or who texted Trump begging him to stop the insurrection — have since paid Trump homage at his Florida home. They have amplified his false rhetoric. The lies have taken hold on the rank-and-file in the party: 3 in 4Republican voters in a recent National Public Radio poll agree with Trump that there were “real cases of fraud that changed the results.”

The closest Biden came to reaching across the aisle on Thursday was an offer to work with Republicans who accepted the election and a concession that “some courageous men and women in the Republican Party are standing against” the lies. But even then he went only so far, quickly pivoting back to his harsher argument: “Too many others are transforming that party into something else.”

Biden seemed to understand that his words were unlikely to win him Republican converts and the risk of further politicizing the event. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a close Trump ally, acknowledged in a statement Thursday that Jan. 6 that he “cannot believe that a mob was able to take over the United States Capitol during such a pivotal moment — certifying a presidential election.” He then blasted Biden’s speech on Twitter, saying it was a “brazen politicization of January 6.”

The president’s willingness to attack Trump, if not in name, will come as a relief to some Democrats who believe Biden’s determination to seek bipartisanship and convey normalcy has slowed his agenda. In particular, they believe his strategy has prevented him from articulating the full case for a voting rights bill in the face of Republican-led efforts at the state level to change the rules.

They point to senators like Graham, who once prided themselves as bipartisan dealmakers, as evidence of a changed party.

Biden has resisted giving up on his view that the parties can work together and will likely point as evidence to his $1-trillion infrastructure bill that he signed in November. But Republican leaders were absent from Thursday’s commemoration and are likely to drive an even harder partisan wedge as this year’s midterm elections approach.

Those who see this moment as an emergency for American democracy may have finally gotten the speech they wanted. As he was leaving the Capitol Thursday morning, Biden was asked whether calling out Trump would lead to more division than healing.

“The way you have to heal, you have to recognize the extent of the wound,” Biden told reporters. “You can’t pretend. This is serious stuff.”
Staff Writer Eli Stokols contributed to this story.

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‘I Really Thought That I Was Going to Die That Day’




For decades, many members of Congress believed the U.S. Capitol — with metal detectors, barriers and its own police force — to be one of the safest places in the country.

That comfort was shattered on the afternoon of Jan. 6, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the building in hopes of overturning Joe Biden’s electoral college victory.

In interviews, six members of Congress from California recount their stories from that deadly day: the surreal experience of realizing that their lives were at risk, that their workplace was being overrun and that the nation’s two-century record of a peaceful transition of power had crumbled.

‘All I could think of is: Get Out. Run. As fast as you can. You don’t want to be trapped in here. Run, run, run. And all of a sudden, they closed the doors on us and they told us to get on the ground. There’s people trying to break in outside the doors.’

Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles)

Rep. Jimmy Gomez, a Democrat from Los Angeles, told a Times reporter on Jan. 6 that “people are running for their safety.”
(Tom Williams / Associated Press)

Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles) was in the gallery of the House chamber when the rioters breached the Capitol.

He and his colleagues were running across the gallery in hopes of escaping when he saw Capitol Police barricading the door the president uses to enter the chamber for the State of the Union. The rioters were too close for the lawmakers to get out safely.

“All I could think of is: Get out. Run. As fast as you can. You don’t want to be trapped in here. Run, run, run,” Gomez recalled. “And all of a sudden, they closed the doors on us and they told us to get on the ground. There’s people trying to break in outside the doors.”

Once police cleared the hallways and escorted the lawmakers to safety, several members of Congress got together and committed to remaining in the building and finishing the certification of the electoral college vote.

“That’s when [Reps.] Hakeem [Jeffries] and Liz Cheney said we’re going to go back and finish the job,” Gomez said. “They brought buses to get the members out, and [Rep.] Ruben [Gallego] and other Democrats were like, ‘Do not get on the buses.’ They said that’s how a coup happens: when the electeds are evacuated out of the Capitol or out of the palace. … So everybody that I was talking to was committed to staying.

“It was a terrible, terrible day. I don’t know if I said this to [Times reporter] Sarah [Wire] or a different reporter, but I did say like, ‘This is how a coup happens and this is how democracy dies and Donald Trump should probably be brought up on treason.’ And I still believe that to this day. I’m glad we impeached him. But now we know that there’s more people involved.

“I remember actually flying back from D.C. and, you know, I was on the plane with a bunch of MAGA people that were with their gear, like they’re coming back from a Republican convention or something.”

Gomez’s experience getting caught in the gallery left him shaken, but he says his resolve to stand up for democracy has only grown since that day.

I’m a son of immigrants that believes in this whole idea of America, the idea of self-governance, the idea that you come here, you work hard, you believe in our values, you’re going to succeed, because I’m an example of that promise … in one generation. That doesn’t happen in a lot of countries. It doesn’t happen in Mexico, where my family’s from. So my resolve has been just more firm than ever.

“But it’s been tough, to be honest. I got triggered … a few months ago, and I didn’t really see it coming on, but I got hot and my vision got tunneled. So I had to kind of walk away. … But my resolve, it’s stronger than ever.”


‘I really thought that I was going to die that day, that I was going to be killed — that I would be literally killed — that I would possibly have to fight for my life, that so many of my colleagues would probably be victims.’

Rep. Norma Torres (D-Pomona)

Rep. Norma Torres, a Democrat from Pomona, was inside the House chamber when the attack began.

“It was a very violent day for me. I had never been in a situation where I felt so unsafe, and I really thought that I was going to die that day, that I was going to be killed — that I would be literally killed — that I would possibly have to fight for my life, that so many of my colleagues would probably be victims.”

A year ago, as Trump supporters rioted in the halls, Torres told Times staff writer Sarah D. Wire, who was reporting inside the Capitol on Jan. 6: “It’s horrible that this is America. This is the United States of America and this is what we have to go through, because Trump has called homegrown terrorists to come to the Capitol and invalidate people’s votes.”

Torres said she has changed since that day, noting that she no longer feels safe inside the Capitol complex and sees her GOP colleagues in a different light.

“There used to be a time in the past, before the Jan. 6 insurrection, where I could look and see somebody wearing their congressional pin and think, ‘That’s my ally.’ Even if they were Republicans, it was like, ‘OK, that’s my ally, and we’ll take care of each other no matter what happens.’ I don’t feel that way anymore about my colleagues. Not at all.”


‘Attacking a federal building, whether it is the U.S. Capitol or a court or anything else, does not tear down democracy.’

Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale)

“Nobody should be breaking into this building for any purpose,” said Rep. Doug LaMalfa, a Republican from Richvale shown speaking on the House floor in 2020.
(Associated Press)

Rep. Doug LaMalfa, a California Republican from Richvale who was on the House floor when insurrectionists stormed the Capitol, called the riot a “deplorable situation.”

“Nobody should be breaking into this building for any purpose, let alone trying to stop a process that we were going through, and we were going through it in good faith, no matter what side you were taking on the issue of the day.”

He said he wasn’t concerned about the long-term prospects of democracy, because the republic is built on people, not buildings.

“Attacking a federal building, whether it is the U.S. Capitol or a court or anything else, does not tear down democracy. We’re not a democracy, by the way — we are a republic. Democracy is on election day.

“So our republic is not torn down by what building the meetings are held in, but by the heart and souls of the people that are elected to carry out the business of the government wherever that’s done.”


‘I always thought that personally I was very safe in this job, particularly when I’m in the Capitol complex, because it takes so much to get in there. Certainly I don’t think about it every day, but I don’t quite feel that same level of safety.’

Rep. Scott Peters (D-San Diego)

Rep. Scott Peters, a Democrat from San Diego, said that as he was trapped in the House gallery on Jan. 6, he was thinking, “How could people get by security in one of the top terrorist targets in the country?”
(Lenny Ignelzi / Associated Press)

Rep. Scott Peters, a Democrat from San Diego, was in the House gallery when he saw something he’d never seen before: a nonmember of Congress at the rostrum.

“It was someone from the security force. He said: ‘Please stay in your seats. There’s been a breach in the Capitol.’”

“I didn’t know what to think at that point. I assumed that a few rogues had run by the metal detector. But I didn’t know how serious it was. Gradually I was kind of hurt that this was happening, thinking, ‘How could people get by security in one of the top terrorist targets in the country? We should be ready for this.’

“At one point, members were about to be evacuated when they were told to ‘get to the floor.’

“So everyone kind of got down low. And that was a little bit of a sobering moment. Then at one point, we heard an explosion. It sounded like a gunshot or a tear gas deployment. We didn’t know. I think it might’ve been the shot that killed my constituent. Ashli Babbitt was from San Diego.”

Peters, who was first elected in 2012, added that he doesn’t feel as safe as he did in his first term as a member of Congress.

“I always thought that personally I was very safe in this job, particularly when I’m in the Capitol complex, because it takes so much to get in there,” he said. “Certainly I don’t think about it every day, but I don’t quite feel that same level of safety.”


‘No matter what your politics, it wasn’t a good day.’

Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Corona)

Rep. Ken Calvert, a Republican from Corona, speaks in the House of Representatives in 2019. He called the Capitol riot on Jan. 6 “troubling.”
(Associated Press)

Rep. Ken Calvert, a Republican from Corona, was in his office in a nearby building, not in the Capitol itself, but was still disturbed by what he saw and called it “very regretful.”

“I mean, it was troubling. But I wasn’t here in the building. And I have a lot of friends that were. Certainly, no matter what your politics, it wasn’t a good day. It’s a bad situation.”

He said he has hope that any changes to the institution of Congress and to relationships won’t be long-lasting.

“We have to get back to some kind of normalcy again. … I’m an optimist, I’m hoping we get back to some comity around here.

“These people are my friends. I may be in a different party and I don’t agree with them, but it doesn’t mean we can’t like each other. … We’re a divided nation, there’s no doubt about it, but people expect us to get together, get things done.”


‘Divisions here in this country are our biggest challenge. That’s what keeps me up at night. … It’s really trying to crack this nut of, how do we break this fever of division in our country?’

Rep. Mark Takano, a Democrat from Riverside

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Riverside) sheltered in a nearby office building during the Capitol riot.
(Associated Press)

Rep. Mark Takano, a Democrat from Riverside, had to make his way from one House office building to the next during the riot.

“It looked like kind of a refugee zone with all these staffers sitting on the other side of the hallway, stepping over people.

“I got a couple of texts asking if I was OK,” Takano said. “But up until now, I don’t really have a reality of what is happening because I’m not looking at the news, but I’m getting a couple of texts from people saying, ‘Are you OK?’ And I thought this was kind of strange.

“I felt a little insecure, but I was in an office complex that was sort of nondescript. We were sheltering for an extended period of time. But I don’t have any kind of lingering trauma, personal trauma. I do have concerns going forward about the political culture of the country and the political norms of the country.”

Takano said he believes “the biggest challenge to America is ourselves.”

“That’s our biggest challenge. Divisions here in this country are our biggest challenge. That’s what keeps me up at night. … It’s really trying to crack this nut of, how do we break this fever of division in our country?

“I don’t see this being solved in one year or one election. It’s going to take a lot of courage. Persistence.”

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Chief Justice Roberts Calls for Better Enforcement of Conflict Laws Involving Judges’ Stock Ownership




Federal courts need to do much better at enforcing conflict-of-interest laws that are supposed to prevent judges from deciding cases in which they hold stock, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said in his year-end report on the judiciary.

He was responding to a report in the Wall Street Journal in September that from 2010 through 2018, federal judges participated in 685 cases involving companies in which they or their spouses held stock. When contacted, many of them said they were unaware of the stock holdings because a money manager handled their investments.

The chief justice said federal law requires judges to recuse themselves from a case in which they have a direct financial interest, no matter how small.

“Let me be crystal clear: the Judiciary takes this matter seriously. We expect judges to adhere to the highest standards, and those judges violated an ethics rule,” he wrote.

“We are duty-bound to strive for 100% compliance because public trust is essential, not incidental, to our function,” he continued. “Individually, judges must be scrupulously attentive to both the letter and spirit of our rules, as most are.”

He said “professed ignorance of the ethics rule” or the failure of computer software designed to prevent such conflicts were no excuse. Most judges rely on a computer program to alert them when a case coming before them includes a company in which they hold stock. Sometimes a relevant company slips by the software if it is a subsidiary of a larger corporation.

Roberts said that may explain some lapses, but not for judges who had multiple violations. For them, “there is a more serious problem of inadequate ethics training…. our ethics training programs need to be more rigorous. That means more class time, webinars, and consultations. But it also requires greater attention to promoting a culture of compliance, even when busy dockets keep judicial calendars full,” he said.

He noted, however, that ethics violations appear to be rare. Of the 2.5 million civil cases handled by federal district courts in the nine years that were examined, he said the 685 violations account for less than three-hundredths of 1%. “That’s a 99.97% compliance rate,” he said.

Moreover, he said the newspaper story did not report that “the judge’s actions in any of those cases — often just routine docket management — actually financially benefited the judge.”

The chief justice said the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts is working on improving technology and training to deal with the problem.

Judges are not prohibited from owning direct shares of stock. If their shares are held indirectly in mutual funds, they are not required to step aside.

He did not suggest imposing penalties for repeat violators. For the most part, federal judges are responsible for deciding when they should remove themselves from a case.

As chief justice, Roberts serves as the leader of the federal judiciary.

Roberts received the highest job approval rating of 11 U.S. leaders in a Gallup poll taken in early December and released earlier this week, with 60% approving of how he is handling his role.

Only two other leaders received positive job approval ratings from a majority of Americans surveyed: Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome H. Powell (53%) and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical advisor to President Biden (52%).

Roberts was the only leader who received majority approval from both Republicans (57%) and Democrats (52%).

He fared much better in the poll than elected leaders. Biden was approved by 43%, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) by 40% and Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) by 34%.

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