What’s the story behind the now famous photograph of you cleaning up in the Capitol Rotunda after the January 6 insurrection?
The Rotunda is my favorite part of the Capitol—it’s just this iconic room that means so much to so many of us. I remember standing in the very center of it and looking around and just really being heartbroken by the sheer damage that had been done. I found a roll of trash bags on one of the benches and then just wanted to help out, so I just started picking up the garbage there, and I went on to other parts of the Capitol for about an hour and a half or so.
Why do you think that photo touched a nerve?
We have well over 1,000 cards from all over the country. People wrote poems about the photo, people did their own paintings of that photo. It really hit me just how emotionally impactful that moment was for so many people. The word that most of them really seemed to latch onto was “humility”… I think people are just yearning to have some humility back into their politics.
You posted on Twitter a photo of a broken eagle you found that night in the Capitol.
It’s made of plastic, so it feels like something that was on top of some flag. It was the only item from that day that I kept. I remember putting it in my pocket and just thinking that this has some significance to me, both in terms of it being something that I found, but also that there was an immediate symbolism that just hits you about the brokenness. It just kind of reminded me of the long road ahead to recovery and toward healing our country. It’s in my office now, but I don’t know if I’ll keep it or if there’s some other way to kind of remember it.
Do you think it belongs in the Smithsonian?
I’ve talked to them. I think they’re just trying to get a sense of what they want from that day, so we’ll see if that’s something that happens.
You’re a good friend of Pete Buttigieg, who was a Rhodes Scholar with you and is now the secretary of transportation, a department from which New Jersey could certainly use some attention.
I talk with my friend Pete multiple times, and I don’t think there’s a conversation that goes by where I don’t mention at some point the Gateway tunnel or the work that we need in shoring up Ocean County and the flooding problems that we have there. But when there’s a broader infrastructure package, that needs to go through Congress. That’s something that the White House alone is not able to wrangle.
Do you think infrastucture can be done on a bipartisan basis?
I think there’s an opportunity here for bipartisanship, but I hope that people’s politics don’t get in the way of that, and I hope that we’re able to move that forward.