Congress reconvened Wednesday night and certified the election of Democrat Joe Biden as president, finishing the process that was suspended earlier in the day when a sea of angry protesters backing outgoing President Donald Trump swarmed Capitol Hill and stormed the U.S. Capitol building.
The riots in and around the Capitol came on the heels of a Trump rally, during which the president incited his supporters with unfounded allegations of vote fraud. He urged the crowd to march on the Capitol to “cheer on” members of Congress who had intended to challenge the election results from a number states where Trump lost.
Instead, the insurrection delayed the typically ceremonial certification process by about six hours, and ended up limiting the opportunity for pro-Trump lawmakers to push back on the Electoral College votes in several states.
In the end, the Trump-supporting House and Senate members only ended up challenging and debating the votes in Arizona – which they’d started before the unrest began – and Pennsylvania. Those challenges were each defeated after hours of debate.
Challenges in Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin were technically scuttled when senators pulled back their objections.
The process ended around 4 a.m. Thursday, with Congress certifying Biden’s win with 306 Electoral College votes to Trump’s 232, the culmination of a long day that Democrat Chuck Schumer called “one of the darkest days in recent American history,” and a day that that will “live forever in infamy.”
Photos and video from Wednesday afternoon showed scense of protesters breaking windows, bursting into the Capitol, sparring with police officers, posing on the Senate floor, and taking over Congressional offices. At least one woman was shot and killed during the chaos, according to news reports.
Lawmakers were forced to flee the Capitol building around 2 p.m., but reconvened just after 8 p.m. When the session resumed, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called the protesters “unhinged,” and said Congress would not “bow to lawlessness or intimidation.”
“They tried to disrupt our democracy. They failed,” he said. “Now we’re going to finish exactly what we started.”
Schumer said the people who burst into the Capitol were not protesters, but rioters, goons, and domestic terrorists. And he said Trump deserves the blame for inciting them.
“This will be a stain on our country, not so easily washed away,” Schumer said, “the final, terrible, indelible legacy of the 45th president of the United States, undoubtably our worst.”
Virginia state troopers, the National Guard, and riot police had to be deployed late afternoon to clear protesters from the Capitol grounds. But many protesters remained even after a 6 p.m. curfew imposed by Washington, D.C., mayor Muriel Bowser.
The violence ensued shortly after Trump’s rally nearby. During the rally, Trump ranted that November’s election was a “disgrace,” and he continued to spin baseless conspiracy theories about how the election was stolen from him. He vowed that, “We will never give up. We will never concede.”
After riling up his supporters, Trump did little to calm things down once things got out of hand.
He did not condemn the protesters, even after they stormed the Capitol. Instead, he urged them to be peaceful, and tweeted his support for Capitol police and law enforcement.
I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful. No violence! Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order – respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue. Thank you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 6, 2021
It took hours before Trump finally released a short video urging protesters to go home. But even then, he coddled rather than condemned them, saying that he loved them, and that they were “very special.” He also continued to egg them on with allegations that the election was stolen, that he won in a landslide, and “everyone knows it.”
“But you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order,” Trump said. “We love you. You’re very special. . . . I know how you feel.”
While Trump was tweeting, Biden appeared on television calling for the mob to disperse.
“This is not dissent. It’s disorder. It’s chaos. It borders on sedition, and it must end. Now,” he said. “I call on this mob to pull back and allow the work of democracy to go forward.”
The words of a president matter, Biden said. At best, they can inspire. At worst, they can incite violence, he said, urging Trump to try to calm his supporters.
“I call on President Trump, go on national television now to fulfill his oath and defend the constitution and demand an end to this siege,” Biden said.
The chaos erupted just as a cadre of Trump’s most ardent backers in the U.S. House and Senate began a last-ditch effort to object to November’s presidential election. They had intended to use Wednesday’s joint session of Congress to formally object to the Electoral College votes in a series of states Trump lost, the latest effort to cast doubt and overturn the election based on unfounded allegations of fraud trumpeted by Trump and his allies.
The effort had virtually no chance of success, as every Democrat and many Republicans were expected to reject the challenges. But that it would happen at all shows just how firm a grip Trump still has on the Republican Party, even as his time in the White House nears its end.
Trump voiced his support for the effort during his rally.
“I’m going to be watching,” Trump said, “because history is going to be made. We’re going to see whether or not we have great and courageous leaders, or whether or not we have leaders who should be ashamed of themselves throughout history, throughout eternity, they’ll be ashamed.”
Trump vowed to “primary the hell out of” Republicans who don’t fight for him, and he urged his crowd to march to the Capitol to “cheer on” members of Congress who had intended to challenge the vote counts.
“Today we will see whether Republicans stand strong for integrity of our elections, but whether or not they stand strong for our country,” Trump told the crowd, adding that, “our country has been under siege for a long time.”
The session started peacefully just after 1 p.m. when members of Congress counted the certificate of votes for both Alabama and Alaska — two states that voted for Trump. When it came time to certify the votes in Arizona, where Biden narrowly won by just over 10,000 votes, Representative Paul Gossar (R-Ariz) stood to object to counting the ballots from his state. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas formally joined the objection in writing, sending the two chambers to debate the measure separately.
McConnell, who has long urged his members not to object to the Electoral College votes, decried the objection to the Arizona votes, and spoke against heading down a “poisonous path where only the winners of elections accept the results.” It would be wrong, he said, to disenfranchise voters and to declare the Senate a “national board of elections on steroids.”
The country can’t keep driving apart into two tribes with separate facts, he said.
Every election has some irregularities, McConnell said, adding that he supports “strong, state-led voting reforms.” The 2020 pandemic voting procedures shouldn’t be the new norm.
But, he said, “nothing before us proves illegality anywhere near the massive scale that would have tipped the entire election. Nor can public doubt alone justify a radical break when the doubt itself was incited without any evidence.”
During debate in the Senate, Cruz denied that he was trying to set aside the election results. Rather, he said, he was trying to find a way to ensure for concerned Americans that November’s votes were legitimate. He called for an election commission to conduct a ten-day emergency audit of the results in the states where Trump and his allies have alleged fraud.
“What does it say to the nearly half of the country that believes this election was rigged if we vote, not even to consider the claims of illegality and fraud in this election,” Cruz said, while acknowledging that if Democrats stick together, “Joe Biden will almost certainly be certified as the next president of the United States.”
The protestors stormed the Capitol soon after Cruz finished speaking. The hearings were suspended, but they were expected to resume Wednesday night.
Trump and his allies have been riling up his supporters for two months now, alleging that the November election was stolen from him due to fraud in several states, including Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Election officials who have reviewed the results in those states say they’ve found no evidence of fraud or large numbers of illegal votes.
Trump continued to repeat a litany of disproven conspiracies during his rally on Wednesday, including allegations that voting machines stole votes, that large numbers of dead people and ineligible felons cast ballots, and that “tens of thousands of illegitimate votes” were counted.
“Our election was so corrupt, that in the history of this country we’ve never seen anything like it,” Trump told the crowd, that chanted “Fight for Trump.”
Trump also leaned heavily on Vice President Mike Pence Wednesday, claiming — incorrectly — that Pence has unilateral authority to reject electors certified by states in which he claims that his victory was stolen. During the rally, Trump repeatedly called on Pence to send the electors back to the states, so he could remain president and his supports at the rally would be “the happiest people.”
“Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us, and if he doesn’t, that will be a sad day for our country,” Trump told the crowd.
Pence announced Wednesday afternoon that he would not accede to President Trump’s demand that he reject slates of electors submitted by battleground states.
“It’s is my considered judgment,” he said, “that my oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not.”