MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/AP) — The U.S. Capitol locked down Wednesday with lawmakers inside as violent clashes broke out between supporters of President Donald Trump and police.

An announcement was played inside the Capitol as lawmakers were meeting and expected to vote to affirm Joe Biden’s victory. Due to an “external security threat,” no one could enter or exit the Capitol complex, the recording said. Both chambers abruptly went into recess.

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The skirmishes occurred outside in the very spot where president-elect Biden will be inaugurated in just two weeks.

Protesters tore down metal barricades at the bottom of the Capitol’s steps and were met by officers in riot gear. Some tried to push past the officers who held shields and officers could be seen firing pepper spray into the crowd to keep them back. Some in the crowd were shouting “traitors” as officers tried to keep them back.

WCCO was able to get a hold of three of them by phone while they were on lockdown. Each of them said they were shocked and very concerned about the situation.

Rep. Angie Craig said she was sheltering in place on Capitol grounds, protected by police. She told us she and her staff are safe, but not sure when they’d be allowed to leave.

“These actions undermine our democracy. They threaten the safety of our members of Congress and staff and law enforcement. We need, for our democracy’s sake, for the president to ask his supporters to stop,” she said.

Like Craig, Rep. Pete Stauber was also in the House Chambers at the opening of the certification of Electoral College. Shortly after he left, chaos broke out. He says his staff is also safe.

“This isn’t who we are as Americans. Our 1st Amendment gives us the right to peacefully protest. What we are seeing at the Capitol grounds today is despicable and unacceptable. You’ve seen it all summer long in cities across this great nation,” Stauber said.

Rep. Betty McCollum was also on lockdown. She expected large crowds, but says she was surprised by the lack of security on Capitol grounds and knew there was trouble after she heard flash bangs.

“The blame lays with President Trump and his on-going assault of our democracy. Four years of lies culminating in him saying this election has been stolen when we’ve receive Electoral College votes from the states and they are in good order,” McCollum said.

The lawmakers WCCO talked with said the situation had improved but it was not clear to them when they would be allowed back to certify the Electoral College.

Some of Minnesota lawmakers tweeted amid the lockdown:

Sen. Amy Klobuchar released this statement just after 6 p.m.: “Today many have put themselves on the line to protect our Republic. Despite the violent and lawless actions of many of those at the Capitol today, we will not be deterred from finishing the job we started. I’ve spoken with my colleagues, and our plan is that tonight we will finish our work. While this was a dark day in our nation’s history, we will stand united in the face of those who seek to divide and sow chaos. Anarchy will not prevail. Democracy will prevail.”

A number of other Minnesota lawmakers issued responses to the chaos at the U.S. Capitol Wednesday.

“A peaceful transition of power is paramount to democracy. Everyone has the right to peacefully protest, but threats and acts of violence, destruction of property, and putting the lives of other people at risk are not part of that process,” Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-East Gull Lake) said.

The Minnesota DFL chair Ken Martin laid blame at Stauber, Emmer, Hagedorn and Fischbach for “fueling the fires of conspiracy and paranoia that now threaten to engulf our nation’s Capitol. Each of Minnesota Republican members of Congress has worked to sow distrust in the American electoral process and each of Minnesota’s Republican members of Congress bears responsibility for the violence their actions have helped unleash.”

Former Gov. Jesse Ventura also weighed in:

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(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

John Lauritsen