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Opinion: A Blue Suit, Dusted By Insurrection, Goes To The Smithsonian

Rep. Andy Kim bought a blue wool suit off the rack during post-holiday sales. J.Crew, cobalt blue, standard cut. He looked forward to wearing the suit to President Biden's inauguration on Jan. 20.

But first Kim, a Democrat who represents New Jersey's 3rd District, wore his new suit to work in the halls of Congress on Jan. 6, to count and certify the ballots from the Electoral College. He was on his way to the House chamber around 1 p.m. that day when the U.S. Capitol was invaded by a mob trying to overturn the election by force.

Kim made it back to his office, where he and his staff barricaded their doors. They stayed there for 8 hours, until the Capitol had been secured, and Congress resumed its constitutional duties after a foiled insurrection.

"It was the most emotional experience I've ever had on any job," he told us, and before being elected to Congress, Kim worked under both Republican and Democratic administrations at the Pentagon, State Department and National Security Council.

"There was broken glass when I got to the Rotunda," he remembers. "Garbage, litter, bottles and cigarette butts people put out on statues. I felt heartbroken. The Capitol is the physical form of Article 1 of the Constitution," he told us. "'All legislative powers ... vested in a Congress...' So I found a roll of trash bags, got down on my knees, and just started trying to clean up a place I love."

AP photographer Andrew Harnik came across him, and pictures of Kim on his knees, cleaning up after a mob that tried to disrupt democracy, were seen around the world. Perhaps because he wore a face mask, he became known as "the blue suit" on social media. Kim got tweets, cards and letters from people who said his pointed, simple response gave them hope.

He wore the suit once more, a week later, to vote for the impeachment of Donald Trump. "The dust of cleaning up was still on my knees," he told us. "Then I put the suit in the back of my closet. I didn't want to see it again."

But when the Smithsonian National Museum of American History called to ask for his blue suit, as an artifact of what happened on Jan. 6, Kim said he was glad to hand it over for display. He hopes his sons, August and Austin, now 3 and 5, will see it there one day. He says he'll tell them, "When something you love is broken, you fix it."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.