Insurrectionist supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol building Wednesday during the House and Senate debate over GOP challenges to final certification of the 2020 election results.
Doors and windows were broken, in some cases by gunshots, and the floors of the chambers were breached. Members were told to put on gas masks and were evacuated to undisclosed locations, along with staff and press.
For much of the afternoon, it was unclear how long it would take for Capitol police to regain control of the building. As of 6:15 p.m., officials reported that the chambers were cleared of rioters and law enforcement was working to fully secure the building.
NPR reports that after consulting with Republicans and security officials, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has announced that she intends to resume the certification process tonight. Several reports say the session will resume at 8 p.m.
JUST IN: Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that “in consultation with Leader Hoyer and Whip Clyburn and after calls to the Pentagon, the Justice Department and the Vice President, we have decided we should proceed tonight at the Capitol once it is cleared for use.”
— NPR Politics (@nprpolitics) January 6, 2021
Shortly after the building had been breached, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told Fox News that he’d heard that shots had been fired, and that he believed people had been injured in the building.
Several major news outlets, including NPR, have reported that a woman was shot and killed during a standoff between armed Trump supporters and law enforcement. Her identity has not been confirmed.
NEW: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy confirmed on Fox News minutes ago that he heard on a Capitol Police radio that there were “shots fired” in the Capitol building.
“People are hurt,” he said. https://t.co/JBFiW7Saln
— NPR Politics (@nprpolitics) January 6, 2021
As they were evacuated, lawmakers began posting on Twitter that they were safe.
I wanted to let you know that I am safe. My heart is broken for our country.
— Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon (@RepMGS) January 6, 2021
UPDATE: I’ve been evacuated and I am am finding safe location. Please pray for peace in this nation.
— Congresswoman Madeleine Dean (@RepDean) January 6, 2021
As the unrest dragged late into the afternoon and the Capitol remained out of police control, President-elect Joe Biden took to national television for a speech. He said the storming of the Capitol “is not dissent — it’s disorder, it’s chaos, it borders on sedition and it must end now.”
He said Trump has the unique power to end the violence and urged him to act.
“The words of a president matter,” he said. “I call on President Trump to go on national television now, to fulfil his oath and defend the constitution, and demand an end to this siege.”
As Biden began to leave, reporters shouted questions, asking if he’s worried about his own confirmation. Turning back, he forcefully said he is not.
“I am not concerned about my safety, security or the inauguration. I am not concerned. The American people are going to stand up, and stand up now. Enough is enough is enough,” he said.
Minutes later, Trump did release a video statement on his Twitter account. But while he did technically call for an end to the violence, he also repeated the same baseless claims that prompted the insurrection.
“We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it, especially from the other side,” he said. “But you have to go home now. We have to have peace, we have to have law and order, we have to respect our great people in law and order.”
“Go home. We love you, you’re very special,” he added.
Republican lawmakers have largely criticized the mass storming of the Capitol and violence that has broken out. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who shortly before was calling for senators to vote to overturn President Elect Joe Biden’s victory in deference to “nearly half the country that believes this election was rigged,” told the mob — many members of which have been espousing that same, baseless assumption — that violence “is ALWAYS wrong.”
Those storming the Capitol need to stop NOW.
The Constitution protects peaceful protest, but violence—from Left or Right— is ALWAYS wrong.
And those engaged in violence are hurting the cause they say they support.
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) January 6, 2021
Politicians outside of D.C., like Pennsylvania Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, have placed the blame for the mob violence squarely at the feet of Republicans around the country who have continued keeping baseless claims of election fraud alive.
“What we’re seeing today is not democracy—it’s an attempted coup,” Wolf wrote in a tweet. “
We had a free and fair election. The results were clear. Republicans from Pres. Trump to PA legislative leaders need to stop the disinformation and tell their supporters the truth before there’s further violence.”
State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia), a longtime Biden supporter, also said he saw a direct line between GOP rhetoric in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, and the violent chaos at the Capitol.
“For years I and others have warned that the President’s words would incite violence and chaos; now we’re seeing it live,” he said in a statement. “Those in elected office who stood by — or worst, supported his rhetoric and lies are culpable for this disgraceful display.”
Earlier in the day, Trump addressed his supporters during a rally. In his speech, he continued invalidating the outcome of the 2020 election despite providing no evidence of widespread fraud, saying, “We will never give up. We will never concede.” Many supporters left that rally to march to the Capitol building.
Jim Worthington, owner of the Newtown Athletic Club in Bucks County and a Trump supporter, was there for the president’s speech, but said he turned around about halfway to the Capitol during the march, “We felt like we had saw and participated enough.”
He bemoaned that people who stormed into the building and are “acting like idiots,” are taking attention away from what he feels is the real issue, a lack of attention to allegations of voter fraud. Worthington has raised money for Trump’s Legal Defense Fund through his own group, the People 4 Trump PAC.
“Now the story’s going to be this, so it’s a shame,” Worthington continued.
Jeffrey Stroehmann, a GOP organizer from Lycoming County, took a bus to Washington, D.C., with about fifty-five other Trump supporters Wednesday morning and also attended the president’s rally.
Stroehmann condemned the storming of the Capitol — which he suggested without evidence may be in part the work of ‘Antifa’ infiltrators — but said on the whole the day has been a success.
“We felt like [elected officials] hadn’t been hearing us,” Stroehmann said. “We felt like they heard us today.”
The debate before the Capitol was breached
Before the mayhem, Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey became one of the first rank and file Republicans to break with the more radical members of his party and call for President-Elect Joe Biden’s win to be certified.
Toomey’s comments came during debate on electors from Arizona — the first state Republicans were able to contest from a list that is expected to include several key swing states, including Pennsylvania.
“I voted for President Trump, I publicly endorsed President Trump,” Toomey told his colleagues. “[But] there is something more important to me than having my preferred candidate sworn in as the next president. And that’s to have the American people’s chosen candidate sworn in as the next president.”
The bulk of his remarks, he said, were based on whether Congress has the ability to decide which states’ electoral college votes should be counted “based on how well they ran their elections…and thereby having Congress select the president of the United States.”
The senator, who is not running for reelection, made it clear that he believes Congress has no such power.
He was scathing in response to proposals from senators like Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who called for a congressional commission to review states’ election procedures.
“A commission? Really?” Toomey said. “It’s completely impractical and we all know it, with 14 days to go before a constitutionally-mandated inauguration.”
He summarized by echoing the same call that GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had already made.
“I urge you, vote against this objection,” he said.
Wednesday’s congressional certification is one of the last steps to confirm Joe Biden as the winner of the electoral college, and of the 2020 presidential election ahead of the inauguration.
Eight of Pennsylvania’s nine U.S. House Republicans have said they’re joining in the largely symbolic effort to throw out the commonwealth’s slate of electors, claiming the election was inappropriately and inconsistently administered.
The ninth, moderate Brian Fitzpatrick (R-01), “maintains that he will be voting to certify the electoral votes,” according to his spokesman.
Congressional certification of electors is generally a relatively quick, procedural step in finalizing a presidential election ahead of the inauguration.
This year, it could last into the night as groups of Republicans dispute results in several states.
If at least one member of the House and one member of the Senate file objections to the vote tally that a state reports, the two chambers must recess and debate the issue for up to two hours, then return and vote on whether to accept the state’s slate of electors.
The House is controlled by Democrats, who will not vote to overturn any states. It’s unlikely the Senate — which Democrats appear to have retaken thanks to two runoff elections in Georgia Tuesday, but which is currently still effectively controlled by Republicans — will have enough votes to change any results.
That hasn’t stopped Republicans at all levels of government, including in the GOP-controlled state legislature, from voicing their support for contesting the results.
Pa. GOP stands in support of Trump
In early December, more than 60 GOP state House members — including House leaders — and seven GOP senators sent a letter to every member of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation, asking them to “object, and vote to sustain such objection, to the Electoral College votes received from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”
Tuesday night, Trump tweeted that state Senate leaders had sent a similar letter to the delegation.
Unlike the previous House-led effort, this one was — according to another tweeted copy of the purported letter — signed by GOP Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman and caucus leader Kim Ward, along with 19 other members of the delegation. Seven other Republican senators do not appear to have signed it.
The GOP caucus has not released or publicized the letter itself. A spokesperson did not return questions about its veracity, or say why lawmakers waited so long to send it.
Both letters, and statements issued by most of Pennsylvania’s Republican congressional delegation, raise similar concerns.
They generally skirt claims of widespread fraud, which have been uniformly rejected by courts around the country, despite the president still spreading them.
Instead, they focus on what Republicans see as inconsistencies in the way Democratic election administrators ran the 2020 election, and how the Democratic-controlled Supreme Court ruled on several key cases.
Specifically, they have questioned Pennsylvania’s practice of allowing mail ballots to be counted if they arrived at election offices up to three days after Election Day — a practice the state’s high court allowed due to mail delays — and complained about the state allowing counties to tabulate mail ballots with missing dates or misplaced or incomplete signatures.
The likely futility of GOP efforts to halt or overturn results in Pennsylvania and other states has also not stopped Democrats from registering their strong disapproval of Republicans’ actions, which they view as an effort to undermine faith in the election.
“Republican members of the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation plan to object to the counting of Pennsylvania’s electoral votes by claiming the election was compromised, and that our electoral votes are suspect,” said Gov. Tom Wolf in a statement Wednesday, ahead of Congress assembling. “This is an outrageous lie, and they are undermining our democracy by recklessly repeating that lie to deceive the American people.”
House Democrats have designated several lawmakers to respond to GOP allegations of impropriety in the debate over confirming election results, and also have lawmakers from contested states standing by to take questions.
WHYY’s Laura Benshoff and Miles Bryan contributed reporting.
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