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Congress seals Biden victory in defiance of Trump-inspired mob that pushed democracy to brink

“This is still the people’s house,” says Vice-President Pence after the riot was thwarted.

Griffin Connolly
Washington
Thursday 07 January 2021 08:39 GMT
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Joe Biden certified as next US president
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Congress has certified Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election, a solemn end to one of the darkest days in modern US history.

But it was not the ratification of the president-elect’s 306-232 electoral college victory that Americans will remember in the coming years.

It will instead be the chaos, violence — and ultimately bloodshed — in the halls of the US Congress that will make 6 January 2021 a date that "will live in infamy,” as Senator Chuck Schumer put it, echoing President Roosevelt’s response to Pearl Harbor.

Directly encouraged by Trump himself, his supporters breached and occupied the US Capitol for more than four hours on Wednesday, interrupting the election certification proceedings and forcing lawmakers and Vice President Mike Pence into an emergency evacuation and lockdown.

In scenes that felt like something out of a movie or video game cut scene, throngs of pro-Trump rioters descended on an overwhelmed US Capitol Police force around 2pm, shattered windows, and stormed through the halls and both chambers of Congress.

A woman was shot and killed and several USCP officers were injured amid mayhem that ended with at least four dead.

For minutes-long stretches, rioters filed unchecked through corridors toting Trump 2020 flags, “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, and other banners linked to the alt-right movement that is the violent bedrock of Mr Trump’s most ardent support in this country. Some carried the Confederate flag into the halls of the Senate.

They stole podiums from the House and Senate floor and romped through the upper-level galleries of the House chamber where congressional family members and guests of honour sit for the president’s annual “State of the Union” address. They pilfered congressional leaders’ mail as souvenirs of their rampage.

A bearded rioter in a black and red ski cap ascended the dais at the head of the Senate chamber, climbed into the presiding officer’s chair, and exclaimed: “Trump won that election!”

Hours later, from that same burgundy leather chair, Mr Pence gaveled the Senate back into session to resume the Electoral College vote count, lamenting the “dark day” in the nation’s capital.

Another rioter wrote a menacing note with a red Sharpie in all-capitals on a manila folder on the speaker’s desk: “We will not back down.” 

Law enforcement officers eventually deployed tear gas to disperse the rioters. The National Guard, agents from the FBI and US Secret Service, and scores of local police units from DC and several surrounding cities in Virginia and Maryland arrived in the late afternoon with anti-riot gear to turn back the thousands of Trump supporters and clear the Capitol building and grounds. 

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a 6pm curfew for the city, to mixed results.

Standoffs between rioters and the National Guard continued outside the Capitol well past the curfew, although law enforcement officers were able to re-establish and secure the perimeter.

At 8pm, Mr Pence banged the Senate gavel to signal the resumption of the election certification process.

“To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today: you did not win. Violence never wins. Freedom wins,” the vice president said.

“This is still the people’s house,” Mr Pence continued, “and as we reconvene in this chamber, the world will again witness the resilience and strength of our democracy.”

Senate Republicans back down

It quickly became apparent on Wednesday night that many of the 13 Republican senators who had initially planned to object to Mr Biden’s electoral victory were backing down.

Among those changing their mind were Senators James Lankford of Oklahoma, who is up for re-election in 2022, and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, who was defeated by Democrat Raphael Warnock in a Tuesday night special election runoff.

Wednesday’s insurrection marked “a sad day for our country,” Mr Lankford said in a joint statement with Montana Republican Senator Steve Daines, another senator who had entered Wednesday planning to vote against Mr Biden’s victory but backed down after the riots.

“We now need the entire Congress to come together and vote to certify the election results,” the senators said in a joint statement.

Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, one of the chief architects in the Senate of the plan to challenge Mr Biden’s victory, dropped his objection to the electoral counts in Nevada, Georgia and Wisconsin, although he did force both chambers to take a vote on the results in Pennsylvania.

On the House side, Alabama Republican Congressman Mo Brooks refused to back down from his disproven claims that Mr Biden somehow “stole” the 2020 election from Mr Trump.

In a speech on the House floor shortly before 10 pm, Mr Brooks made the categorically false and unsupported claim that as many as 1m “illegal aliens” had cast votes for Mr Biden in exchange for “promised amnesty.”

A second impeachment?

Calls surged on Capitol Hill for Mr Trump to be removed from office over his involvement in the riots, whether that be through impeachment proceedings and a conviction by the Senate, or a last-minute invocation of the US Constitution’s 25th Amendment.

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who has clashed with Mr Trump, has begun drawing up articles of impeachment. A growing list of other Democrats across the party’s ideological spectrum have indicated they would support such a move.

“Trump is directly responsible for this insurrection and violence. He needs to be removed from office immediately,” said Congressman Seth Moulton, a Democratic moderate from Massachusetts.

If Mr Pence and the president’s cabinet don’t invoke the 25th Amendment to replace Mr Trump, Congress “must immediately impeach and remove the president for the safety of our nation,” Mr Moulton said.

Democratic senators scourged their Republican counterparts for spending the last nine weeks encouraging Mr Trump’s election conspiracies, allowing an increasingly delusional and power-hungry president to set the stage for the rebellion that swept through Congress on Wednesday.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer pinned blame for Wednesday’s disgrace on Mr Trump.

“Today’s events did not happen spontaneously,” the New York Democrat said.

“The president who promoted conspiracy theories that motivated these thugs, the president who exhorted them to come to our nation’s capital, egged them on, the president who hardly ever discourages violence — and more often encourages it— this president bears a great deal of the blame,” he said.

Mr Schumer, who will be taking the Senate gavel within weeks after a double-win in Georgia runoff elections delivered Democrats a Congressional majority through 2022, gave an account of the emotional toll exacted on lawmakers and staffers on Wednesday and lamented, in particular, the death of the woman.

And he vowed that the “thugs” and “goons” who roamed the legislature would be “prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

A defiant president

At his “Save America March” on the Ellipse just south of the White House early on Wednesday afternoon, the president encouraged thousands of supporters to march on the Capitol, telling them to be “strong.”

“We will never give up,” Mr Trump said to roars of applause. “We will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved. Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore, and that’s what this is all about.”

He remained defiant throughout the day. Reports emerged that he was “borderline enthusiastic” about the chaos at the Capitol; senior aides either quit or leaked to reporters they were considering stepping down.

Mr Trump resisted sending in the National Guard to protect his own vice president — not to mention the thousands of other lawmakers, political staffers and public employees in peril.

He also did not outright condemn the rioters he himself had encouraged to gather at the Capitol. In a video posted to Twitter, since deleted by the social media platform, Mr Trump told the rioters he “loves” them, although he urged them to “go home.”

“You have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order,” he said.

But he simultaneously appeared to see the riots as some sort of poetic justice against his own vice president and Congress for fulfilling their constitutional duty to ratify the results of Mr Biden’s victory.

“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long,” he wrote in a post that was also quickly purged from Twitter.

A White House exodus?

Several of the president’s top advisers on national security are threatening to resign over the president’s actions, Bloomberg and others reported.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is also considering jumping ship in the administration’s final days.

First Lady Melania Trump’s chief of staff, Stephanie Grisham, has already quit, as has White House deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews. (Ms Grisham once was Mr Trump’s top spokesperson.)

Congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the third-highest ranking House Republican, placed the blame for Wednesday’s mayhem squarely on the outgoing president’s shoulders.

“We just had a violent mob assault the US Capitol. No question the president formed the mob, the president incited the mob, the president addressed the mob. He lit the flame,” Ms Cheney said.

The president had called her out by name at the rally, to boos from some of those who later busted out windows of the legislative hall and stormed the chambers.

An enraged Senator Mitt Romney went a step further, saying that Republicans who supported efforts to throw out the electoral college results are equally complicit in Wednesday’s violence. 

“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. They will be remembered for their role in this shameful episode in American history. That will be their legacy,” the Utah Republican said.

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