Hours after hundreds of President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in a harrowing assault on American democracy, a shaken Congress on Thursday formally certified Democrat Joe Biden’s election victory.
Immediately after the certification, the White House released a statement from Trump in which he pledged an “orderly transition” on Jan. 20 when Biden will be sworn into office.
Congress had resumed its work certifying Biden’s Electoral College win late on Wednesday after the chaotic scenes on Capitol Hill, with debate stretching into the early hours of Thursday.
After debate the Senate and the House of Representatives rejected two objections to the tally and certified the final Electoral College vote with Biden receiving 306 votes and Trump 232 votes.
Vice President Mike Pence, in declaring the final vote totals behind Biden’s victory, said this “shall be deemed a sufficient declaration of the persons elected president and vice president of the United States.”
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will take office alongside Biden on Jan. 20.
“Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out, nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on January 20th,” Trump said in a statement posted to Twitter by his social media director. Trump’s personal Twitter account had been locked by the social media company for posting messages that appeared to justify the assault on the seat of the nation’s democracy.
Trump added, “While this represents the end of the greatest first term in presidential history, it’s only the beginning of our fight to Make America Great Again!”
A crowd of thousands of surrounded the building Wednesday afternoon in a bid to overturn the results of the election before several dozen rioters forced their way through police lines and barricades. They smashed windows and doors, burst into the Senate chamber and ransacked legislators’ offices. In a standoff with police outside the House of Representatives chamber, one woman was shot and killed. Three other people died on Capitol Hill of medical reasons.
Congress abruptly adjourned and the building went into lockdown, as legislative leaders were rushed out of the room. Police regained control of the Capitol by evening as Washington imposed a city-wide curfew.
The extraordinary attack on the seat of the country’s democracy is the most violent salvo to date in efforts sparked by Mr. Trump, coming at the end of a four-year term during which he was often accused of disregarding constitutional norms and the rule of law. And many of his supporters promised further insurrection if legislators uphold his electoral defeat.
A growing chorus of voices, meanwhile, called for Congress to immediately impeach Mr. Trump or for Vice-President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th amendment of the Constitution to prevent further damage before Mr. Biden takes over Jan. 20.
In a White House video hours after the melee, the President asked supporters to “go home in peace,” but repeated his false accusations that Mr. Biden’s election had been rigged. Elections officials of both parties in all 50 states have certified that the vote was fair and did not involve fraud. Mr. Trump has presented no evidence to back up his claims.
The President, who campaigned on a “law and order” agenda, also expressed understanding for the rioters.
“I know your pain. I know your hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us,” the President said. “We love you. You’re very special.”
Facebook and Youtube both removed the video from their platforms for making untrue statements about the election. Twitter deleted three of Mr. Trump’s tweets and locked him out of his account for 12 hours.
Mr. Biden described the invasion of the Capitol as “an insurrection” that “borders on sedition.” He called on the President to “step up” and restrain his supporters.
“Our democracy is under an unprecedented assault, unlike anything we’ve seen in modern times. An assault on the citadel of liberty,” he said in a speech in Wilmington, Del. “An assault on the most sacred of American undertakings – the doing of the people’s business.”
The day began with Mr. Trump encouraging his supporters to march on the Capitol as Congress gathered to certify the election results. The President told a rally near the White House to “walk down Pennsylvania Avenue” and press “weak” Republican legislators into overturning the election. Among the assembled were numerous members of far-right groups and militias, including the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers.
The mood in the crowd was dark as it gathered under a grey sky.
Scott Matheny, a 52-year-old electrician from Mineral Wells, W. Va., said Mr. Trump’s political opponents should all be removed from office and executed.
“They’re guilty of treason – it’s the death penalty. And that’s what this country needs to heal,” he said as he carried a sign reading “Stretch their necks like it’s 1776.”
Sue Papa-Provost insisted Republicans who accepted Mr. Biden’s victory were all being bribed by some sort of conspiracy to dethrone Mr. Trump. “They’re getting paid by somebody. Every one of them has financial interest,” said Ms. Papa-Provost, 65, a retired federal government contract specialist form Severn, Maryland.
One group of Republican legislators, led by Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, objected to Mr. Biden’s electoral votes in some swing states. Their bid, however, was doomed to fail: To reject the results requires a majority vote of both houses of Congress, where bipartisan majorities support confirming the election.
What’s more, both Mr. Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell openly broke with Mr. Trump for the first time in his presidency. In a statement, Mr. Pence said he did not have the power to unilaterally reject electoral votes, as Mr. Trump had demanded he do.
And Mr. McConnell warned that the President was trying to subvert the Constitution. “If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral,” he said on the floor of the Senate.
Then, rioters brawled with police on the steps of the Capitol, punching officers and firing chemical sprays at them as police tried to disperse the crowd with teargas. But some of Mr. Trump’s supporters surged through the lines and into the building.
They broke windows and busted through doors, paraded through the halls with Confederate battle flags and congregated outside the Senate and House chambers as lawmakers fled for cover. Tim Gionet, a white nationalist activist, livestreamed from an office. Another man put his feet up on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk. Officers in the House drew their guns as the mob tried to burst into the room.
“We’re pissed because the politicians won’t do their jobs,” said Ryan Suleski, a 33-year-old truck driver from Virginia who took part in the storming. Asked if shutting down the election process was anti-democratic, he said: “We’re not a democracy.”
Shirtless QAnon conspiracy theorist Jake Angeli, sporting a horned headdress and war paint, climbed up on the dais of the Senate and called for Mr. Pence to come out of hiding.
In an interview, Mr. Angeli, 33, said police ultimately gave up trying to stop people from getting inside and just let them in. Later, they allowed him to walk away without arresting him. “They asked us to leave and we complied. Everyone was polite,” he said. “They know this was rigged, too.”
Some wondered how police had failed to protect such an important building, particularly compared with the heavy police presence at protests by other groups. During Black Lives Matter demonstrations last summer, for instance, the steps of the Capitol were filled with imposing lines of National Guard officers in camouflage. By contrast, many of Mr. Trump’s supporters strolled casually around the building after breaking through the police cordon.
“It is a starkly different picture when the protesters are white,” said Lecia Brooks, chief of staff at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama. “Trump has been fanning these flames since the election. No one including Capitol police should have been surprised at what took place today.”
Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department said 52 people were arrested Wednesday, 47 of them for violating the 6 pm curfew. The others were charged with weapons-related offenses. Fourteen of the department’s officers were injured. Police said they seized six guns, and found pipe bombs at the headquarters of both the Democratic and Republican parties, as well as a stash of Molotov cocktails on Capitol Hill.
The Metropolitan Police Department said 15 other people had been arrested on Tuesday and Wednesday in various protest-related arrests on an array of charges, including weapons possession and assault.
Fire officials also took 13 people to area hospitals on Wednesday from protest-related injuries.
But figures from both parties said the consequences for Mr. Trump must be serious. Members of Congress Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar and David Cicilline called for Congress to impeach and remove the President from office. Congressman Ted Lieu called on the Vice-President to invoke the 25th amendment of the Constitution, which would allow him to assume Mr. Trump’s powers.
The Lincoln Project, a Republican group that campaigned against Mr. Trump’s re-election, also called for immediate impeachment. In a statement it described him as “directing and provoking” the attack on the Capitol.
“Today’s domestic terrorist attack on the Capitol highlights just how much Trump and his enablers have entirely abandoned the principles of the Constitution and the Republic,” it said. “It is an armed, violent and planned insurrection against the United States of America.”
The President was previously impeached by the House of Representatives for ransoming military aid to Ukraine in exchange for help tarnishing Mr. Biden ahead of the election. He was acquitted in a trial by the Senate.
U.S. Senator Mitt Romney, a former Republican presidential nominee, implored his fellow party members to stop enabling Mr. Trump’s lies about the election and finally admit that Mr. Biden had won.
“What happened here today was an insurrection, incited by the President of the United States. Those who choose to continue to support his dangerous gambit by objecting to the results of a legitimate, democratic election will forever be seen as being complicit in an unprecedented attack against our democracy,” he told the Senate. “They will be remembered for their role in this shameful episode in American history. That will be their legacy.”
Former U.S. president Barack Obama made a similar call in a statement. “Republican leaders have a choice made clear in the desecrated chambers of democracy. They can continue down this road and keep stoking the raging fires. Or they can choose reality and take the first steps toward extinguishing the flames,” he wrote.
Former president Bill Clinton also weighed in, saying the “match was lit” for the riot by Mr. Trump “and his most ardent enablers.” Ex-president George W. Bush, meanwhile, said the attack was “how election results are disputed in a banana republic – not in a democratic republic.”
But on the streets of the capital, Mr. Trump’s supporters ominously foreshadowed worse to come.
Brian Rucker, a 56-year-old stay-at-home father from Hampstead, N.C., said he would help start “a new revolution.”
“If we get mad, we can cut off the roads to every stinking city in America in two hours and starve your liberal asses out,” he said, as he carried a pitchfork near the Washington Monument. “These people are armed. We have trillions of rounds of ammunition.”
Videos posted to Twitter show a mob of supporters of President Trump storming the Capitol in Washington, forcing a halt to proceedings to count electoral collage votes that would confirm Joe Biden as the election winner. THE GLOBE AND MAIL
The Globe and Mail, January 7, 2021